Imagine a race of humanoids who only eat meat, and are unable to digest vegetables.

Is it possible for these humanoid to be able too create/gather enough food(meat) to the point that job specialization and large scale population growth can occur?

In real life, humans were able to specialize into many different trades, due to farmers being able to provide enough food for themselves as well as their families and neighbors, so not every single person needed to farm/hunt/gather in order to simply survive.

Would it be possible for these carnivorous humanoids to stop eating up all the prey and think about animal husbandry and factory ranches?

  • $\begingroup$ from an evolutionary stand point I don't think this would evolve. Humans are horrible hunters without our technology. Pre-modern man, who lacked sophisticated hunting tools like bow, or even well crafted spears, would have been a good scavenger, but a horrible hunter. As such without access to nutrition from plants and other resources he would be at a major disadvantage. He could, perhaps, evolve as a specialized scavenger who uses intellect to know how to find, secure, and maintain scavenged meat, but that limits your population since you need real predators to do the killing $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    Apr 22, 2015 at 14:47

5 Answers 5


Probably; near-carnivorous human societies have developed before.

According to wikipedia: "Mongolian cuisine primarily consists of dairy products, meat, and animal fats". As we all know from world history, the Mongols were able to create a complex society with a food surplus that supported non-producers, including soldiers, nobles, and craftsman. Native Americans living on the Columbia river also generated food surpluses by harvesting the salmon runs, and their society included nobility as well craftsman who made goods both practical(houses, blankets, canoes) and artistic (such as totem poles). Pacific Native diets were not 100% carnivorous, but they were also harvesting fish at well below the carrying capacity of the rivers. If they needed more fish to round out their calorie counts, they could have gotten it.

This is a bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison, because you asked about a species and I am answering with examples of societies, each of which is predated by neighboring societies with settled lifestyles. But they do demonstrate that in certain environments, you can get a food surplus from meat without previously relying on argiculture in the same region.

Now, if you are imagining eating steak every day, large populations cannot possibly be maintained. The inefficiency from cows is too much. Here are some considerations to show how this limit may be circumvented:

Organ meat, marrow, and blood

Cows yield less than 50% of their live weight in steak, but the other 50% doesn't have to go to waste. In fact, it is probably necessary to eat some organs because muscle tissue does not contain all of the vitamins and nutrients essential for life, and you can't get anything from plants.

Milk, eggs, and blood(again):

You don't have to slaughter an animal to derive nutrition from it. By harvesting milk, eggs, and (carefully) blood, you can cheat the predator vs prey equation because these are cheap for the animal to replenish. Aside from fishing, this is probably the most likely "in" we have for initially developing agriculture. Perhaps some innovative humanoids built primitive birdhouses that could be regularly harvested for eggs, until gradually you ended up with the domesticated chicken.

Birds and fish:

Birds travel long distances. This means that they can eat food relatively, then fly to you, where you catch and eat them. This essentially increases your harvesting range to farther than you can walk or ride, because the bird will consume calories somewhere else, and then bring them to you in the form of its meat. If you doubt that this is an appreciable source of energy, look up the passenger pigeon, which used to migrate in flocks that blocked out the sun. Many other comments and answers have pointed to fish (and shellfish) which massively increase the carrying capacity of a region by using the nutrients found in the water as well as those found on land,

Scavenging (kinda):

I don't see an entire civilization surviving on scavenging. I think if you did, you would drive away the predators that you were taking food from. I have no source for this so feel free to disagree. But you can use dogs and falcons to increase hunting yields. Dogs are also extremely useful for raching/herding. Dogs provide another possible origin for domestication, because they are potentially more useful as hunting partners than as a single, quick meal. Once you realize that you can domesticate dogs, why not give it a try with other animals?


When you get a big windfall of meat, whether because you culled the herd, took down a mammoth, or over-hunted during a migration, you can't let it go to waste. Your carnivorous humanoids need to be connoisseurs of all the different ways to dry, smoke, or salt their favorite meals. This is an initial source of food surpluses, although it presents challenges in carrying the preserved meat with you to new hunting grounds.

