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In the world I'm building there is a very dangerous creature that can pick up rocks or any solid object and make them deadly projectiles by throwing it with high speeds and very accurately. By accurate I mean they can hit prey like a gazelle or deer from long distances (100+ meters distance) with high confidence, and even flying birds out of the sky (with skill). It's main mode of self defense is also throwing: it should able to make a split second decision and place an accurate headshot and incapacitate any charging predator (tigers, lions, etc).

Since this creature goes all in for powerful and accurate throwing ability, it has tradeoffs: it doesn't have and need fast locomotion as it can slowly creep up to its prey after the creature struck it dead. But this also its weakness: other throwing creatures or even its own kind can hit the creature easily. And that explains the evolutionary arms race: as the longer range and more accurate specimens have greater chance of survival against ones that doesn't throw that well, that's how the story goes.

So my question is: what kind of body features and senses this creature needs to have achieve all of this?

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    $\begingroup$ That creature sounds like a human being with a sling. $\endgroup$ Aug 24 '20 at 13:25
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    $\begingroup$ "It doesn't have and need fast locomotion as it can slowly creep up to its prey after the creature struck it dead": and when finally arriving there it will find that its prey has been eaten by opportunistic hienas, vultures, and other carrior eaters. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Aug 24 '20 at 13:42
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    $\begingroup$ I imagine it needs to be better than a human? Humans are exceptionally good at throwing things already. None are both as accurate and powerful as humans as far as I know. $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Aug 24 '20 at 13:47
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP "its prey has been eaten by opportunistic hienas, vultures, and other carrior eaters" Heh, then they'd get a rock in their head too, more stuff to eat. $\endgroup$
    – Calmarius
    Aug 24 '20 at 17:13
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    $\begingroup$ Humans are the best at throwing, bar none. Now, the world record for non-aerodynamic thrown objects is a bit north of 100 meters--104 meters for javelins. Simply make your creatures Olympian-class humanoids. $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Aug 24 '20 at 19:44

12 Answers 12

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An optimal throwing animal? look in the mirror.

Or more precisely; A human whose practices their poi spinning, slinging, or is at least good at dancing, is the best throwing you'll ever see.

This picture is me poi spinning. There are two flaming balls circling around me fast enough that they blur in the camera shutter time. I have to move my wrists in a rhythm such that the chains holding the flaming balls don't intersect. There are no special effects or post processing.

enter image description here

(It's also my profile picture.... cause it's cool. But I digress.)

This rhythm is where a good throw comes from. A weight on a cord spun can be launched incredibly accurately and incredibly far. I witnessed an event at a circus training camp where people had to launch a spun poi (not on fire) across an oval and hit a 1m target on the other side. The best could hit a bucket sized target repeatedly.

I'm not this good, but I've watched people use spun poi to hit the middle of the square on a basketball backboard from out of bounds on the other side of the court. Repeatedly.

I cant find the documentary in which I saw this, but a surprisingly amount of our brain is dedicated to highly accurate throwing. The nerve impulse travels so slowly relative to the motion of our arms that our we need to queue signals in a buffer in our brains, and have multiple impulses in transit to the same muscle at once. This uses circuitry in the brain shared with dancing and rhythm that is very rare even in other primates.

The documentary I saw suggested that we evolved this highly accurate internal timer and event queue in order to throw accurately, and the success from throwing helped drive the evolutionary push towards bigger brains.

There's more to a good throw; we need the ability to pick up an object and guess its weight extremely accurately extremely quickly. Humans can get very good at this. I've witnessed retail workers reliably pickup customer orders of meats accurate to a few grams every time.

We need the ability to twist or spin our wrists just right, and time that spin very accurately, while also throwing. Curving paths, or stabilising spins take throwing to the next level. These are done in sports by humans all the time.

Throwing a heavy poi across an oval doesn't really utilise the full strength of the muscles, it uses the rhythm parts of your brain to build up the momentum and launch it. Errors in rhythm create imperfections in your spin, which lower your launch speed.

A trained human is an exceptionally good thrower, especially when we can create our own optimal tool of throwing, a sling, or weight on a stick. And to improve it, you don't need massive muscles, you need to tweak the brain to have even better rhythm than it currently does.

Your creature has a human or humanish brain, and exceptional rhythm.

