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Imagine a world of anthropomorphic animals (if you're thinking of Zootopia, that's a reasonable starting point). People in this world have a lot in common with humans — opposable thumbs, language, the ability to walk on two legs, etc. — but also retain some characteristics of their bestial cousins.

For the most part, physical violence among unrelated people is frowned upon. (However, there are notable exceptions; gatherings of male bovines and/or cervines at "certain times of the year", for example.) What happens among family and close friends is a little different, however. Equines and suines are known to nip at each other, and canines are especially notorious for "roughhousing".

Of course, the opposite is also true.

What type(s) of people would find this sort of thing most abhorrent?

Answers should be based on the behavior of real animals, and should be limited to land mammals. (No whales, seals, manatees, etc... or bats¹.) Also, there are no humans in this world, though there are other primates.

(¹ There are no bat-people in this world. Unlike Zootopia, people have a much more physically-plausible minimum size, which means bat-people wouldn't realistically be able to fly, and I don't want people running around with unusable wings.)


To put this in more human terms... some humans consider a certain amount of friendly physical contact perfectly normal; slapping a friend on the back, or "play punching", or giving your younger brother a "noogie". Canines would consider this sort of behavior extremely normal, if not "tame". I'm looking for (a) species that isn't/aren't necessarily opposed to any touching, but would be appalled by anything that might be construed as violent physical contact, such as the preceding examples. OTOH, species with a near-pathological aversion to any physical contact are okay too. (And I mean any. One that hates being hugged, but likes friendly scratches or mutual grooming doesn't qualify for 'hates any touching'.)

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    $\begingroup$ define violence, is a parasitic wasp that paralyzes a caterpillar before laying its eggs in it violent, is a lion eating a gazelle violent. $\endgroup$ – John Dec 27 '20 at 15:35
  • $\begingroup$ there is an odd tend in animals, the more dangerous the animal generally the less aggressive its mating is, rabbits will fight to the death but lions have to many lethal tools so competition is largely about display since it is likely that both will die if they fight seriously. $\endgroup$ – John Dec 27 '20 at 15:53
  • $\begingroup$ @Matthew It is quite commendable to restrict intelligence to beings with large enough brains & bodies. But if gods or mad scientists give intelligence to many species of mammals, and thus create new species, they can also increase the body size of the new species of intelligent beings they create. Thus they could make a species of bat people as massive as the largest extinct flying birds or flying reptiles, which should be large enough to be intelligent see my answer at: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/96644/… $\endgroup$ – M. A. Golding Dec 27 '20 at 17:34
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    $\begingroup$ You have hundreds of species that would be equally plausible, basically anything that fights only for mates. Also if anything uplifting will make them more violent not less. primates are so violent because once you are intelligent and social you realize violence works as a social tool. $\endgroup$ – John Dec 27 '20 at 22:37
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    $\begingroup$ "with a near-pathological aversion to any physical contact" - I'm flagging this post because I'm in it and I don't like it. $\endgroup$ – Mazura Dec 28 '20 at 1:41
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The hedgehog:

enter image description here

Some mammals respond to threats with aggression. Carnivores have effective weaponary for violence. Many herbivores have learned that the best defence is a good offence and many will fight over mates.

But there are some who respond defensively. Hedgehogs do. They have a passive and effective defensive system. They are not build to fight nor to flee, but to curl up and let their spines do their job. They don't have powerful limbs to claw, and their teeth are sharp, but small. Moreover, unlike porcupines, their spines are not detachable, so do no lasting damage to one who investigates too closely. Their mating fights are at most "a bit of argy-bargy" with no teeth of claws engaged.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3gOYh54Axqg

When the danger passes they uncurl and go about their business. They are insectivores that eat a lot of slugs, but there Slugs aren't people and so they don't count.

The anthropomorphic form abhors violence, because its instinctive reaction is to defend passively rather than to hit back. The hedgehog doesn't cast the first stone. They are phlegmatic and stoical.

