I know that brain size is less important than structure and that human babies' brains are 27% the size of an adult's, but humans give birth to large brained babies. As a result, humans can't support the weight of their own heads for a few months, mature slowly and have a large pelvis. If a species had shorter pregnancies (about six months long), larger skulls and smaller babies than humans (almost half their size), could their brain size increase rapidly until adulthood to the point they end up being smarter? In this case, an average adult is slightly taller than a human and their brain structures are somewhat similar, but with better long term memories.

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    $\begingroup$ I find your question self contradicting in many points. "brain size is less important than structure" then "could their brain size increase rapidly until adulthood to the point they end up being smarter?" is one. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Jan 9, 2021 at 17:29
  • $\begingroup$ I apologize for not wording my question properly. I tried clarifying by saying that "their brain structures are somewhat similar, but with better long term memories" so in that case size would be indeed important. $\endgroup$
    – Tanya
    Commented Jan 9, 2021 at 18:31
  • $\begingroup$ Isaac Newton was born prematurely; his mother is recorded as having said that he could have fitted inside a quart mug. (That's about 1.1 to 1.2 liters.) This being an example of at least one tiny baby who had absolutely no problem with brain development. He went on to fomulate the laws of motion, and to discover calculus and the law of universal gravitation; not to mention his work in optics, or his long stint as Master of the Mint, where he was instrumental in reforming the coinage and fighting against couterfeiters. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Jan 9, 2021 at 19:08
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    $\begingroup$ Sure. Consider the way marsupials are born. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jan 9, 2021 at 19:28
  • $\begingroup$ That will be Diplodocus... Period! $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Commented Jan 10, 2021 at 2:28

2 Answers 2





Here is a very little baby. It was born at 6 months gestation. Issues which make such early babies less likely to survive involve lung and digestive tract maturity but there is nothing hardwired into the mammal body plan that means you need 6+ months to get working organs - puppies and kittens this size breathe fine after an even shorter gestation. Preemies this small might grow up developmentally disabled. Or they might be normal!

Your human-types can have very tiny babies like this one, but which have matured their lung, mouth, digestive tract etc in the manner of other mammals to help them survive once born. The babies, their heads, brains and whatever other parts interest you continue to grow ex utero. They get as big as your story needs.

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    $\begingroup$ (1) Nowadays in developed countries doctors will try to save even babies born at five months. They will usually fail, but they do occasionally succeed. (2) Babies born at seven months are much more common, and, although very very small compared to full-term babies, they usually survive and have all the chances to develop normally. (And even in pre-modern times they had decent chances to suvive and live normal lives.) Fun factoid: Johannes Kepler, Isaac Newton and Winston Churchill were all born at seven months, which did not prevent them from becoming intellectual giants. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Jan 9, 2021 at 18:56
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    $\begingroup$ But premature borns do not develop a larger brain, which is what OP is asking. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Jan 9, 2021 at 19:09
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    $\begingroup$ Because almost all human babies eventually develope human sized brains, premature or not. And almost no humans develop brains signficantly larger than normal human brains. If it was normal for a species to have larger than human brains, almost all babies of that species would grow to have the typical larger than human brains as adults, no matter how small they and their brains were at birth.. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 9, 2021 at 19:27
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    $\begingroup$ @M.A.Golding - no argument from me. When you parse it out the question is actually 3 questions and I answered the first part only. 1 - could human babies be smaller with shorter gestation. I answered yes. 2 - could a baby human grow a huge <whatever>.after it is born? That is obvious; Andre the Giant got very big. 3. Would a huge brain make a human smarter? That is an open question but huge brain is more likely to help than tiny brain I would think. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Commented Jan 9, 2021 at 19:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Tanya Let's not forget marsupials! They are born extremely small in comparison to the adult. You just need a system to get plenty of nutrients and protected growth time for the infants. FYI brain size vs intelligence is a very controversial topic. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Commented Jan 9, 2021 at 19:38

Yes. This is what marsupials do all the time. Marsupials are born at a fraction of the adult size, and are born with very loose skull bones (akin to a fetal stage of a placental) that would allow for the brain to expand much more than a placental mammal that has to fit through a birth canal. Most of the nutrients a marsupial baby consumes come not from the placenta, but lactation. The brain goes through most of its development and growth outside of the womb. Marsupial pregnancies are often incredibly short, going from fertilization to birth in just 11 days.

Marsupial brains are often characterized as smaller than placentals, but the strange thing is that marsupials have a greater potential for developing large brain size than placentals. Exactly why they never took advantage of this is still unknown.

Also, the birth canal hypothesis may not be right. One line of thought now is that human babies are born at a relatively helpless, premature stage not because if they stayed in the womb any longer they would be too large to give birth to safely, but because if they stayed in the womb any longer their demand for nutrients would be a serious threat to the mother's health. In placentals the baby is essentially a parasite on the mother for the earliest stages of its life, and human infants with their large brain demand a lot of calories. Giving birth to the baby gives the mother more control over how much nutrients she gives to the baby and allows the baby to be fed external sources of food rather than just parasitizing off of the mother.


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