In the world I'm creating, a branch of humans from prehistoric earth were castaway to another dimension by reality bending beings. The dimension exists as a large cavern filled with giant Earth arthropods and plants. Its strange laws of physics allow both organisms to survive with no negative side effects.

But the problem with the humans is that some of these creatures have an interest in killing them with their own natural weaponry. The humans proposed a way of surrounding their own bodies in a suit of armor for further survival. But the issue I'm running into is what material could they use as armor that is effectively durable, lightweight and protective against getting punctuated by stingers, claws, and mandibles?

A few materials I thought of were exoskeletons from other insects. Though the problem with an exoskeleton is that stinging species could easily penetrate through. As for the level of technology required for creating Aluminum or lightweight metal armour, that's it's own question, but what we need to know if tiny aluminum or any other metallic armour is possible to wear as viable armour.

Also for the details on the humans, they run, jump and carry as if they're on earth, so they can't lift many times their own bodyweight or run faster, but they can oddly stand on some of the arthropods without killing them, so they are light to the arthropods, but not to themselves. The environment also ACTS like the insects are their normal sizes, so it's the humans being protected by the negative square-cube effects.

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    One of the reasons bugs need exoskeletons is because they don't have blood vessels, and even a small injury is a death sentence. Humans don't have this problem. Humans are also built way more sturdily than bugs due to the cube-square law, with much thicker and stronger limbs. Even without armor, I think ant-sized humans would be very slow but very tanky and hard-hitting compared to actual ants. – someone-or-other Jul 2 at 5:36
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    Are you basically just taking insects and scaling them up to be human sized or larger without accounting for the cube-square law? There is a reason insects are so strong for their body weight and similarly larger animals are much weaker. If you are just scaling insects up, there isn't really anything that will provide good armor. – Shadowzee Jul 2 at 7:05
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    I don't get it. Are the humans ant-sized or are the ants human-sized? And how prehistoric, exactly, are they? Is the issue here really one of size, or one of technology? Obviously aluminum is out for prehistoric people, because we didn't learn how to smelter it until the 1850s. Copper or bronze might be possible, but it assumes that their cavern includes ore(s) and fuel and has sufficient ventilation that they won't kill themselves by smoke inhalation trying to run a smelter. – Joe Jul 2 at 18:25
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    Your “strange laws of physics” will affect materials science as well as everything else, so you’ll have to tell us what those laws actually are if you’re going to get any meaningful answers. – Mike Scott Jul 2 at 19:40
up vote 31 down vote accepted

Actually, your best bet will be portions of insect exoskeleton! When formed properly, it can offer its wearer a shell of protection. Sure, a sting might penetrate the armor plate, but if there is some padded space behind it, the sting may not even reach the wearer! Chitin could also be cut into scale armour and overlapped providing even more protection.

Also, any armour these tiny humans wear shouldn't be relied on for definitive protection in a melee battle against raging spiders or biting ants. It seems like they would probably lose such a battle anyway. At best, it will offer some protection against glancing blows.

The humans' best defense against the stings and mandibles of their enemies will still be their intelligence and their ability to adapt to new conditions in arranging their environment to their needs.

Tiny human aerial warrior.

What mad addercop or army of valiant ant soldiers can withstand the intelligent human warriors bearing superior weapons and wielding advanced battle tactics? Humans on Earth outdid all their large animal competition the first time around. They'll just start over and do the same thing in this new environment: tame those insects that are useful, outcompete those that are both dangerous and untamable!

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    Crab claws are thick enough to prevent a sting. They are hollow, making fitting easier. Repeated abrasion on the edges with rocks would slowly wear them down for correct fitting. – Ronk Jul 2 at 5:02
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    +1 for intelligence being the best defence. We hunted mammoths successfully, and there’s no armour on earth can save you from being trampled/gored by eight tonnes of angry elephantidae. – Joe Bloggs Jul 2 at 7:58
  • @Ronk Good thought for the crab claws! I'm unsure if crabs would be found in this environment or not, though. – elemtilas Jul 2 at 21:42
  • @JoeBloggs Does a tank count as armour? A bridge? I suspect a few tonnes of sturdily-built concrete would work. – wizzwizz4 Jul 3 at 16:22
  • @wizzwizz I dunno how intelligent you’ve got to be to make reinforced concrete or tanks, but I’d wager you’ve got to kill a few mammoths before you build up the industrial base to do it. – Joe Bloggs Jul 3 at 22:10

The same stuff we normal humans use, just less of it

Ant-sized humans are nowhere near the size of molecules, so bronze and steel are perfectly sound materials to use. What they'd use for leather and silk might be more interesting as those items are fiberous/woven and may not be shrinkable. But, then again, how much weight/comfort is necessary? Spider silk may be a direct replacement.

Except that I might be wrong

The problem, now that I spend more time thinking about it, is blacksmithing the metal. We are dealing with small amounts, but metals still need a certain amount of force (which I'm not going to calculate) to shape. But, thinking about it still, it's such a small amount of metal.

Nope... I think it shrinks just fine

Tiny blacksmiths may be getting stepped on all the time. I think all the current metals are as available to ant-men as they are to us.