The same can apply to African spiny tenrecs, the American armadillos and the monotreme echidna. This last one also has tiny teeth, reducing further its ability for violence (unless you are an ant)

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    $\begingroup$ "its instinctive reaction is to defend passively", yeah, I think I'm leaning in that direction, possibly even to the point of giving them an almost neurotic response to physical contact (except on the snout), including touching other non-hedgehogs. In particular, the classic joke (Q: How do hedgehogs mate? A: Very carefully) would be literally true. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Dec 28 '20 at 16:38
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    $\begingroup$ ...and I'm going to accept this, because thinking more about it just added an interesting and unexpected twist to my story. (It's really neat when that happens!) $\endgroup$ – Matthew Dec 28 '20 at 16:44
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    $\begingroup$ Speak up please, I'm busy watching The Ultimate Hedgehog Fighting Championship and it's a bit noisy. : youtube.com/watch?v=3gOYh54Axqg $\endgroup$ – PcMan Dec 29 '20 at 22:38
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Possibly - the capybara

enter image description here

Capybaras are somewhat known for being extremely relaxed around other animals and they are also quite social. They share their natural habitat with many other species and with some they have developed a natural symbiotic relation (with birds, for example). They also give an alarm when sensing a predator, which others around can benefit with. On the other hand, for reasons unknown to me, they also seem pretty chill with predators such as caimans.

Quick googling will show you a lot pictures of capybaras hanging out with other animals. It is worth noting though that violence is quite common in nature (duh), so even capybaras are known to bite when threatened.

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  • $\begingroup$ Capybara area also quite willing to attack each other as well as predators. $\endgroup$ – John Dec 27 '20 at 15:41
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    $\begingroup$ Capybaras can be very aggressive to one another, particularly males during competition over mates academic.oup.com/beheco/article-abstract/4/2/114/214327 $\endgroup$ – user2352714 Dec 28 '20 at 2:39
  • $\begingroup$ I was going to suggest that rodents in general tend to be on the low end of the violence scale. The mouse is often used as a symbol for timidity. That said, the picture with the alligator makes me nervous - how are these guys not constantly just every predator's lunch? $\endgroup$ – Darrel Hoffman Dec 28 '20 at 14:52
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The Sloth, of course.

The concept of ANY energetic physical movement, much less that directed to injury, is anathema to their very way of life.

It is rumored that they redirect the usual instincts for physical violence into political intrigue, but no-one has waited around long enough to verify this as yet. It can be hard to tell by body language alone.

Image of a Sloth taking a noon Siesta:
enter image description here

VIDEO of a Sloth in !!!Fighting Frenzy!!!
enter image description here

Image of Sloth planning World Domination:
enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ Any zoo keeper will tell you sloths can be incredibly violent, untrained/acclimated sloths will attack keepers. sloths can still move fast enough for short periods to be dangerous. $\endgroup$ – John Dec 27 '20 at 15:23
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    $\begingroup$ @john Quite true. but do they like violence, as asked by the OP? NO. Given any choice, they will settle into a nice, sedate lifestyle. (some exceptions occur around mating season, too. blame the hormones) $\endgroup$ – PcMan Dec 27 '20 at 16:24
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    $\begingroup$ except the males fight each other over mates. $\endgroup$ – John Dec 27 '20 at 18:04
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    $\begingroup$ @PcMan But by that definition almost any mammal, including humans, would fit this criterion. Most animals don't like violence, they only engage in it when they feel threatened, if they are induced into it by hormones during the mating season, or if they feel as though their perceived territory is being impinged upon. $\endgroup$ – user2352714 Dec 28 '20 at 2:42
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    $\begingroup$ @leftaroundabout Correct. :) Sloth moves so slow, video == picture. Is joke. Is funny. is..... whoosh? $\endgroup$ – PcMan Dec 28 '20 at 11:00
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Scientists have studied the frequency of aggression in mammals in several studies. This study investigates the roots of lethal violence across Mammalia. However, this study is only based on field reports of positive confirmation that animals engage in lethal violence, which can be seen in how primates appear hyper-aggressive. Primate are hyper-aggressive, but they're also highly popular subjects of study and so their behavior has been heavily documented compared to something like a cricetid rodent or opossum for which few studies of behavior are made. This study also does not count the frequency of non-lethal violence and appears to be missing several taxa (it shows squirrels and opossums as violence-free when most field workers on opossums and squirrels will tell you how they will regularly kill each other when they have the chance). And groups that don't have a lot of killing still fight each other, like rabbits and kangaroos.