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    $\begingroup$ "There are two flaming balls circling around me fast enough that they blur in the camera shutter time" Are you sure that's not just a long exposure? $\endgroup$
    – Calmarius
    Aug 25 '20 at 8:27
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    $\begingroup$ @Calmarius As a fellow poi spinner, I can confirm that, while that particular photo is long exposure, there is nevertheless significant blur over typical camera shutter times. $\endgroup$ Aug 25 '20 at 18:22
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    $\begingroup$ It's not just the arms. Essentially our whole body evolved to be good at throwing things. We're so good at unconsciously calculating trajectories with a bit of practice that we do it for fun. We're so good at it, in fact, we don't even need to use our arms. $\endgroup$ Aug 25 '20 at 22:01
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    $\begingroup$ In his book of essays about science, "Unweaving the rainbow", Richard Dawkins suggests that one of the ways that speech might have evolved is connected to the chain of events necessary to throw something - hard, accurate throwing is, as you say, is a long and complicated process involving many different actions which need to sequence together perfectly, and he speculates that speech is like this too, and might have come from the same evolved mechanism, maybe even being a part of the throw itself - each step having it's own vocalisation perhaps. $\endgroup$ Aug 26 '20 at 8:45
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    $\begingroup$ To be clear, an untrained human is an incredibly good thrower. You don't need to qualify it as "trained". Throwing is, indeed, one of the number of items in which we utterly, utterly dominate other animals. Note that, obviously, we're "the opposable thumb animal" and that's precisely why we throw so well, along with 3 or so other resaons. Just as Max (via Dawkins!) points out, throwing is absolutely basic to our very evolution. Human throwing is like mentioning a bird's flight. $\endgroup$
    – Fattie
    Aug 26 '20 at 13:50
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If you are looking for something other than an apelike creature, which other folks have rightfully pointed out would probably be the most straightforward answer, might I suggest a creature akin so a sauropod with a long, immensely powerful and whip-like tail?

In modern day, you can see tails being used as weapons by the komodo dragon, which can deliver powerful, stinging blows with its tail. If you were to make this tail prehensile (able to grip) or equip it with a scaly, scooping paddle, you could have the creature use it to launch projectiles at high speeds towards prey.

To have the attack be accurate at a distance, I think your creature would benefit from powerful binocular vision i.e. two forward-facing eyes. The better the vision, the better the aim!

I hope this helps give another option!

Resources:

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to worldbuilding. Unfortunately this suggestion doesn't answer the OP's question. This site is build around asking questions and providing answers. Posts that only provide commentary are likely to be deleted quickly. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Aug 24 '20 at 15:30
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    $\begingroup$ @sphennings can you please explain how my response does not answer the OP's question? I am new and don't know how to message you directly. I'd like to make sure my post is useful to the OP. $\endgroup$
    – Oliver
    Aug 24 '20 at 15:40
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    $\begingroup$ @sphennings Everything he said answers the question of what features would be needed. the method of delivery? check, the required eyesight to aim? check. It has a lot of extra fluff that could be trimmed as the question doesn't ask for it but overall it answers. $\endgroup$
    – IT Alex
    Aug 24 '20 at 15:52
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Long armed ape

I suggest that it is apelike possibly with one of its arms much longer than the other. This is how humans get maximum leverage when throwing.

Apes and monkeys already throw stones.

Chimpanzee throws stones at spectators https://youtu.be/LbRFOPxrX8k?t=51

Humans use arm extensions

I can think of two main examples of making an arm extension, the throwing stick and the sport of pelota. A pelota player can project a ball at 200mph

Throwing stick video https://youtu.be/gfx6d-J8-oU?t=14

Pelota video https://youtu.be/d45uhH2l3xY?t=44

Given that rocks don't usually come in nice standard round shapes, the long arm must end in a hand.

For those of you familiar with the sport of cricket, this orang-utan would make a formidable fast bowler.

