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So I have this intelligent alien race of detritivores and I was wondering if it would be more practical for them to be a farming society or a hunter-gatherer society.

I don't know if this is very important, but they can digest just about anything organic from their planet and for what they can't, they taste with their cheeks.

As for how they digest, it begins in their mouth and goes down the throat until it is finished in a sac and send to the intestine like organs.

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    $\begingroup$ Wait a minute, they take a mouthful of food, wait for it to digest in their mouth and only then squeeze it through their throat and directly to their colon? That is a really inefficient and slow way to eat. Give them at least a throat sack or something to put the food into to begin digesting, this will let them eat more than a mouthful every hour or two. $\endgroup$ – Dan Clarke Feb 19 '18 at 13:38
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    $\begingroup$ By definition detritivores are gatherers, not hunters, so they can't be hunter-gatherers. $\endgroup$ – Paul Johnson Feb 19 '18 at 15:55
  • $\begingroup$ Since the #science-based tag is on your question: you can't become intelligent if you can't talk, and you can't/won't develop speech if rotting food is stuck in your mouth for hours. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Feb 19 '18 at 16:14
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    $\begingroup$ @RonJohn it take about 30 seconds to do what is needed to be done in the mouth and then is sent down $\endgroup$ – Amoeba Feb 19 '18 at 18:12
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    $\begingroup$ "it take about 30 seconds to do what is needed to be done in the mouth" the question says, "As for how they digest, it is done in their mouth and their throats acts like an intestine." Based on the #science-based and #biology tags... what you propose is not possible. (There's a reason that the distance from mouth to anus is really long.) $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Feb 19 '18 at 18:28
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Without knowing the details of your planet, my first response is to say that Farming is always the better option for an intelligent species, whether they are herbivores, carnivores, omnivores, detrivores or any other form of consumer of organic matter.

Let's start with the most obvious reason; supply. Farming doesn't guarantee a steady supply of food, but it's certainly a start in that direction. Sure, there can be droughts, blights, infestations and other interruptions to crops but generally speaking, farms allow a species to produce food en masse allowing for the bulk of the population to worry about other matters.

As elemtilas has explained in his answer, the fact that we're talking detritus complicates the 'harvesting' process but there's a very good reason to overcome this problem, which is that agriculture allows for a much smaller percentage of the population to be focused on food gathering or production. This frees a larger percentage of the population to focus on metallurgy, science, monument building (which means engineering), transport (the wheel), defence, and other pursuits. This in turn generates a diverse economy and with it the need for leadership, which in turn means that leaders rise who can focus the collective effort towards that which benefits the whole, not just the individual.

Without farming, you don't get things like land ownership, economic theory, scientific advancement, rule of law, and even protection from minor food supply anomalies.

Sure, farming is labour intensive, but it's that intensity which frees up the rest of the population to focus on broader and more diverse pursuits which allow them to advance their civilisation beyond simple hunter gathering.

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  • $\begingroup$ Would their be any planetary conditions that make farming not such a good option? $\endgroup$ – Amoeba Feb 19 '18 at 3:02
  • $\begingroup$ The only one I can think of would be a perennial jungle planet situation. If there is always food available on the jungle floor (no-one can remember a time when there wasn't food around) then food would become like air; you don't put effort into it or farm it because it's always there. Incidentally, this would make food as free as air is, and free up 100% of the population to consider other pursuits. The catch would be that industrialisation and urbanisation could both disrupt this thinking by creating local concentrations of population that overwhelm the food supply. $\endgroup$ – Tim B II Feb 19 '18 at 3:10
  • $\begingroup$ could a society in those conditions develop very far or would they be more akin to cave men $\endgroup$ – Amoeba Feb 19 '18 at 3:16
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    $\begingroup$ That's a really good question! At first blush, I'd say that you could get to an organisational level akin to a village before food distribution becomes a real issue. Beyond that scale, you'll run into those population concentration problems. As for what that means for technological development, a village could be quite capable of domesticating other animals, developing metallurgy, possibly inventing primitive construction techniques and the wheel. I'd say they could progress beyond cavemen, but without farms they'd be stuck at a clan level with inconsistent levels of tech between them. $\endgroup$ – Tim B II Feb 19 '18 at 3:21
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If they can digest virtually any organic matter on the planet there really isn't any need for farming. Farming was developed by humans mostly to avoid seasonal food shortages. If they can eat practically anything there isn't any motivation to build labor intensive farms.

