For my setting, I really want to push the non-human aspect of the other typical fantasy races. For Elves, I've been throwing the idea around that they go through a metamorphosis of sorts. I was thinking that they would look passable as a human to about age 15-20, then go through their metamorphosis. They would gain the typical appearance of an elf in my setting, ie tall, lanky body, sharper features, larger and pointed ears, etc.

This would obviously be very painful, so I was thinking during this metamorphosis, they could gain a leather-like "covering" that grows over certain areas of the body, such as neck, belly, top of arms, etc as protection, which would dry out afterwards into a birchbark-like material that can be torn off. The covering could grow to roughly appear like surfaces near to them, such as bark, dirt, etc.

Why would Elves go through this at all? I played with the idea of them being a race that replaces human children with their children (or that sends Elven children to live with humans), but I don't think that would work for my setting because I want Elves to have a central society that does raise their own children.

I should note that in my setting, Elves are magical creatures, so it doesn't necessarily require all answers to be 1000% grounded in realism.

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    $\begingroup$ Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. $\endgroup$
    – Community Bot
    Jan 25, 2022 at 5:51
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding. Please take a moment to read through our help center to familiarize yourself with how we do things on this site. It looks like you're looking for help brainstorming ideas and soliciting opinions. Such open ended and opinion based questions aren't a good fit. Can you edit this post so that you're asking a single, specific, answerable question? $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Jan 25, 2022 at 5:54
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    $\begingroup$ If I were you, I'd figure out what you want to change about them first, then we can work out how to get there - it's two questions really. What sort of change does your story need them to undergo, are you expecting strength, special abilities, different body-parts (wings etc.) or magical abilities, perhaps maturity and time to settle down with a mate. As sphennings indicates, one question per post is the way we work, then you can ask a second based on the results of the first, linking to it if you like. $\endgroup$ Jan 25, 2022 at 6:01
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    $\begingroup$ Why would metamorphosis be painful? We go through a mild form of metamorphosis while growing up. Sure when puberty hits we all feel pain, but that isn't physical. $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Jan 25, 2022 at 11:18
  • $\begingroup$ PSA: children are not small adults. Their anatomy, physiology and psychology are different from those of adults. Ordinary humans go through a lot of physical change between the ages of 8 and 16. Depending on their sex, they may lose their downy body hair and replace it with coarser (and more visible) hair; the position of their laringes may change; they may lose most of their subcutaneous layer of fat; the general shape of their body is altered; they may grow breasts; some of their bone joins fuse; endocrine glands change function. And indeed most males do go through a lanky phase... $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jan 25, 2022 at 12:01

5 Answers 5


Elves are human

If you look at their DNA, they've got all the same DNA as a regular human. The transformation is purely magical, much in the same way that a vampire is someone who was born as a regular human and then was transformed.

The metamorphosis is triggered by magic - either a spell is cast, and/or some potions are drank, and then a second, magical puberty hits you.

Elvish societies are communities in which everyone goes through this process, but that doesn't mean that an outsider couldn't go through it too. Likewise, a child of elves could forego the process and just remain a regular human.

By the way, this mostly happens at around 15-20 years of age because once you become an elf you stop aging, but any aging you've had prior is not reversed. You could do it at an older age but nobody appreciates an elf with an old appearance.

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    $\begingroup$ It sounds a lot like how witchers are made in the Witcher series. $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Jan 25, 2022 at 14:44
  • $\begingroup$ It could be a transformation that makes them able to do "elven" magic. you'd have to figure out how it's different. $\endgroup$ Jan 25, 2022 at 17:31

Why does anything do a metamorphosis?

To answer your question, the metamorphosis is useful to thrive or at least survive in a certain environment. That is already basis enough for metamorphosis.

Metamorphosis comes in many sizes. Butterflies are well known for it, but it can come in a grrat many forms that can suit your needs! I've seen a documentary where a fish was in a pond. It'll stay a fish all its life. From being born, to reproduction to death. However, it can go into metamorphosis and change into an amphibious creature. It does this when the pond gets small and there's little room with all the other fish. This is because the ponds can experience drought. It'll evolve to a land creature as it prepares for the ponds to be unlivable. It'll lay eggs in that form, which will hatch when the ponds are back.

Conditional metamorphosis or reversing the process happens a lot. In jurassic park they mention real frogs that can change their sex if too little of the other sex are present. Ants can evolve into buff soldiers. Jelly fish are apparently a symbiotic lifeform that can disband and live individually if required. Metamorphosis can be incredibly flexible.

Your elves can do the same. They look like humans until conditions trigger a change. Age, proximity to other elves or a hundred small things can trigger it. You can set this to your needs.

The reason for your metamorphosis is then a simple explanation. As an example, the human form can be more economical in many cases, while the metamorphosis to an elf gives a stronger, better lifeform, but requiring a higher abundance of food. So the metamorphosis would only trigger at a time of percieved abundance for the elf. After metamorphosis it has a much better chance to procreate. Metamorphosis is also not required for procreation.


When snake’s body grows, its skin does not. A larger skin layer is generated, and the old layer is discarded. Also shedding of the skin removes harmful parasites.

Growth of body

Maybe when elves grow, some parts of their body do not grow and they need a sort of metamorphism.

Defective skin

Older skin or some other parts of body have so many bacteria or defects that they must be removed.

  • $\begingroup$ The question is why that would happen - your answer seems to make a comparison with the OP's scenario (given that it seems a strange chicken and egg question). $\endgroup$
    – Joachim
    Jan 25, 2022 at 10:09

Super Grandparents.

The adaption allows a small number of people in each tribe to live an extended time. The rest of the tribe benefits from the wisdom that comes with age. This is a stronger version of how humans can be genetically useful to expanding the tribe even after they hit menopause.

Note the transformation changes them mentally to better make use of their immortal body, and continue to learn with age, and not just become a thousand-year racist.

The downside is increased food requirements, and a slower breeding rate. Or you can take it to the extreme and say mature elves cannot reproduce at all.

In the pre-industrial era most Elves never metamorphose, since it is genetically a bad idea to have really long generations. Most tribes have only one or two true Elves who remove themselves from the genetic rat-race directly to better the chances of their relations.


Humans undergo metaphorphoses.

I am thinking of my friend Zak, whose shall remain unnamed in the interest of privacy. He was sort of a pudgy little kid and then underwent a metamorphosis to become a hulking brute. It was painful; he got stretch marks, and then played football which was also sometimes painful.

Later in life he has undergone a second metamorphosis. He has developed a

"covering" that grows over certain areas of the body, such as neck, belly, top of arms

although it is not so much leathery as squishy. This new covering is protective in that he is protected against starvation. Hair has disappeared from his head but reemerged at dozens of random spots over his entire body surface. From time to time he too

appear like surfaces near to them, such as bark, dirt, etc.

although this is usually dirt, and it does not just appear, but is there because it was near to him, then on him, and the showers don't happen as often these days. This second metamorphosis is also physically painful because of the lumbago.

So yes: metamorphosis is a thing, and what you propose for your elves does not seem so extreme.

-- I like the idea of your elves leaving babies for humans to raise. Cuckoo bird style. Those elves make more babies than they really care to have around and farming some out to the humans just makes sense. They are really cute as kids before that first metamorphosis and they usually are out of the house by them.


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