enter image description here enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ This addresses the throwing strength part. I also wonder about the accuracy and precision part. As throwing strength doesn't worth much if it doesn't hit the target. The longest recorded basketball shot going through the ring is about 35 meters. At that distance most larger games will notice you and run away. I'd like to make this creature to be able to score a basketball shot from 100 meters or more, reliably (assuming there are no unforeseen things, such as wind gusts, or things like that). $\endgroup$
    – Calmarius
    Aug 24 '20 at 17:27
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    $\begingroup$ @Calmarius For accuracy, the creature would definitely need a predator's eye arrangement with two forward-facing eyes for exact target triangulation. Furthermore, the eyes might be adapted to see clear at long distances like raptors or owls. $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Aug 24 '20 at 19:38
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    $\begingroup$ It's worth noting that orangutans and chimpanzes are pretty lousy throwers compared to humans despite their strength - a very long-handed ape would need all the biomechanical changes to wrists, shoulders and arms in which humans differ from apes; without human-like arms that orangutan would be a worse bowler than a random teenagr. $\endgroup$
    – Peteris
    Aug 24 '20 at 23:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Peteris - True but then most apes don't live where there is an abundance of handy throwing-sized stones. Suitable environments might include stony beaches, riverbeds and the foot of shale slopes. Evolution would be able to take its course in such places. $\endgroup$ Aug 24 '20 at 23:19
  • $\begingroup$ P.S. Apes also tend to live among trees and this is the worst place to do any kind of throwing. Just like humans they must have moved away from the trees before evolving this ability. $\endgroup$ Aug 24 '20 at 23:35
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I'd second the suggestion of a long armed ape, but perhaps with exceptionally elongated arm bones. These might look somewhat like a Kangaroo's back legs - very long, flat, and skinny, powerful tendons to adapt as shock absorbers, backed up by massive shoulder muscles. You'd expect to see adaptions to reduce the injuries baseball pitchers get, so, enlarged tendons, extra thick fluid sacs in the shoulder joints. It'll otherwise have a low center of gravity, to stop it toppling from its huge arms, with large, forward facing eyes. I'd guess they're also good at climbing trees, as this makes a good vantage point to hunt from. A good sense of smell, too, to track creatures it doesn't kill outright until their injuries prove fatal.

Human's big, neolithic adaption in throwing was the spear thrower - it is amazing how much futher you can chuck things with an extra foot extension on your arm.

Your creature is going to need something to throw, too. Rocks aren't going to be effective at killing stuff, and there's not piles of good throwing rocks everywhere. They also won't give it enough range.

I'd therefore suggest two plants it might have co-evolved with:

  1. Mangroves - Mangrove seeds come as these kind of spear type shapes, designed to pierce the ground. In your world, I'd suggest the creature has a symbiotic relationship with a type of mangrove. This mangrove produces long, sharp, spears as seeds. These are broken off and thrown by the creature. This not only helps the plant with dispersal, but also provides it with a nitrogen rich growing site, if it does hit and kill a creature.

  2. Bamboo - a mutation here might make the corms grow at an angle, allowing the creature to break off sharp bits just by snapping it. This is less fun than the bamboo example.

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If by "throwing" you mean "launching an accurate projectile", then contrary to most of the other answers here, I'm going to say limbs aren't necessarily the best way to do that.

Captive Octopii, I've heard, can quite accurately hit objects or people with jets of water they spray out of their tank.

So imagine a creature shaped like a bulbous but extremely muscular cylinder, at the center of which is a fluid-filled tube (I guess they live in a water-rich environment, to be able to replenish this easily).

Creature swallows projectile, positions it in tube, and then does a whole-body spasm, generating for a brief moment intense water pressure that launches the projectile just like a cannon would. Aiming still requires a degree of skill, but very much less so than coordinating the multiple joins of a hand, arm, shoulder, and torso, as we do when we throw.

So, mostly it needs good binocular (or multi-ocular?) eyesight with widely spaced eyes to aim at its target accurately over long distances, and good proprioception to align its body accurately. (Not "eyes on stalks" like a snail though, unless they're rigid - eyes that move relative to each other or to the creatures head would make accurate aiming very, very much harder).

Air based propulsion is also possible, especially if we're only considering lighter projectiles. Even with our quite limited chest strength and lung capacity, humans can fire blow-gun darts 50 or 60 meters (according to the first couple of videos that came up on youTube when I searched, anyway), and we're in no way particularly evolved for that. So 100m seems very reasonable for a large, powerful creature to launch small rocks or pebbles via gas or lung pressure, if specifically evolved to that task.

The key physiological trait would be a long, completely straight tube, that acts as the "gun barrel" for the projectile.

If it's inside the creature's body, surrounded by enormous compression muscles, then we might imagine a very heavy, long, lumbering, inflexible creature like a very elongated and stiff hippopotamus. Perhaps on 6 or more stubby legs? It's back-end and middle might be much larger than the front because that's where the most pressure needs to be. And it would aim by positioning its whole body.

On the other hand, the firing tube could be more external, like some kind of protruding horn (using a horn would mean that the projectile would need to fit the bore quite closely, as horn isn't flexible, but maybe it can afford to be picky about the rocks it picks up... or maybe it grinds them down to the right size against each other in some kind of body cavity?). I'm imagining something between a narwhal with legs, and a ridiculously exaggerated rhino (with a single very thick horn several meters long/high).

For smaller projectiles, wind speed might affect accuracy significantly, so these creatures might have large flexible spines or projections, covered in membranes or something like feathers, with which to sense the wind. Perhaps running in a ridge along their backs, or protruding from their heads?

