This is a submission for the Anatomically Correct Series

Egyptian Sphinxs are commonly depicted as a lion with a human face. the question I want to know is why might a lion conveniently evolve a human like face?

bonus points if they have wings or something resembling wings

  • $\begingroup$ VTC: poor quality. Make this about your world or make it of use & interest to others! Always ask yourself: what is the worldbuilding problem I need to solve? before posting a query! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Apr 18, 2020 at 20:26
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @elemtilas one this doesn't break any AC rule and two can you stop trying to close every AC question you don't like! $\endgroup$
    – icewar1908
    Commented Apr 18, 2020 at 20:27
  • $\begingroup$ Write good questions, and they won't be closed! Write questions with worldbuilding context and they won't be closed! Write questions about your own work and not about general mythology, and they won't be closed! Always keep in mind what worldbuilding problem am I trying to solve? and your questions will be well received! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Apr 18, 2020 at 20:30
  • $\begingroup$ Please come and participate in the ACS discussion! Since a lot of your questions are being questioned, I think your input will be most valuable! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Apr 18, 2020 at 20:35

1 Answer 1


Convergent evolution with humans

Sphinxes are often characterized by high intelligence compared to other mythical creatures, what with their obsession with riddles and so forth. As it stands, it reasons that sphinxes have a very large brain-to-body mass ratio even compared to something like humans. This results in a very large braincase and a foreshortened snout due to similar evolutionary pressures.

Felids already have a rather human-like face, which is one reason why we find housecats so cute despite them being natural murder machines. Selection could amplify that. Alternatively the sphinx isn't a felid, it's a primate (likely either a baboon relative or giant galago) that has converged with felids in many aspects of its morphology such as having claws and being a large ambush predator. Selection for high intelligence has caused this large primate to converge even more strongly with humans in morphology. I am partial to the death-galago myself. Human interaction may have selected for even more human-like sphinxes, less human-looking ones being subject to the uncanny valley.

Sphinxes could exhibit high intelligence because they evolved in marginal desert environments in northern Africa (read: Egypt) and only later spread into more fertile places like Greece and Turkey, possibly even because humans killed their main competitors in the form of big cats and sphinxes are better at co-existing with humans. Complex, rocky desert environments reward animals that are capable of solving complex problems in order to access hard-to-find sources of food and water, as well as remember where resources are located in the patchy desert. Living in these environments also means less competition with big cats.

The sphinx penchant for riddles could be a combination shibboleth and mating ritual. It's a way to determine what is okay to eat and what is not, and because high intelligence is selected for in sphinxes they find intelligent mates attractive. Solving riddles makes the normally solitary sphinxes more likely to pair up and hang around the other because they find them "interesting", and hence increases the chances of them producing offspring. Failing the ritual isn't always grounds for attacking, but it can be. Oedipus' infamous conflict with the Sphinx of Thebes wasn't a battle, it may have been (at least from a sphinx perspective) a courtship ritual. The sphinx had been attacking people trying to court a mate in the wrong places (which isn't uncommon for inexperienced carnivores), and the reason the sphinx killed herself afterwards was Oedipus successfully solved her riddle but failed to realize that she saw it as flirting (which isn't uncommon for Greek heroes, see: Theseus and Jason).

Sphinxes might not fly, but instead might have a rather prominent headdress of fur similar to a lion's mane that could be misconstrued as wings. This would be why Egyptian sphinxes, which are more frequently depicted (and hence might be more common in Egypt in this scenario), generally lack wings, whereas rarer Greek depictions of sphinxes have "inaccurate" wings. That said, they can jump really, really far, similar to a snow leopard, potentially due to being related to galagos. This is also partially an adaptation to the rocky outcrops in which they like to lair in.


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