In my question about carnivorous elves, one of the commentors pointed something about my elves that I had not really considered in depth before hand.

My elves are a form of hominid, thus an ape. My elves also have claws, apes do not.

So my question is, is there any way for a group of hominids to develop claws?

As simply "winding back the clock" would not work, is there perhaps a way for the finger nails of the hominids to become claws over time? Or is this simply not happening and if so, is there another way for hominids to develop claws?

This question is of course a continuation of the question linked earlier.


2 Answers 2


To expand:

L. Dutch has a perfectly solid answer, but I feel it needs a bit more meat. So looking at your last question as well, I think the key is that your species needs to be sprint-type and ambush predators, but they may be losing a motivation to still be tool users. claws tend to be at odds with tool use, since the idea is that the claws compensate in animals for a lack of tools. They certainly can evolve anything with enough pressure, and claws can be extremely useful.

Finger nails can certainly evolve into claws. They grow thicker, wider, and more deeply buried in the hands. The hands may become less flexible and the finger shorter to give better strength to those claws, but reducing the nimbleness that aids in making and using tools. Getting the claws to be extremely sharp might be a bit of a stretch evolutionarily, but this isn't likely to be a huge problem if your elves aren't hunting big prey.

If they are, they still likely need to be using tools (at least knives, clubs and rocks, but spears are amazingly useful). Hominids traditionally used pack tactics and endurance hunting to repetitively injure large prey and wear them down. Their injuries in doing so it meant Neanderthals tended to have injuries similar to rodeo performers, and for your slight species this would be bad.

  • Claws can assist in climbing, so your elves may be able to nimbly pursue prey up trees. This also allows their fragile selves to flee up those same trees.
  • Digitigrade legs give higher boosts of speed, but may in full bipeds tend to cause tumbling and require lots of traction to use effectively. Having longer front limbs that can be used for running may help, but the claws allow greater dig into soft materials like wood or even dirt, so they will be less likely to both fall OR run in soft soil and churn up the dirt due to lack of traction.
  • Claws may assist in digging like a badger, so prey that flees down burrows can be efficiently dug out.

All these behaviors would tend to lend themselves to a species evolving into a niche similar to a cat or other small predator, pursuing smaller prey rather than tracking larger. Pure carnivores are probably not doing much gathering, and are less likely to be developing things like agriculture. They may as a species be evolving away from the sapiens model of smarter tool users, and instead be "devolving" by human standards into a species where tool use is increasingly less important. The growth of a mane fits well with a species that increasingly doesn't use clothes to thermoregulate. Humans are arguably partly domesticated and increasingly social, so your species is less domesticated in behavior than modern humans. The cannibalistic behavior they exhibit fits well with this idea.


To develop claws, there must be a use for them giving an evolutionary advantage. I can think of two reasons:

  • hunting: carnivore animals mostly have claws, to better grab their preys (think of felines) or to better reach them (think of the anteaters)
  • motion: think of the claws of the sloth, which are used as hooks for it to hang from the trees

If your elves find themselves in a situation where one of the above becomes a selective pressure for long enough that evolution can work, they might develop claws. However, consider that for the known cases of the hominids called homo sapiens, the solution was found in another direction.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ given that primates lost claws in favor of nails, climbing trees would not be a good reason, climbing rocks might. traction on dirt works too, of course that only helps with the feet. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Dec 24, 2021 at 16:23
  • $\begingroup$ If humans would never have learned to make tools (weapons) or handle fire to cook meat, they may have developed claws ? $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Dec 26, 2021 at 12:41

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