Assume an Earth-like planet.

The task is to transport a very heavy object through mostly light and some difficult terrain. The object is resting within a basket or pouch, formed like a slingshot and be attached to the beast(s) via cables. The pouch is then dragged over the ground, forming a deep trench in softer grounds.

Cables and pouch are assumed to be indestructible, or not part of the problem.

Created with advanced biotech, how would a beast of burden look like to pull this setup described above?

Everything except the animal is fixed, and cannot be changed.

Advanced Biotech means:

  • Does not need to have evolved naturally.

  • All body parts can be formed at will and placed in arbitrary positions to maximize their ability to pull the pouch.


  • Is an animal, not a machine.

  • Square-Cube-Law

  • Eats Food, needs to be able to get the nutrients for pulling out of the food.

  • Does reproduce

Would it be better to use many small ones or a huge one?


  • Imagine the object in question like the root of a great tree, still enclosed within a sphere of dirt and resting in the pouch.
  • There a many of the objects, and their masses range from two tons to more than 1000 tons (or whatever the physical limit would be to not sink too far into the earth).
  • The intent is to pull the object, not to create a trench. The trench is created because the object is really really heavy.
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    $\begingroup$ How heavy is the object, and what sort of shape does it have? Draft horses are used today to pull logs, and they are fairly heavy and leave a trench in soft ground. I think there needs to be a bit more information on what is being pulled to give a good answer. $\endgroup$ – Crouse Sep 27 '19 at 23:52
  • $\begingroup$ I'm unclear what you expect the answer to be if not a variation on 'a large quadruped'. $\endgroup$ – rek Sep 28 '19 at 12:30
  • $\begingroup$ "more than 1000 tons" - just to give an idea of scale here, the original M1 Abrams massed 54 tons (60 short tons). Dragging a magic pouch containing 20 main battle tanks over difficult ground is not feasible even with modern machinery, let alone animals (however carefully designed). $\endgroup$ – KerrAvon2055 Sep 28 '19 at 12:36
  • $\begingroup$ @KerrAvon2055 Remember, you can make the beast of burden king kong sized or whatever, you can use 1000 of them. Maybe the question just too open. $\endgroup$ – user6415 Sep 28 '19 at 12:50
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    $\begingroup$ why drag it, simple log rollers are older than the wheel and would make it much easier to move. for scale the largest stone block ever moved by humans was dragged by animals and weighed 1,650 tons but the stone itself broke under its own weight as soon as they started moving it. $\endgroup$ – John Sep 28 '19 at 13:23




The unusual thing about this challenge is that the object transported is dragged, unmodified, across the ground. This as opposed to a cart or sledge where the cargo is elevated to shoulder level of oxen or horses, this cargo is low.

One solution is to make the beasts of burden low also: tortoises. Tortoises have other qualities that would make them good for this task. They are immensely strong and have great endurance. Also they have claws which would be good for getting purchase in the soft ground for pulling. They are durable creatures generally and eat a wide range of vegetarian foods. Make them GMO giant tortoises. They do not need to be bigger. Deploy them as a team.

The downside is that they are slow, but I think this dragging endeavor is necessarily going to be slow. They like food and once they figure it out, they will move towards a person with food. Each tortoise in the team would have a handler who would walk along in front of it with carrots or other tortoise food, offering bites from time to time which serves the added purpose of keeping the tortoises fueled up for their work.

For a fiction, tortoises are good because they are familiar creatures but are here outside of their usual habits and environment - a mix of the familiar and the novel is what makes for compelling fiction. You could do a lot with genetically modified tortoises - super long-lived semisentient creatures might remember things from long ago and have unusual insights.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, I will modify them heavily, but I will use totally use tortoises! $\endgroup$ – user6415 Sep 28 '19 at 21:17
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    $\begingroup$ would it be much different if the creature is low on the ground though? since the heavy object create a trench while dragging. make them not exactly in the same level. $\endgroup$ – Li Jun Sep 29 '19 at 0:37
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    $\begingroup$ @LiJun - I thought that if you did not have to raise the end closer to the animals, the other end would have less tendency to dig into the earth. $\endgroup$ – Willk Sep 29 '19 at 3:52

hmmm maybe an ox or bull they are good at pulling or dragging heavy stuff like tree stump or plowing field, since the terrain is dificult, elephant seems not a possible choice and i kinda doubt they have enough strength to pull stuff like that, all i can suggest to alter is mix it with camel hump or ability so they wont quickly get thirsty or hungry.

here some image of bull or oxen pulling tree logs i cant found any image of them pulling tree stump from quick google except a statue.

