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I have been creating aliens species for a while now, and the idea of a sapient, tool-wielding, spacefaring civilization that doesn’t have arms as we know them excites me. I would like my aliens to have a scientifically plausible design.

For simplicity, relevance, and lack of acceptable concept art’s sake, imagine this species as being a cheetah with scales and hooves. I have been trying to design a way for them to have several “tails” that can each be used almost as well as a human arm. I designed a sort of arm-like appendage that had its own shoulder-blade-pelvis structure in the rump, and the “fingers” of that arm were long enough to reach the front of the creature. This is obviously doomed to fail, and I need a better solution. Edit: I had also tried to split the spine into several independent prehensile tails which was even more doomed to fail than the arm-fingers idea. Also, the arm-fingers idea is too similar to actual arms and fingers for my liking.

I have seen tentacles be suggested in other questions over prehensile tails, and I am inclined to agree, but how to place several of them on the body escapes me. These creatures are speed based apex predators and as such must be relatively lightweight and aerodynamic. They will use their limbs for hard manual labor, fighting, and tweaking minute computer parts. How many of these limbs are needed is up for debate, but ideally more than one (In concept art I am fond of there being 4 or 6) so more complex tasks can be performed with the limbs working together. I have also become VERY attached of the idea that they can create a whip-crack noise with their tails, but I fear that may not be possible. Important note: they can turn their heads like owls and are remarkably flexible, so the manipulation limbs being located further back is not as much of an issue

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    $\begingroup$ you may want to look at Larry Niven's work he has several aliens without arms, one has two heads on long necks the other is something like an elephant with two trunks. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Jun 6, 2022 at 20:30
  • $\begingroup$ The two trunks looks great! It splitting off into “fingers” is a much better idea than what I had, but I wonder how strong those would be. Having them in the same spot as trunks normally are, though, would sort of get in the way of the violent predation this species practices. Would it be possible to attach them to the hips or perhaps even on the “withers hump” that the species already has? $\endgroup$
    – Jane Doe
    Jun 6, 2022 at 21:06
  • $\begingroup$ If the creature was an arthropod or similar, they could have multiple scorpion-like tails with 3 or more pincers at the end of each tail. Or explain it as a panartropod who rear legs evolved into the tail/arm appendages. $\endgroup$
    – user96146
    Jun 6, 2022 at 23:03
  • $\begingroup$ Exoskeletons do allow for some really wacky body plans, but unfortunately they do not support a size or speed great enough for my purposes. Even prehistoric dragonflies were only the size of birds, and these aliens are basically the same size as a cheetah. $\endgroup$
    – Jane Doe
    Jun 7, 2022 at 10:42
  • $\begingroup$ That's earth exoskeleton limitations, aliens could have lighter, stronger types. panarthropods didn't have exoskeletons, they had tentacle like limbs, this allows a foot to easily become an arm. But if your set on a vertebrate I suggest you look into animals with mutations of extra appendages or think about a many legged vertebrate whos rear legs can become these appendages or just give them many prehensile tails and a reason for them to evolve. $\endgroup$
    – user96146
    Jun 7, 2022 at 12:03

4 Answers 4

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Have you thought of a group tentacles / trunks in place of what would be a lions main? they could fold and weave around it's neck for protection. Perhaps even adding osteoderms to the outside of the trunks for better protection. The trunks could feed into the creatures neck chest and lungs for better air flow when it is in pursuit phase. Then wrap around its prey to help hold onto to, manver, and attain a better grip with its teeth, finding and clamping down on it's preys air pipe during the kill phase.

Big fan of Niven,the fithip (sp?) the elephantine aliens with the 2 trunks, mentioned in comments, are one of my favorites. Another are the Moties. hey are engineer type aliens that are asymmetric. 2 small manipulator arms on one side, 1 large gripping arm on the other. like a walking workbench. Perhaps combining the two, with 1 large gripping trunk below the neck, and 2 smaller more delicate on the top and sides of the neck?

With all of these appendages, you may want to think of how they are controlled. Ex:

An octopus' central brain – located between its eyes – doesn't control its every move. Instead, two thirds of the animal's neurons are in its arms. “It's more efficient to put the nervous cells in the arm,” said neurobiologist Binyamin Hochner, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “The arm is a brain of its own.”

