Even disregarding the blatantly supernatural examples of demons and the like, some humanoid races in fantasy are depicted as having horns, or at least something similar to that, like bony protrusions/spikes. How might a sentient race, especially one related to humans, have evolved such traits? Besides cultural selection, what would make such traits advantageous enough to eventually pass along to the entire race?

Edit: Does anyone have any ideas as to what would cause a race of hominids to develop horns or at least something that looks the part?

  • $\begingroup$ I am afraid our neck structure is not robust enough to withstand head on head impacts with horns $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Jan 24 '18 at 16:31
  • $\begingroup$ Besides cultural selection - why? In many animals horns are mostly for show, for looking for a mate. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Jan 24 '18 at 17:58
  • $\begingroup$ I'm asking what would have let them evolve in the first place, $\endgroup$ – The Literary Lord Jan 24 '18 at 22:53
  • $\begingroup$ Not for the faint of heart, but horns may be a diffused non-lethal contagious disease passed on contact web.archive.org/web/20030419110706/http://… $\endgroup$ – NofP Jan 25 '18 at 2:45
  • $\begingroup$ Some strange images, rate yourself: xissufotoday.space/2016/12/… $\endgroup$ – mviereck Jan 25 '18 at 19:20

Horns help with hearing.


They are some of the most extravagant headgear in the animal kingdom, but a moose's antlers are not just for show. Scientists believe they act as elaborate hearing aids that help males to find calling females.

A study has found that the antlers' sound-gathering qualities boost the hearing of the animals by 19%.

Scientists had previously suspected the antlers helped with locating mates because males with them were found to be better able to locate females than those without...

In the article it seems like the horns act like huge ear trumpets. But another mechanism for horns helping with hearing could be bone conduction. Humans have bone hearing and this is utilized in some sorts of hearing aids, as well as party tricks like listening to a record via a string clamped in the teeth. Some animals hear mostly via sound vibrations transmitted through the bones to the inner ear, snakes and whales being two.

In this horned humanoid, the hard, ramifying antenna-like antlers fixed in the bone of the skull serve to pick up vibrations and relay them through the skull to the ear where they are perceived as sound. I leave to the reader ideas why a humanoid might experience a genetic fitness benefit from having superior hearing.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I had never heard of that. That certainly would explain why the trait lasted long enough for cultural selection after the initial mutation, but what about the bone spurs? $\endgroup$ – The Literary Lord Jan 24 '18 at 22:54
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I thought this was just "justify a selective advantage for some kind of horn". Are you really asking "What's up with Darth Maul?" $\endgroup$ – Willk Jan 25 '18 at 2:46
  • $\begingroup$ How would it have first developed though, especially in a human subspecies? $\endgroup$ – The Literary Lord Jan 25 '18 at 7:16

The species finds horns attractive

I will resist the obvious pun. This is one of my go-to answers for what is the advantage of the trait.

If a trait make a individual more attractive to a mate it will be selected for.

If you need a further justification. If large horns are a sign of getting more nutrition, finding horns attractive might be selected for in a species.

As to where the horns came from. It is basically a statistical impossiblity for horns to appear fully formed in a species. Much more possible is that all the closely related species had a common ancestor species that had horn and your "Humans" lost them (they are weird hornless humanionds). This would be over tens of thousands of years so "Humans" will never remember having horns. See: https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/614/alopecia-universalis for people with a mutation that means they have not hair at all.

The horns themselves evolved millions of years ago just like they did in our world.

Heck ... the other possiblity is all the humanoids are not closely related at all but a result of convergent evolutions (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Convergent_evolution). There is some evolutionary pressure, in this world, for intelligent tool users to become humanoid bipeds. In this case vastly different evolutionary lines (some with horns and some without) as they became intellegent tool-users would start to change into something that looked more and more humanoid.

  • $\begingroup$ Actually in some cultures horns are a metaphor to indicate someone's partner is not faithful... $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Jan 25 '18 at 6:07
  • $\begingroup$ How might the horn develop in the first place though? $\endgroup$ – The Literary Lord Jan 25 '18 at 7:17
  • $\begingroup$ @TheLiteraryLord Sorry I missed the human subspecies. The apperance of horn on in a evolutinarly line that does not have horn producing capabilties is almost impossible as it requres the sudden spontainous apperance of a lot of metabolic and develpmental processes in cells. To make it likely in your world Human ancestor species had mostly had horns for millions of year. Human for some reason lost the ablity to have horns but the trait came back or was never lost in the related species. Short answer: Almost impossible for horns to appear spontainous. $\endgroup$ – P Chapman Jan 25 '18 at 17:48

It depends on what kind of horns you're talking about. I agree with L.Dutch's comment that using them for fighting (as most animals do) probably wouldn't work on a typical human.

But if you had horns like a buffalo; enter image description here

They could conceivably provide a protective effect and make blows to the head less dangerous.

That being said, for modern day humans to evolve to have horns would be highly unlikely and purely down to selective breeding if it were to happen.


(Just adding a bit to other answers)

I do agree with the comments saying that our neck wouldn't support head on head impacts, but you could say that the species you're working with could do it in a distant evolutionary past, before evolving into what they currently are.

The horns are just present because individuals that still had them, even if they were not needed, were selected for reasons other answers have already stated, be it defense or attractiveness.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.