Also if you like, for greater lethality from smaller projectiles, perhaps the creature coats its projectiles in poison? Curare-dipped darts worked for Amazon tribespeople, after all.

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    $\begingroup$ So basically a creature that can "sneeze" projectiles? Creative idea! +1 $\endgroup$
    – Calmarius
    Aug 26 '20 at 20:24
  • $\begingroup$ Come to think of it, it's been a long time since I saw the film, but didn't "Starship Troopers" have various castes of giant insect that were evolved or designed to launch projectiles somewhat in the way I'm describing? $\endgroup$
    – Doin
    Aug 27 '20 at 10:44
  • $\begingroup$ And for additional reading : Projectile use by non-human organisms $\endgroup$
    – J...
    Aug 27 '20 at 18:40
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I imagine that a creature optimized throwing would have arms like atlatls (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spear-thrower)

That would be long, thin forearms with small hands/graspers on the end. They would be arranged a little differently from ours. With the arm in our natural "cocked hammer" position, you'd find the palm facing forward instead of to the inside.

The trick to throwing efficiently is getting the energy from your big and strong-but-slow muscles concentrated into a fast, small projectile. At the end of the motion, everything that isn't moving slowly -- which necessarily includes any body part touching the very fast projection -- represents a waste of energy proportional to its mass, so this last link has to be lightweight. That excludes tails or appendages made of muscle.

Atlatls are also pretty versatile. You can use them like slings, pulling mostly perpendicular to the direction of motion, or more like the spear-throwing technique, applying force to the short end of a lever. Also, of course, since they're stiff (unlike slings), the creature could put its little atlatl hands wherever it wants to pick things up.

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The answer is obviously humans, we utterly, utterly dominate the skill.

We're as far ahead of second place as birds are better at us than flying.

Some of the key points,

• the overwhelming issue is staggering, spectacular, just lights-out precision control of your fingers. (Any baseball fan will explain this, or, watch No No: A Dockumentary)

Indeed, the fact that we're the animals with opposable thumbs, is 75% of the battle

• completely upright stance, that is to say, flawless balance on two limbs; your throwing limbs have to be specialized for throwing, not something you "also walk on" or "also swim with"

• adequate for the distances/speeds involved (ie, excellent) depth perception and motion tracking (many other animals crush us in these abilities, but ours are great)

• heavier-lighter-lighter limb design as you go outwards. As any robotic arm engineer will tell you, it's incredibly hard to do heavier-lighter-lighter-as-you-go-outwards limb design. Our arms, and dog's limbs, are just utterly amazing on this front. Other animals (cows, elephants etc) less so as it's less important.

A great comparison is to look at monkeys/apes, who are completely useless at throwing, for exactly the four reasons above.

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Elephants also throw things like poo, mud, rocks, sticks, and tree trunks with their trunks.

Elephants are by far the strongest throwers on land. War elephants have been trained to pick up horses and riders and throw them in the air.

I read in an article published in the Victorian era of a bull Asian elephant chasing people out of their village and then tossing their houses around - no doubt those were tiny one room wooden shacks.

So perhaps an elephant who could throw an object weighing hundreds of pounds ten feet should be able to throw an object weighing one pound hundreds or thousands of feet.

Elephants have rather poor eyesight, so their aim should be poor. So giving an elephant like creature eagle eyes would be a good way to improve its long distance throwing accuracy.

Elephants are herbivores, and it would be unlikely for elephant sized creatures to be carnivores. However, herbivores like elephants do sometimes attack other animals, and presumably your elephant shaped creatures could attack other animals by throwing things at them.

Furthermore, herbivores have been filmed eating smaller animals for unexplained reasons.

Possibly a large elephant like creature could get most of its calories from plant matter, but get some essential nutrients from meat, and thus sometimes hunt prey.

The more carnivorous you make you creature, the smaller it should be. If it is totally carnivorous, it should be no larger than a lion, a tiger, or a polar bear. In that case it would be much larger and stronger than a human, but much smaller and weaker than an elephant. Thus its maximum throwing range should be somewhere between that of an human and an elephant - unless its throwing muscle in the trunk, head and shoulder are relatively stronger and larger than those of an elephant.

And if you make the elephant shaped carnivore even smaller, it should be even weaker and have a shorter throwing range, unless its throwing muscle in the trunk, head and shoulder are relatively stronger and larger than those of an elephant.