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    $\begingroup$ There equally isn't the drive to become intelligent, it's waste of energy with no problems to solve. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Feb 19 '18 at 8:10
  • $\begingroup$ Indeed. The evolutionary pressures to develop intelligence just wouldn't be there. $\endgroup$ – TCAT117 Feb 19 '18 at 8:33
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    $\begingroup$ Well, if they're detrivores, they're not the apex predators. They're the prey. That's a reason for becoming intelligent. $\endgroup$ – Pieter B Feb 19 '18 at 10:12
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    $\begingroup$ @PieterB it's a reason for them to be sedentary and very old and uncomplex. From the wikipedia page: "Typical detritivorous animals include millipedes, springtails, woodlice, dung flies, slugs, many terrestrial worms, sea stars, sea cucumbers, fiddler crabs, and some sedentary polychaetes such as amphitrites (Amphitritinae, worms of the family Terebellidae) and other terebellids." $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Feb 19 '18 at 16:18
  • $\begingroup$ it could also be a stage-of-evolution thing, though. there is always an evolutionary drive to become better as a species. For human ancestors like rats that meant becoming omnivores (by the way, in many respects rats are Detritivores): you can get more energy. Also, there is the strong possibility that the OP has these intelligent creature sharing the planet with other creatures, intelligent and otherwise, so there is a strong chance that they could develop a [potentially indirect] symbiotic relationship with one of them for this food need, similarly to how humans do with bees $\endgroup$ – physincubus Feb 20 '18 at 0:28
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One, remind me nòt to accept a dinner invitation to one of their houses!

Two, by definition, a detritivore / detrivore eats already dead & decomposing organic matter: leafmould, fruitfall, carcasses, dung and so forth. Agriculture, being the raising and care of living crops a/o herds for food is therefore out of the question. Their natural habit is one of scavenger / gatherer.

Unless you want to take it a step further and, after harvest, they reserve the seed for next planting, but eat only the dead husks. Or during slaughter tide, they sell the meat and hides, but eat the remaining slurry, bones, and entrails.

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    $\begingroup$ Farming isn't completely out of the question. You can get massively more yield by farming - The fact that it's eaten when it's decomposing changes none of that. That they're a detritivore makes the storage and processing different, sure, but not the basic utility of farming. $\endgroup$ – Andon Feb 19 '18 at 2:47
  • $\begingroup$ @Andon what differences in storage would their be? $\endgroup$ – Amoeba Feb 19 '18 at 2:58
  • $\begingroup$ Well, that's why I wrote Unless you want to take it a step further... But really, I think the time and energy wasted on caring for finicky food plants might better be spent on some less intensive work. Maybe "farming" weeds or some fast growing plant that requires little or no care but still leaves some good edible compost for these folk! Storage is easy: just chuck the leaves and bits of chaff and rotten fruits into a suitable cave or compost heap! Enjoy! $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Feb 19 '18 at 2:59
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    $\begingroup$ If I understand Andon right, the difference is storage of food that is basically rotten and decomposing (Them) vs storage of food that is kept from rotting and decomposing too quickly (Us). We need refrigerators or preservatives. They need a handy compost heap. $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Feb 19 '18 at 3:00
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    $\begingroup$ Keep in mind humans make cheese and wine, both of which are essentially detritus with fancier names. $\endgroup$ – Erik Feb 19 '18 at 8:57
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You may have a problem of perspective.

Detritus (in terms of the wiki link you provided) is a definition that caries a great deal of human bias. It is literally those left-overs that we have little direct use for.

If these are the species in of their environment (planet?) that writes the records of science, they probably wouldn't see their diet as detritus at all.

Others have pointed out the likelihood of farming being the most practical solution. However in your final choice it may also be worth considering if you want them to favour certain foods, or whether they just see nutrition as a necessary chore.

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Neither?

An intelligent detritivore is rather unlikely. If we ignore the reason they evolved sentience as being out of scope, just supporting an animal large and active enough requires a steady stream of rather high energy detritus. Although going with the sloth solution is possible and gives an interesting kind of slow time rate thinking, it is probably not what you want.

Thinking about a steady stream of high energy detritus being produced, you have to be talking about a large group of animals producing a steady stream of faeces. A large herd of grazers with a fairly inefficient digestion, for example. A large detritivore could survive by following the herds and eating the produce fresh and warm before smaller, otherwise more efficient, detritivores get to it.

Such species would naturally first develop pastoralism. They would supplement it with opportunistic hunting, fishing, and gathering. And probably develop pastoral farming at some point. But pastoralism would be their first and "ethos forming" livelihood, which you seem to be asking about.