For your carnivorous humanoids, as for humans, the origins of civilization are probably lost. Some or all of the above ideas may have worked together, maybe in different combinations in different parts of the world.

  • $\begingroup$ While some human cultures exist who grow almost no plants at all, they all trade with other people for things they can't make themselves, many of which are in some way related to agriculture that takes place in other lands, so they can't really live without agriculture either. $\endgroup$
    – Yora
    Apr 23, 2015 at 9:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Yora I don't think this is true. The trade was definitely happening, but it doesn't follow that this trade was essential for life. Do you have any evidence for this? $\endgroup$
    – mbocek
    Apr 23, 2015 at 17:39

Say I'm out hunting one day and I came across Bob. In tow, Bob has 40 cows (he hasn't killed and eaten one in front of them yet, so they still follow him). He also has one of those I-am-the-future grins on his face. So annoying. Bob suggests, through a series of grunts (we're not social), that I start digging in the dirt and planting some not-meat to feed my food. Bob is crazy. I would prefer to kill Bob and eat one of his cows before they all run away.

I don't think this would work. It's very difficult to raise animals as fast as you can eat them. By looking at predator-prey ratios (I didn't know biologists knew how to use differential equations), a human is going to have a very low ratio, maybe 1%. Similar to other warm blooded predators, like lions.

That means a normal human who is about 70 kg would need about 7,000 kg of edible reproducing animals. If we ignore the issues of preservation, one human would need a herd of 37 average cows to survive. In the best case they would actually raise fish. Fish have one of the highest feed conversion ratios. The next best would be crickets, but only considering FCR, that would be a load of crickets.

Additionally, carnivorous predators are not particularly good at forming into large groups. Small roving bands at best. This would make it difficult for us to form a society, culture, language, or a farmer's market.

These roadblocks, small predator-prey mass ratio and poor social skills would not put us on the path for forming a society. Plus, nobody even liked Bob.


As Samuel said, this is unlikely to happen with land-based animals. However, one alternative is to consider fishing from large lakes and oceans. That way you don't have to plant anything - you can still get your food directly in relatively large quantities.

A society of your carnivores that got into fishing would be able to build population more than their more traditional relatives, and would likely spread and take over all coastal areas. They might be able to reach the critical point where they can develop civilization.

  • $\begingroup$ I really like this answer, as it helps to address how humanoid creatures with limited intellect could reliably collect large amounts of meat to allow large populations. $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    Apr 22, 2015 at 14:48

I think one of the major reasons humans have been able to create a large society is in large part to our wide ranging diet. We adapted to eat almost anything to provide sustenance.

So my guess is that any carnivorous animal that becomes sentient and advances will become more omnivorous along it's path. Even dogs will eat some vegies. So I predict (especially looking at the numbers from Samuel) that a fully carnivorous animal will not create large advanced societies, or if so at a much slower pace than humans. Primarily because our advances are based on shared discoveries and information passed down. Carnivorous societies would have many fewer individuals (because of the food ratio) and small bands would likely be more territorial, slowing down the exchange of knowledge.


One of the interesting points about a pastoral society is the tooth-to-tail ratio of subsistence vs other activities. In an agricultural society, you need a significant proportion of your population working the land to support a much smaller fraction of non-agricultural specialists. As such, you need a very big population to support the development of technology.

In a pastoral society, you can have a far lower percentage of your population managing the herds, meaning a larger proportion freed up for research and innovation. In humans, the math seems to balance out up until the start of industrialisation (although with such a small sample size it's hard to draw conclusions).

If your carnivorous species are pre-industrial, or the math balances a little differently with obligate carnivores instead of hypo/mesocarnivores like us then it may be possible to have a decently competitive society based on nomadic pastoralism. It worked for the Mongols after all...


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