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    $\begingroup$ "perhaps an elephant who could throw an object weighing hundreds of pounds ten feet should be able to throw an object weighing one pound hundreds or thousands of feet." is not how it works; tossing heavy objects has different (contradictory?) requirements compared to flinging light objects at very high speed. $\endgroup$
    – Peteris
    Aug 24 '20 at 23:14
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    $\begingroup$ elephants however have really poor control of what they throw, and cannot throw very heavy things proportional to their mass. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Aug 25 '20 at 18:45
  • $\begingroup$ "unexplained reasons?" - The default explanation for "why does animal X eat animal Y" is "for calories/nutrition." I don't think I've heard anyone say otherwise. Plenty of herbivores are opportunistic carnivores. $\endgroup$
    – Brian
    Aug 26 '20 at 21:47
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Humanity and science have found several ways to create long range weapons and tools which would be more or less viable in nature, depending on the environmental factors of the world. From rocks and sharpened sticks, to slingshots, catapults, guns (including water guns) and rifles. Apes have already been mentioned, but there are also the archerfish, some spitting cobras and even frogs with their elastic tongues. While these real life examples don't match the criteria defined, they can give us some ideas on how to fulfill them. More on this later.

The reduced mobility of the creature will probably translate not only in a diminished sprinting speed but also in a slow turning ability. Because of this, it should have a way to perceive ―and not only react― against close range predators.

As has been pointed out, the availability of projectiles is also an issue, with rocks varying in shapes and sizes making accuracy at longer distances more difficult if not impossible. Furthermore, assuming a savanna ecosystem, rocks may or may not be readily available.

Given the above, perhaps a self-produced projectile would be preferable. Manufacturing aside, I see three possibilities:

  1. A fruit from a tree with a very tough and relatively mid-sized round seed. The fruit would contribute to the creature's nutrition while the latter would help the plant's spread. It may be digested into smaller shrapnel.
  2. A hardened bullet made of compacted dirt, which would be shaped and solidified in its stomach.
  3. A pearl-like "calcareous concretion", similar to that of oysters. Note that these are susceptible to acid, however.

About the perception, eyes similar to retractable telescopes would achieve long distance perception and independent movement like that of a chameleon would help in both hunting and predator avoidance.

Last but not least, the shooting mechanism. Long range weaponry is rarely suitable to close quarters which is why I'd suggest giving it different ways to attack and defend. Its main hunting organ can be a highly elastic and extremely compressible tongue with a cavity where a regurgitated seed/dirt (the pearl would need to come from somewhere other than the stomach) can be easily held in place and released. The mouth (or an inner bone structure) can be shaped as a gun barrel for higher effectiveness. The secondary defensive organ can be a flexible but strong tail-like excretory appendage, with compressed gas propulsion (insert joke here) which can shoot seeds or other solids. This secondary mechanism could also be used to give the coup de grâce or death blow to a wounded ―yet still dangerous― prey.

We can imagine this creature as a reptilian looking creature, much like a chameleon or a Komodo dragon, with a longer, bigger tail. But this is not necessarily the case. It will depend on the evolutionary path of the world in question. We may even imagine an amphibian version living in the swamps, albeit with a lower firing range, perhaps. Also adding some poison may increase its deadliness without relying on raw kinetic energy.

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How about a creature similar to a chameleon:

Chameleon

that can also spin and throw an object super fast?

Spinning bullet and a ball


Chameleon's tongue is ultra quick with a crazy fast release (imaging 0 to 100 km/s in 0.01 seconds!). It has a telescopic mechanism for stretching/retracting. This provides both high speed and high accuracy for even catching the flying insects. And it has a sticky end for getting the prey to its mouth.

I can imagine a similar mechanism on a creature for doing the reverse: throwing. It picks up the rocks or other (small enough) objects with its "tongue", retracts it and then stretches it with deadly speed and releasing the object with the momentum.

For adding extra range (and accuracy), its tongue may also have the ability to give a spin to the projectile. Like the rifling in almost every modern gun.


image credits: 1 Science Llama 2 hunter-ed.com

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    $\begingroup$ Good one, I also thought of a Chameleon! $\endgroup$
    – Fattie
    Aug 26 '20 at 13:45
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I'm going to suggest tool use as an essential part of adaptation for throwing.

Extending your arm by a few feet gives you huge advantages, as explained in other answers - either via slings, or spear throwers ... or even bows ... but leaves your excessively long limb highly vulnerable to injury or damage. Especially since it must be lightweight so that your throwing energy is concentrated in the projectile, not the limb.

If it's a vine or a stick on the other hand, just throw away the broken one and pick up a new one from your mangrove tree or bamboo clump. You have a huge advantage over anyone who has to wait for their throwing arm/tail/trunk to heal, or grow another one.

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enter image description here

Maybe something like this little guy?

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