When the first explorers returned from the New World, it was with terror in their eyes. Violent shores, a jungle with trees taller than hills, and unspeakable monsters behind every towering frond - they begged that all of Europe be warned of this verdant hell so that never again would a man die the ignoble death of an insect. Unfortunately, they had not returned empty handed.

"Magnified Materials," it was quickly discovered that even the beach sand of the Americas possessed strength in excess of anything known to man. From this, a simple and enduring theory was formulated, with consequences that would change the world.

Theory of Magnified Materials:

All substances native to the Americas behave such that if one were to become a giant on arrival, they would perceive the New World to be no different than the one they had came from; a desiccated American leaf will catch less air and not deform under its weight like a blanket of European leaves might, yet once ignited, its great mass will burn in the same time as its smaller cousin. Later on, it would be discovered that the rapidity with which a magnified mass falls depends on what changed its motion - being greater for the giant indigenous and lesser for anyone else. This agrees with the observation that magnified materials are no more dense, and possesses no greater inertia than equivalent materials found in the Old World. In effect, it is as if the colonists have shrunk on arrival.

These simple properties hold true for anything derived from magnified materials, which leads us to the problem our colonists face: the native fauna have skin with compressive and tensile strength comparable to steel, given these numbers sit in the tens of MPa and would scale by a factor of 202.

The Question:

Can well-armed 16th and 17th century colonists deter the local wildlife with their weapons, given a scale factor of 20?

  • Would their rifles or even cannons pierce their hides? What about weak points such as the eyes?
  • Would polearms be strong enough, and wielded with enough force to do so?
  • Are there any other weapons available to the Europeans that might prove effective? For instance, an equivalent to Greek fire.

For simplicity's sake, we need only consider crustaceans and insectivorous mammals since they are the most likely to be encountered.

Out of Scope:

To keep the question well suited to the site's format, I'll head off some of the more obvious ideas - perhaps to ask about in another question.

  • Non-violent deterrents such as noise, fire, and offensive scents.
  • Schemes to use local materials to manufacture magnified gunpowder or similar.
  • Attempts to create or tame friendly animals.
  • Arguments involving birds.

2 Answers 2


Just barely.

Since the physics behaves similarly to if the colonists had shrunk, we can reason backwards by scaling down the weapons available at the time.


According to this website, 19th century cannons propelled shots up to 32lb at speeds of 1700ft/sec. Scaling down, this gives us roughly 1.8g at 26m/s. Wikipedia states that a BB gun firing pellets of roughly 0.35g at 45m/s can pierce skin. Converting to kinetic energy, we find the cannon's kinetic energy of 700mJ is double that of the BB gun's. So if the shot were to be shaped into a spike in order to maximize the pressure, it is feasible that a cannon could sting the local wildlife.


Obviously, these won't do much against the body of the animal even if they do break the skin. However, there is still opportunity in attacking the eyes. With the stats of 40g at 500m/s for the heavy Arquebus we get 5kJ, or 1.5mJ when scaled. This corresponds to the work needed to press a key on a keyboard, and given how small the shot is (high pressure), likely enough to irritate.


The above holds true for animals with skin roughly the same thickness as our own, and does not apply against crustaceans. The colonists would have to seek other means to deal with them. Furthermore, the line of argumentation may be incorrect given the theory of magnified materials laid out.


Fire arrows

I was thinking about the question and how size differences would be surprising in some sense. A sword might be dull against humans, but be needle sharp against a 20x bigger wolf. Images of great wolf Sif from Dark Souls comes to mind. It would be a big needle, but a needle nonetheless. Needling something to death wile it can swipe once to kill you is just not a good trade.

But all my musings are moot. There's one thing that changes everything. "...yet once ignited, its great mass will burn in the same time as its smaller cousin. This is the game changer. Although they are stronger in any and all respectives, this one thing stays the same. The solution is then easy. Fire arrows.

If a volley of fire arrows is shot at the target, some will stick in the skin or get trapped in the fur. After that, just scatter. Depending on humidity and a range of other factors the fire should be able to ignite skin or fur in a short time. If the creature notices and starts to roll to put itself out, something even smart people like humans oft forget in panic when they are on fire, you can just add more fire arrows.

Creatures live depressingly long when on fire, but aren't likely to be coherent in their actions. If it isn't barrelling towards you in blind pain and pabic, you're likely safe. Then it's just a waiting game.

With the ability of fire arrows and more notably torches you can have long lasting fire and heat. In rain it can stay ablaze for some time. The only downside is that the creature in the rain has a relatively high amount of water per surface area. The same counts the other way though. Torches and fire arrows have a relatively high amount of energy in a very small area.

You're not fully safe. Big creatures are still an incredible danger, up until the point they are on fire. Even then you can get unlucky. Yet you have an effective method to deal with them. Over time many creatures will learn to fear the fire wielding tiny humans. Much like humans would feat ants that can fire stingers that can potentially kill you in the next hour.

So you certainly could. Fire arrows and the like will be powerful enough to scare away and even hunt such creatures.

  • $\begingroup$ I had this thought as well, but it is not clear to me that these would be enough to set a giant animal on fire. Consider: the fire arrows are roughly the size of sparks. The only thing they have going for them is their high heat capacity & long burn time. Without a source for say, elephants being killed this way, I can't be sure this is viable without something more aggressive like Greek fire. Setting things on fire can be quite hard. $\endgroup$ Oct 5, 2021 at 22:37
  • $\begingroup$ @smallobsession it isn't directly intuitive, I agree. Imagine holding a torch to the skin of an elephant for 10, 20 or 60 seconds. For arguments sake let's say it's 2000 joules (J). That is 2000J over an m² (also simplified). Now jumbo size it. Suddenly we have 2000J on an m² area, which comparatively is 0,05 m². It is a strange situation, but this will increase the chance of fire. That it's at a smaller area doesn't matter. On a normal animal all kinds of processes have a chance to stop it. On a jumbo one it's still a good fire. When they do catch fire, it goes 'normal' for the jumbo animal $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Oct 6, 2021 at 5:19

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