(from http://www.newenglandhistoricalsociety.com/isaac-stephenson-bullwhacker-aroostook/) enter image description here

(from https://smallfarmersjournal.com/working-steers-and-oxen-on-the-small-farm/) enter image description here

(from http://lyleelderfolkart.com/artist-bios/andre-dube/) enter image description here

since op mention kingkong as example in the comment,in my opinion that also a good choice, such as real animal like orang utan or gorilla type since i assume they have strong arms to drag or pull heavy stuff , i remember a video about orang utan vs sumo wrestler where the orang utan easily drag down or pull the sumo down,but this is purely opinion though, i dont know is my assumption can work or actually true or not.

also theres a giant orangutan too Gigantopithecus blacki

enter image description here

but if op fine with an abomination kind of creature, maybe combine such arms parts to the beast of burden of choice to accomodate more pulling power maybe even more than two arms.

  • $\begingroup$ The op is talking less about pulling out a tree stump but more like pulling out a forest, all at once. $\endgroup$ – John Sep 28 '19 at 13:25
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    $\begingroup$ @John dont take it to literal, i just mean ox and bull is good at dragging or pulling heavy stuff, and OP say number of the animal is not limited to pull it and you can increase the size to kingkong to accomodate it for example, at least base on the description and comment i read $\endgroup$ – Li Jun Sep 28 '19 at 13:40
  • $\begingroup$ Except you can't because it won't be able to support its own weight. Just making the creature biggers starts to have diminishing returns on strength. $\endgroup$ – John Sep 28 '19 at 13:43
  • $\begingroup$ @John yeah i know, hence why i mention that i doubt elephant is suitable as example, the kingkong size is op example in the comment. $\endgroup$ – Li Jun Sep 28 '19 at 13:44
  • $\begingroup$ The OP also specifies earth-like planet and constrained by the square cube law, $\endgroup$ – John Sep 29 '19 at 0:45

Its not possible with one or a few animals, it might be possible with thousands of animals.

It would take almost a thousand oxen to drag something that sized across hard ground, oxen can drag 1.5-2 times their body weight but you start to get diminishing returns with lots of animals since they are not pulling in synch and whatever is connecting them starts to add significant weight. And that is on hard flat ground, on soft ground two to three times that might not be enough. You can't build a single animal capable of generating that kind of force. The square cube law means at a certain point making the creature larger just makes it weaker. You hit the point of diminishing returns long before you even get to elephant size.

Worse even if you handwave the animal, traction becomes a problem, an animal is going to just sink in the same soft ground instead of pulling the rock, its feet are generating much higher pressures than the stone is, its will just end up staying in place digging up the earth under it. You need thousands of animals to disperse the load before this is not true.

  • $\begingroup$ Please read the question again. Pay attention. There is no hard-science, no reality-check or whatever. $\endgroup$ – user6415 Sep 28 '19 at 21:17
  • $\begingroup$ @openend Then you need to remove the "square cube law" from you constraints. creature design assumes the normal laws of physics, is this is not what you are using then you nee to specify that, at which point the answer is whatever you want because magic. the hard science tag is to requires sourced scientific studies not to indicate the question assumes the normal laws of physics. $\endgroup$ – John Sep 29 '19 at 0:39
  • $\begingroup$ I have to agree that the "deep trench" is a problem. Besides that you're dragging this in a needlessly inefficient manner, John is right about the traction issue. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Jan 2 '20 at 18:30

Colossal Colonial Land Starfish

The square-cube law is only a problem if you are increasing the creature's size in three dimensions. If you make an enormous, flat creature, you can make it pretty much as big as you want without worrying about the strength of its materials. It can be as tall as a horse, but as wide as a whole herd of horses. It can move using thousands of tiny feet along its underside, like a starfish.

Food transport is still an issue, so you're going to want to give the creature a large number of mouths, either on the underside (so it can eat grass as it travels) or on top (which means people will have to walk along its back and throw food all over it to make sure nutrients are well-distributed).

A creature like this would never evolve naturally - it is big, slow, vulnerable, and needs constant effort to keep fed. But if constructed, it would basically be a living transport platform - the pulling power of a whole herd in a single creature.


You know how goats seems like they can climb one anything and everything?

Now, imagine super artificially engineered goats which double as mounts and beasts of burden...


Just use a horse.

Horses were used for plowing ever since the horse collar was invented in the Middle Ages. While they were eventually replaced by mechanised tractors for that purpose, they fulfil the criteria of your Question.

Also, I’m unsure why you’d be using a pouch with a heavy object in it to do your plowing rather than a plow, which would be significantly more efficient at the task.

  • $\begingroup$ I appreciate that you took time to answer this question. On the other hand, I am somewhat underwhelmed. Really, a horse? $\endgroup$ – user6415 Sep 28 '19 at 9:39

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