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    @elemtilas Spider silk isn't actually necessarily sticky, spiders have substantial control over how sticky it is and use it in different compositions for different purposes. You'd just have to learn which fibres to go for and to treat it with something to coat the stickiness before you used it. Oh, and avoid the bear sized monster spider that absolutely will take umbrage to you stealing its webbing. – Ruadhan Jul 2 at 8:43
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    @MichaelJ., the problem isn't mining it. Ants are the best miners in the world and I must assume ant-sized humans would work that out (probably by enslaving the ants). The problem is finding it. – JBH Jul 2 at 17:52
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    Ant-sized humans might be able to extract enough iron from iron-rich soils. They're less ubiquitous than iron-rich rocks, but not so rare you couldn't make it work. – Alex H. Jul 2 at 18:15
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    @MichaelJ. Oooh. You've made a point. I jumped to the conclusion that the ant-sized humans had been around for a while (possibly having metallurgy) and weren't still prehistoric. I can see how the question can be read either way. My answer isn't relevant if we're dealing with stone-age humants. Hey, Red_Wasp! What's the current earth-similar tech level of the humants? – JBH Jul 2 at 20:54
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    @elemtilas, I thought about that, but just as it's easy to bend a piece of wire but not easy to bend a girder, the amount of heat needed to work with such small amounts of metal is less than normal humans need. I note that there is likely a minimum amount of heat required regardless the amount of metal, but I happily admit that I don't know what that is. – JBH Jul 2 at 22:15

I think your main armor would not focus on strength of the material, but on deception.

If it smells like it's toxic, looks like it's toxic, would you take the chance?

Win the fight before it happens.

You could possible use glands and dyes to imitate toxic insects while wearing heavier and tougher armor, getting the best of both worlds.

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    Excellent points. They could also steal the pheromones that signal "I'm a friend!" and simply move unnoticed among at least some of their enemies. Maybe get close enough to off the Queen? – elemtilas Jul 2 at 3:20
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    That would be a bit harder, as you would have to have higher quality disguises, but it would allow undercover operations without taking away verisimilitude. – Joe P Jul 2 at 3:36
  • Does anything like this stop animals like frogs & toads, that generally try to swallow anything that moves? – Xen2050 Jul 2 at 6:29
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    There is a kind of spider that infiltrates ant colonies. It physically resembles an ant, but to complete the disguise it will kill an ant and carry it around, pretending to be an ant hauling a dead body (while conveniently giving it a shield to hide behind so the guards can't see it or smell it clearly)! So you'd need a pretty good disguise, but you could conceivably pull it off. – IndigoFenix Jul 2 at 6:37
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    @Xen2050 Actually yes, some will avoid certain insects do to toxins/taste. So if you look/smell like them you should have less to fear. – Joe P Jul 2 at 12:45

The ant sized humans could domesticate spiders, and selectively breed them to obtain the highest quality silk used for weaving Armour.

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    +1. I was going to nitpick that this wouldn't be effeftive, but turns out I was wrong. If anyone else would also think that this could not work: – Renan Jul 2 at 11:11
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    Indeed, the bold jumping spider is intelligent enough to have a personality, and some individuals even appear to enjoy human interaction and play. – pojo-guy Jul 2 at 14:31
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    @pojo-guy Looks like the tiny humans will have a pseudo-canine companion animal in the jumping spider! I was looking at a study from Singapore about jumping spider personalities and their hunting styles --- could be the basis for spider-dog breeding in this environment! – elemtilas Jul 2 at 21:53


I'm being totally serious. Some bugs do so and it is quite effective. Consider the golden tortoise beetle larvae:

Aside from being a bit overpriced, it’s hard to deny the effectiveness of a poo stick in warding off attackers. Which is exactly what the larvae of the tortoise beetles have been doing for millennia. Not content to just sit there and get eaten, using a highly elongated and mobile anus, they build a tower of poo on a special structure on their backs. It’s dextrous too: When threatened, the larvae can smack their foes with the so-called “fecal shield.”

According to National Geographic, the mere presence of the shield may discourage offenders:

Golden tortoise beetle larvae have a posterior appendage called an anal fork that they can hang over themselves like an awning. Onto this surface, they’ll pile feces, their old exoskeletons, or both, depending on the species. This so-called “fecal shield” is off-putting to predators.

I would never initiate melee combat with someone covered in poo either. I'd much rather fight someone wearing radioactive armor than to... Well, you get what I mean.

  • +1 just for the sheer audacity of the idea. – JBH Jul 14 at 3:19

Antimony. Obviously.

Antimony forms a highly useful alloy with lead, increasing its hardness and mechanical strength, is used in bullets, bullet tracers and as an opacifier in enamel; batteries and infrared detectors.

For toughness, energy efficiency and stealth Antimony is your first choice, ant man.

They pulverize/powder insect chitin (exoskeleton), and mix it with glue excreted by some other insect, and make customized armor. This could be body armor, or shields made to protect one or more people, or even sleeping quarters, and houses.

  • Welcome to Worldbuilding! The question has the tag science-based, so it might be required that you elaborate on how this would work. Do you have any reference that pulverized insect chitin mixed with glue is even sturdy at all? I think it would just be as strong as the glue. Maybe small chitin plates could work, but i do not see powder chitin to be of any use. – ArtificialSoul Jul 3 at 13:28

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