Also an important thing to mention is that bonobos, despite their stereotypical depiction as peace-loving, are not an example of a mammal that abhors physical violence. Bonobos are actually more violent than humans, it's just that they're less violent than hyper-aggressive chimpanzees. Humans are actually pretty bog-average in terms of aggression for a primate.

My guess, the mammal that would most abhor physical violence would be something like an opossum. Note, this does not mean non-violent, just avoiding physical violence. Opossums hate to be around other members of their kind except when they want to mate, and if they hate being around each other, it reduces the chance for physical violence. Take a look at the chart showing the frequency of aggression again. Look where the highest rates of intraspecific killings are: Primates, colonial ground squirrels, elephants, pack-hunting canids, social mongooses, and colony-living pinnipeds. Notice a pattern? Increased violence appears to be correlated with sociality. This isn't me just idly speculating here, it's what other scientists have suggested drives the evolution of aggressiveness. The violence is literally inherent in the system.

Possibly some island species might be less aggressive. Increased docility has been suggested to be selected for in island environments because food and space is so limited and there are fewer predators. However, it is not clear if this is always the case. For example, Galapagos fur seals, which are well known for their naive, friendly, inquisitive behavior towards humans, still fight violently among each other in disputes. Mother seals have been known to kill their own offspring if an older sibling harasses their younger one too much.

tl;dr: I would say opossum. But in this case you would get a violent reaction to physical contact at all

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks; I haven't had a chance to read that yet, but looks interesting. Just from the chart, I wonder about pangolins... Or maybe hedgehogs/porcupines due to their, ah, natural defenses. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Dec 27 '20 at 1:14
  • $\begingroup$ Or a sloth...a modern sloth, not the prehistoric monsters. $\endgroup$ – DKNguyen Dec 27 '20 at 1:35
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    $\begingroup$ That chart is a plot of lethal conspecific aggression, and thus not a good predictor of actually violence. giraffe killing lions would not be aggression by this study. $\endgroup$ – John Dec 27 '20 at 15:59
  • $\begingroup$ Porcupines and sloths were my first guesses when I started... short answer: no! :-) $\endgroup$ – SRM Dec 27 '20 at 20:21
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    $\begingroup$ @John OP was asking for intraspecific violence. This is a chart showing intraspecific killings, as I mention in the answer it doesn't show every species known for violent interactions (rabbits, opossums, and tree squirrels are missing, for one) but it is at least useful in showing which species are not good examples and should be left out of consideration. $\endgroup$ – user2352714 Dec 28 '20 at 2:45
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Prairie Vole

My answer, after about half an hour of poking around the Internet, is the prairie vole.

I went looking for species that do male courtship displays as their primary mating ritual. Why? Because every species that does combat or dominance displays for mating rights is automatically less likely to avoid violence -- there's at least one arena where violence is fundamental to their nature. Female courtship displays are often contested by multiple males fighting it out. I found a seemingly trustworthy website that described the prairie vole:

  1. Prairie voles Prairie voles are almost the epitome of a happy, healthy animal relationship. The creatures, about the size of a hamster, only live one-two years, but they are monogamous during that time. Once they meet a member of the opposite sex, pheromones help them to ready for mating. After mating, they show love by huddling together and even have been seen breathing in unison, and studies have even shown they give "hugs and kisses" when one's partner is stressed.

Trying to confirm that citation lead me to a bunch of research articles about prairie voles and oxytocin, for example, this one from the journal Nature. It seems that their easy-going nature and strong pair-bonding attracted the attention of many researchers who are investigating how brain chemistry relates to social relations.