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  • $\begingroup$ How will they connect to and interact with the other muscles around that area? I love the idea, but I am unsure how proper neck and shoulder functions can occur with thick muscled tentacles in the way, not to mention males of the species have large thermal sails on their backs. Putting them directly on the head is a cool idea as well, especially since it’s easier to assist hunting this way, but that would get in the way of the jaw muscles and affect aerodynamics. If I am imagining something wrong, let me know. $\endgroup$
    – Jane Doe
    Jun 7, 2022 at 15:14
  • $\begingroup$ @JaneDoe Honestly that is up to you. Creating the creature is a process, you decide the features it will possess and so must decide how they would work together. If your asking for a suggestion, I would reason it must move away from a cheetah to be a bit more robust, especially with a thermo sail. Maybe fuse the back legs together, make them more muscular and move in unison more piston like and powerful but more streamlined than the front. The neck girdle becomes larger to accommodate the added musculature. $\endgroup$
    – Gillgamesh
    Jun 7, 2022 at 15:47
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Your aliens don't have arms, but they could have hydraulically controlled protuberances similar to a chameleon's tongue that eject out when needed and stay out for as long as they are needed.

Such protuberances would normally be within the body of the alien. At the end of each protuberance finer hydraulic control systems would allow the formation of a hand like structure capable of gripping with between two and four hydraulically formed finger like appendages and a hydraulically formed thumb or thumbs.

The other option is telekinesis.

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  • $\begingroup$ This has had me thinking a lot. I have been doing research on how their tongues work, so hopefully when I understand it better I can use some pieces and parts. The coil of the muscles seems like it would give it limited options. In or out, up or down, left or right? If you’d like to discuss it more I’m down. Retractability in any capacity is still super cool and I will be using that either in these aliens or in one of the others if it fits them better. Thanks! $\endgroup$
    – Jane Doe
    Jun 7, 2022 at 14:55
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Any of your previous ideas, minus the hard labour

Personally I think you're overlooking the intelligence of the creatures in their manipulation efforts. They don't need to do heavy labour. They need to be smart enough to handle it.

The difference is that you use your environment to assist you. How many humans are required to unload a container ship? An insane amount if done manually, a fraction if aided by machines. There is no reason a space faring civilization needs to do heavy manual labour. Possibly even when they were still evolving they quickly invented things to assist them.

That means your creatures can have minute and adaptive manipulation appendages of your chosing. The rest of the environment is molded by them for their needs. Items up to a certain size and weight are mostly created to be picked up and handled by their appendages. After that they are created in a way they can be picked up by other mechanisms. Like box can be picked up by a forklift.

This makes the distinction between humans and your aliens also better. Instead of having a human reference point of what your aliens should handle or carry, you have their viewpoint. They can still be incredibly skillful and well adapted to do all tasks via mechanical support, but personally they won't be hauling heavy stuff.

This also makes sense evolution wise. You can't have one creature do it all. You need to balance it's capabilities with efficiency.

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  • $\begingroup$ Hard labor is a major facet of their culture. Certain technology is frowned upon, and it is sort of wishy washy and hypocritical. They will research rockets and have supercomputers while refusing to make motorized vehicles, but they hitch themselves to wagons and carts to carry lots things instead of just carrying it and making more trips. These guys are by no means whatsoever the best, nor do they do it all. By “as strong as a human arm” I don’t mean a powerlifter. Just your average human, and they’re actually a little below. $\endgroup$
    – Jane Doe
    Jun 7, 2022 at 15:03
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tHINk aLieN:

You are limiting yourself to imagining Terrestrial biology. Think outside the box! Just because it doesn't exist here doesn't mean it can't in a completely different biology.

For example, what if their "bones" are more like pipes carrying hydraulic fluid? Limbs wouldn't have muscle, but instead they would have a pressure chamber in their torso that forced fluid through whichever pipe lead to the limb that needed to move. Fingers, for that matter, could be light inflatable tubes whos shape is controlled by which valves are open or closed.

For that matter, what if the joints were rotational rather than hinged, and operated like tiny rotors driven by pressure? And/or the limbs could be grown but not alive like hair, if you wanted. The limbs could consist of pairs of rotating forks, and additional forks at the end of forks spread out like fans for delicate work. Your cheetah-lizard-goats could even have wheels. What a leg up (pardon pun) when they hit an industrial revolution.

This is just one idea, but mostly I would urge you to remember that you are talking ALIEN, and they don't need to be limited by our ideas of what biology should or shouldn't be.

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