This question is intended as a follow up to this one: Naturally occurring wheels - do the 'mech' vs. 'tank' comparison apply to organics?

I agree with the arguments against wheels evolving in place of hoofs/feet in the answer, however, I was wondering if there was a way to make a creature that uses wheels, without sapience or reasoning to build them.

My idea was to have a species which evolve naturally feet, or something similar. However, which then adopted a way to optionally choose to use some naturally existing item as a wheel analog in addition to walking. I'm specifically thinking of a creature that does not have wheels of it's own, but instead an adaptation that allows them to coveneintly use an existing object as a sort of external wheel when it would prove useful; but does this out of instinct rather then reasoned use of technology.

For instance, perhaps there is a species that often travels plans that tend to have long smooth slopes. When at the top of one of these hills if they find a fallen long they (armored) front limbs into either side of the log and push off to roll down with the log (okay, that example doesn't really work, but you get the idea).

Can anyone come up with a credible way with which a species may have evolved to instinctual use 'wheel' technology? Any example where they benefit from the 'wheels' and could plausible evolve the adaptation works is fine, no specifically how or how frequently they use the 'wheels'. For instance maybe the 'wheels' are only used for carrying food stuffs or newborns. However, it must be an example of adaptation, not intelligent use of technology.


There is an example in the "His Dark Materials" trilogy (I think the last book) where creatures use seeds of a plant as wheels.

That sort of approach seems the most probable to me. Lets say a species of animal evolves on a tropical island, where coconuts are common. Being tropical the coconuts are available year-round. The place they evolve is in a sea with a multitude of small islands and a lot of open beaches.

The species evolves special claws designed to pierce the coconut so that it can drink the liquid out from inside, while keeping the coconut fresh. At first it carries the coconuts around but then it starts using them as flotation aids to help with crossing sections of water and it starts rolling them for easier moving on beaches.

Over time this evolves to it attaching a pair of coconuts to its rear legs using the special claw evolved there and then using the front legs to roll the coconuts. This is used both for rapid travel over sandy beaches and to cross sections of water.

Over time this method of locomotion can improve upon and grow more efficient until it becomes their primary means of moving around. They start to secret special oils to lubricate the joints, and favouring particularly round or well shaped coconuts. This actually helps those coconuts as they get widely dispersed by the roaming animals so a symbiotic relationship grows, with coconuts becoming as attractive to use as wheels as possible while the creatures themselves become better and better at using them.

Soon these animals are found zooming around the beach and across the water between a multitude of tropical islands.

  • $\begingroup$ I was under impression that the creatures didn't evolve to use the seeds till achieving sentience and CHOOSING to use them in HDM? $\endgroup$ – user4239 Jul 16 '15 at 1:14
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    $\begingroup$ I was going to use His Dark Materials example! $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Jul 16 '15 at 13:05
  • $\begingroup$ @DVK There is a whole load of mysticism going on in the HDM version which is why I mentioned it but my answer is not really based on it. This was a purely science based (no magic) plausible evolutionary path for wheeled creatures. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Jul 16 '15 at 16:40

I can think of very few possibilities for this to happen. Primarily because while round things can be found in nature, to really use them you need an axle. or you're just a bear performing on a ball.

However, one other example that I can think of that sort of fits is a hamster wheel arrangement. Say something like large bamboo grows on hillsides but when it dies the sections fall apart leaving large empty tubs. the lowlands are wet marshy areas difficult to walk or swim through.

Now a smaller animal like a hedgehog or something that uses the pieces of bamboo to try and hide from predators. Running up a wall will roll the 'home' one way or another. They also float across the marshes. The hedgehogs can run across the marshes using these 'hamster' wheels and can escape from land predators and the wheel also protects them from those living in the marsh, large fish and reptiles. they can even do rudimentary turning by run near one end or the other to tilt the tub for turning.


So let me preface this by acknowledging that it's pretty fanciful, but:

What if you've got some pangolin-like species that rolls into a ball for defense. From there it develops a technique to roll downhill into a prey animal. This technique not only surprises the prey but gives it a heck of a wallop to boot. One downside is that it's impossible to see when you're rolled into a ball, which makes aiming difficult. The prey has a good chance of dodging this attack, increasingly so once they start evolving to avoid it.

Eventually, mated pairs of these pangoloids develop a behavior in which they grasp hands before rolling up, so that they make a dumbbell shape--two spheres connected with a bar between them. The increase in mass, along with the inherent advantage of numbers, allows these pairs to bring down bigger targets. One disadvantage is that, if both parents hunt, there's no one's guarding the young some of the time.

Flash forward a few million years. Consider a mated pair of pangoloids and their baby pangoloid. They're all out hunting together. The parents hold hands and then roll into balls. The juvenile grasps the parents' arms with his specially greased paws and hangs down from them.

The parents start rolling downhill toward their prey. The juvenile, along for the ride, keeps an eye on the prey and communicates its current position to his parents, either through touch or through sound. The parents adjust their angle of attack accordingly. The end result is significantly increased accuracy, which results in increased survivability.

Maybe from there, the child evolves the ability to act as an engine, by actively running instead of just passively hanging on. This would allow the attack to work with shallower slopes or even flat terrain.

Like I say, pretty fanciful.


Maybe not what you're after, but does the wheel have to be an object? I could imagine a hive-like species (think ants) to develop routines which involve turning into a wheel as a group. Think like bivoucing. They might have discovered that the can form such a wheel (or ball) to travel downhill faster. Or, by turning the wheel develop higher speeds at the periphery to "throw" things.


Assuming you have something that makes a convincing wheel, you can create a creature that will grasp random objects to quickly move downhill between two long appendages, or four for two wheels, keeping balanced atop. The why is important: perhaps the organism migrates through hilly areas and uses the wheels, which it basically just grabs with revolving wrists, to get from one place to another cross-country, but not as a tool, just as an evolved way of using revolving "wrists" to grasp circular objects and move faster with them than without. They don't "build" anything this way.


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