Most other species I could find that do courtship displays were birds (i.e., not mammals) or where female does display with the males fighting afterward.

two prairie voles

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  • $\begingroup$ voles are also quite willing to attack other species that enter their burrows. $\endgroup$ – John Dec 27 '20 at 15:58
  • $\begingroup$ I couldn’t find any herbivore species that were passive within themselves... voles remain my best option. $\endgroup$ – SRM Dec 27 '20 at 20:19
  • $\begingroup$ not really, jstor.org/stable/4532836?seq=1 $\endgroup$ – John Dec 27 '20 at 20:24
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    $\begingroup$ @John Dude, praire voles are herbivores. jstor.org/stable/… $\endgroup$ – user2352714 Dec 27 '20 at 21:21
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    $\begingroup$ @John If you read the paper, it says that <5% of the prairie vole's diet is composed of insects and 95% of it is composed of grass forbs. Most biologists would call that herbivorous, see attached link. Omnivory would be if a significant minority of its diet was made of animal tissue. A lot of animals will occasionally eat foods outside of their primary diet, even things like giant pandas. onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/… $\endgroup$ – user2352714 Dec 28 '20 at 2:36
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I think the best candidate for this would be the Naked Mole-rat. They are classified as eusocial creatures, which means that they behave as a collective to support a single reproducing female rather than reproducing individually, similar to many bee and wasp species. They are the only mammals that behave in this way which makes them uniquely qualified in their non-violence.

Their social structure means that there is no incentive to fight within the colony. There is no mate competition because there is only one reproducing female (the "queen"), and only a few reproducing males who are physiologically distinct from non-reproducing members.

The only individuals who leave the colony are called dispersers. They are also physiologically distinct from non-dispersers and they leave to join other colonies in order to prevent too much inbreeding. They leave voluntarily and peacefully, so there is also no violence associated with this behavior.

There is one significant exception to their non-violence, which is when it comes time to replace a queen. When a colony lacks a queen a number of other females will go through rapid sexual maturation and then violent competition until one of them emerges as the new queen.

This could actually be interesting from a story telling perspective, a totally peaceful and cooperative species that occasionally goes through a period of serious violence before returning to communal cooperation. Perhaps they are secretive or ashamed of that behavior and never show or reveal it to other species, or perhaps they are unashamed of these events and see these events as unfortunate but necessary for the good of the colony.

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Bonobos, unlike common chimps, are matriarchal and non-violent, at least within troops. They can be described as randy little buggers, as they use sex to reduce social tensions. They do eat meat, including lower primates, but this is a small part of their diet.

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< :-) >
Without a doubt it's the Honey Badger.
They can't stand violence from ANYTHING.
If a Honey Badger meets something that's violent, might be violent or can be suspected of thinking that violence may be a good idea it immediately uses all possible means to eliminate the violence source. If this is not possible (which is usually not the case) then it will do its best to drive off and discourage said putative violence monger.
It usually works.
A lion will usually think thrice before taking on a honey badger. Not that it has much choice. If a lion encounters a honey badger it may consider itself taken-on.

You'd have to be crazy to be violent around a honey badger.

  • Not only is its skin tough, it's loose enough that a honey badger can turn around in it and bite its attacker. And speaking of bites, the honey badger can survive the bites of some very dangerous creatures. They eat scorpions and snakes, and they have an unusually strong immunity to venom.

I was going to say that a Cape Buffalo abhors violence almost as much as a honey badger, but I now read that Cape Buffalos have been found which have been killed by Honey Badgers - so I guess a HB hates violence more.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure you understand how this works 😄. I'm looking for a natural pacifist, not a berserk vigilante... but if you were going for humor, you've succeeded nicely. (OTOH, I'm not sure you aren't serious... just because they can open up a can of WA on any non-HB that annoys them, well... trying to figure out what that would imply between HBs is making my head hurt. Not quite what I'm looking for, but if I ever need an anti-bully...) $\endgroup$ – Matthew Dec 30 '20 at 13:26
  • $\begingroup$ @Matthew Note my very first line :-). || I decided that it was worth the possible downvotes for some end of 2020 humour. | In large animal they apparently go for the groin. The Cape Buffalo is often claimed to be the most dangerous and ill tempered animal on earth. I guess they ignore HBs in that figuring. | I hereby nominate Honey Badgers as 2020's animal of the year. $\endgroup$ – Russell McMahon Dec 31 '20 at 2:18

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