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  • $\begingroup$ Aren't their already pretty intelligent detrivores, such as vultures and hyenas? $\endgroup$ – Amoeba Feb 19 '18 at 18:16
  • $\begingroup$ @user45751 hyenas actually prefer fresh kills, they'll steal it if they can. but rotten food is a meal of last resort. Vultures are scavengers, which means they eat high energy rotten meat, that's very different from eating rotten vegetation which is low in nutrients. $\endgroup$ – Dan Clarke Feb 19 '18 at 21:32
  • $\begingroup$ @user45751 Scavengers are essentially carnivores that are really good at finding food without having to kill it first. They still compete for food with carnivores and have (probably) fairly similar brain power requirements. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Feb 20 '18 at 14:03
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There are arguments both ways, a detritivore, especially a generalist one such as have described doesn't, on the surface, have a huge amount of motivation to get into food production but can quite happily survive as a "hunter gatherer" i.e. "a low impact low population density culture that doesn't produce any specialised food stuffs but subsists on existing wild nutrition." possibly even at population densities that would give humans pause (especially in something like a tropical rainforest with rapid and continuous nutrient turnover). The question is does the human farming equation hold water with a detritivore, I think it does. In human societies farms use specialised food crops to produce a local surplus that can be consumed by those involved in other economic activities (teachers, engineers, scientists and other non-farmers) and/or shipped to areas without the local production to support their population density (towns and cities populated by non-farmers, but also inhospitable locations with strategic resources). A detritivore society could also utilise specialised crops, in this case the main desirable attribute would be accelerated growth, to create a surplus that could be shipped to sustain excessively crowded areas or colonies exploiting badly needed resources on hostile areas.

What it comes down to is whether you need, for story or other reasons, your detritivores to have high density, urbanised, populations and the specialisation and division of labour that they make possible, if so then they'll need to be producing food intensively somewhere they haven't paved over to support those populations, and that is farming. What does a detritivore farm look like? On Earth it looks like fields of fast growing Bamboo or even Kudzu, that are reaped for biomass to be rotted down as food base for the hungry masses, what you use is up to you.

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This is a vague memory, but wasnt one of the aliens in "the animorphs" similar in digestion? he had to be careful about what he stepped on because his "hooves" were the membrane across which absorbed nutrition.

so what im saying is, option C is to make your society a grazing one.

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Farming in a way that creates enough biomass that they would consume. This would be the more practical. If they could sit in a zone that best benefits the plant matter they'd be consuming, they could more easily grow what they'd need to consume. It wouldn't matter much if they were a very small population on a large planet full of the mass they'd need to consume, then they could just move around everywhere eating, but being an intelligent species, they'd probably have cultural norms and society that would more likely be better suited as farmers, even if they were nomadic. Plains tribes in the Great Plains of the US moved back and forth over the plains doing really large scale permaculture like methods of land stewardship which was basically a form of farming and ranching. Using burns to move Bison and replenish the soil while propagating plants where needed along the way as they went back and forth over hundreds of miles.

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considering they can feed on anything.. theres no need to provide a stock of food/resources (agricultural or animal).. considering you gather stock as resources are scarce or they miss in certain periods of time (1.seasons/2.wars/3.particular weather - climate changes)

3.regarding planetary changes(1.local changes don't constitute a problem.. see migration) our planet was a rock in space till water made it blue.. and do tell where from so much water(.. not from the rock i suppose as the rock was red hot from asteroid bombarding not to say moon separation theory??)

2.considering you mention intelligent.. there would be no wars or slavery; you only need to gather/store resources in a stratified/settled gathering of individuals(society).. some work, some talk and some smoke:).. they all brag.. and a ruler to f..k with all of them(the warrior type).. as they cant think for themselves.. including the ruler.. very primitive unintelligent gathering of individuals

mention1: regarding digestive tract peculiarities each specie has a different one.. some say they adapted to the food.. as in evolutionism.. id say.. sharks are still sharks and crocodiles are still crocodiles unless you genuinely grow a 3rd hand(no gmo cheat) your a fraud

mention2: you also mention "anything organic".. the manure product is also organic.. i guess they don't redigest that or they have complete/no excrement digestion

mention3: considering they eat all organic would they be best neighbors for biped-monkey garbage? biped-monkey thrashing the whole blue planet(universe next) and all.. side-thought

considering all this and your question "practical for them to be a farming society or a hunter-gatherer" i'd go to door no: 3 - scavenger or just hunter(gatherer/farmer implies settled uninteligent individuals; keep in mind feed on anything)

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  • $\begingroup$ This could really do with some better structuring; it is very hard to follow right now. $\endgroup$ – Erik Feb 19 '18 at 10:46
  • $\begingroup$ @Erik - could be because i provided justification first and conclusion later? as in reading peculiarities.. you could edit(improve provided answer) a little or add one for yourself considering this is sci-fi worldbuilding.. not real whatsoever(disclaimer) :D $\endgroup$ – user688056 Feb 19 '18 at 13:20
  • $\begingroup$ I can't really edit it; I don't really understand the points you are trying to make. $\endgroup$ – Erik Feb 19 '18 at 13:25
  • $\begingroup$ @Erik ce la vie - as you see i'm a monkey with glasses.. should the monkey understand you or you the monkey.. now thats a topic $\endgroup$ – user688056 Feb 19 '18 at 13:39

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