In the far future, a planet in the Milky Way that was colonised by humans 500,000 years before has developed nose-wrestling as a means of establishing dominance.

This is thought to have begun with a fabled inhabitant who, by chance, had an unusually large and strong nose and used to jut it in the direction of opponents. He would even walk up to them and physically press his nose against theirs, thus intimidating them. Over generations this became fashionable and eventually a sign of dominance. Although nose fights can last for a long time, they are very rarely fatal so this is an efficient way of resolving conflicts.


I want my humans to have developed a prehensile trunk with which they can wrestle. I am however concerned that there are evolutionary branches that may be dead ends. Is it too late for human noses to develop new sets of muscles and hence prehensility, or can evolution always find a way out of a dead end?

Note: If we are stuck in a blind alley with respect to prehensility, I wonder how noses could develop so as to best enable fighting.

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    $\begingroup$ "although fights can last for a long time... this is an efficient way of resolving conflicts" - this must be some new definition of "efficient" that I'm not aware of. $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 23:15
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    $\begingroup$ @Cadence - I didn't say that fighting is a good way of resolving conflicts, but it is efficient. It is ubiquitous in Nature so there must be some utility in it. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 23:31
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    $\begingroup$ The problem with "can X evolve?" questions is that, according to our present understanding of evolution, given enough time anything can evolve. The question isn't what attributes would evolve because that's unanswerable (they'll be what you, the author, want, see narrative necessity). A better question is, "here are the specific characteristics of my noses, what evolutionary pressures could lead to this?" because the question is much more deterministic. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Feb 15, 2023 at 2:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Cadence It's more efficient than World War One. Or Two. Etc. $\endgroup$
    – user86462
    Commented Feb 15, 2023 at 5:34
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    $\begingroup$ Homunculus loxodontus by Dutch sculptor Margriet van Breevoort. Very popular in Slavic Eastern Europe under the nickname Zhdun. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Feb 15, 2023 at 16:46

1 Answer 1


Yes, more or less anything can evolve with sufficient time and proper selective pressure. Is your human trunk evolution probable? No, unless people who tend to lose those conflicts cannot reproduce.

But that is not all that important. If you colonized the galaxy it shouldn't be an issue doing some genetic engineering to introduce those trunks. In fact, even if society collapsed to medieval level of technology, it will be far faster to relearn everything to the point where such genetic manipulation would be possible, than waiting for natural evolution. And by far faster I mean orders of magnitude faster.

  • $\begingroup$ Do you have any backup for the statement "more or less anything can evolve with sufficient time and proper selective pressure". That is a big part of my question. I don't imagine that an ant can evolve into a human no matter how long you selectively breed. The reason is that there are evolutionary cul-de-sacs. Evolution only goes forward it does not go back in time and start anew. Humans and elephants diverged about 60 million years ago. I need to know if humans have lost the genes for flexible noses or if they can develop new ones from scratch. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 15, 2023 at 13:21
  • $\begingroup$ @chasly-supportsMonica Why ants couldn't evolve to something resembling humans? There are cases where an organism became less complex, and later on more again. Mind you, it could take hundreds of milions of years... And new genes develop all the time! There are multiple mechanisms that can lead to new genes. Humans thou definitely don't have viable genes for flexible noses (well, technically no organism has "genes for flexible noses", but have genes for proteins that lead to formation of flexible noses), and it would take quite a bit of mutations to either reactivate one or form a new one. $\endgroup$
    – Negdo
    Commented Feb 15, 2023 at 13:34
  • $\begingroup$ I personally have some genes for flexible noses. I can constrict my nostrils to some extent voluntarily and even cause the tip of my nose to move slightly up and down. Judging by the work of animal breeders, it doesn't take 500,000 years to make substantial morphological changes. I'm sure it would take less than 500,000 years to select for longer and longer noses and get something that was substantially longer than current humans. The question is can these plausibly become prehensile in the same amount of time. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 15, 2023 at 14:38
  • $\begingroup$ Timescales of evolution depends on how heavy is selective pressure and how big of a change there is. And there are few to none cases of selective pressure more drastic than selective breeding, so that can happen quite quickly. Natural occurrences are way slower. Because people wouldn't just let them be selectively bred for stronger noses (in fact, only an insane AI would even attempt that). And your selective pressure is unlikely to be all that strong, unless losers of those arguments cannot reproduce. But as I said, whole evolution angle is meaningles in the face of genetic engineering. $\endgroup$
    – Negdo
    Commented Feb 15, 2023 at 15:00
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    $\begingroup$ It's not quite true that Chasly would need the losers to not reproduce. All that's needed is a preference that leads to greater desirability and, therefore, competition that wins better genetic provenance. Not reproducing would allow evolution to work faster, but reproducing wouldn't stop the process. What I might find unbelievable is a human preferring a trunk over a nose. But, then again, many things are found attractive. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 6:41

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