In this world, dinosaurs and prehistoric mammals still exist and are used a lot in normal day actions, like farming, transportation, etc. So there is already a field of trained people who know how to train and command these animals. How realistically could they be used? I have an idea for a special force that uses prehistoric mammals like Smilodons, dire wolves, Terror birds or other similar animals. I also have had armor be a constant thing since there is still possible for random dinosaur attacks, but armor is less common in civilized areas. Would specialized use of dinosaurs and prehistoric mammals in combat pull the ready out or am I overthinking this?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Consider this answer to question about what animals can be domesticated The more items an animal ticks off that list the more plausible it is to be domesticated or used in war. $\endgroup$ Dec 20, 2023 at 22:54
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ VTC:Too Story-Based. The only credible reference we have is the use of elephants as war animals. Beyond that, this is purely circumstantial to your story. If you want them, use them, if you don't, don't. As for how to use them, that's entirely story-based because we have no information about prehistoric behavior beyond the fossil record. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Dec 21, 2023 at 1:03
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I think that this would be fun to explore, but still might be too story-based. The US Civil War era has fascinated me because it's a technological deflection point in history. For instance, trains were replacing wagons as a method of moving goods long distances. If the oxygen levels of Earth were higher, we might still have megathermic sauropods. That could change the formula quite a bit, but you'd have to make a lot of decisions and build a story around it. $\endgroup$ Dec 21, 2023 at 5:36
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You definitely can if you make dinosaurs friendly-ish, the biggest problem would be to feed a GOD DAMN T-REX. $\endgroup$
    – Or4ng3h4t
    Dec 21, 2023 at 17:29
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Or4ng3h4t Carefully, from a safe distance $\endgroup$ Dec 21, 2023 at 21:15

6 Answers 6


I don't see why not. You're the author, and if you want utahraptor tamers to wade into the battlefield, you can just do that (nobody is going to stop you).

There is a large historical precedent for the use of animals in warfare, specifically horses and, to a lesser degree, dogs but also other animals for more niche roles like carrier pigeons for message delivery or rats for mine-sweeping.

Horses specifically are an interesting case, particularly because they are absolutely terrible yet still saw lots of use in historical military logistics as well as direct combat (cavalry). They are at the bare edge of 'tameable', have enormous upkeep costs, and require very specialized expertise to handle them and train them up to the level of warfighting capacity. The fact that they were used in such a widespread manner despite the many, many downsides they have shows the utility of a rideable mount or generally "dumb muscle" in a pre-industrial setting.

If your dinosaurs are as difficult or easier to train compared to horses, I don't see why they wouldn't be used in at least some capacity. Sure, there would be challenges, like feeding the carnivorous dinosaurs, but nothing that can't be overcome if the need is there.

  • $\begingroup$ Could they use the dead bodies to feed the carnivories? $\endgroup$
    – Sage Grant
    Dec 20, 2023 at 21:24
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @SageGrant depends on the animal, some will very much not touch carrion and only eat fresh kills. $\endgroup$ Dec 20, 2023 at 22:05
  • 12
    $\begingroup$ Horses are not at the "bare edge of tameable", they are fully domesticated. Taming and domestication are two completely different things. Teaching a polar bear or a lion to perform in a circus, now that's "at the bare edge of tameable". $\endgroup$
    – vsz
    Dec 21, 2023 at 5:58
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ @Dragongeek Taming is something that happens to an individual animal, whereas domestication is something that applies at a species level. Taming means training an animal, whereas domestication means changing one species to another. For example, training a wolf to play fetch is taming; breeding wolves to turn them into dogs is domestication. $\endgroup$
    – alexgbelov
    Dec 21, 2023 at 15:45
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You wouldn't need to tame a horse. That's sort of the point of domestication. The exception are horses that grew up in the wild and went feral. $\endgroup$
    – SPavel
    Dec 21, 2023 at 20:48

If you're dealing with prehistoric animals, the main thing that you're going to have to deal with is their natural instincts. For each different species of animal, you're going to have to consider what it eats and how you're going to provide that. You're going to have to consider how social it could be and if it could tolerate - and be tolerated - around a group of other people. Can it be trained, or would it be like trying to herd cats? There are some animals that are tractable as juveniles, but can become aggressive as adults, such as the modern wombat or kangaroo, and may be difficult to keep. While these species are not native to the americas, the principles of husbandry of animals that are extinct in our timeline that relate to them still hold true.

If you're trying to send the critters into combat, consider if it's a pack hunter or a solitary hunter. Solitary hunters are cowardly, and will run at the first injury, while pack hunters can afford to be braver. Perhaps it's a herbivore that has dangerous appendages it can use to defend itself. If threatened, it'll certainly want to protect itself, but can it be trusted to only defend itself when necessary, or will it defend itself against friendlies too?

However, dinosaurs, being rather bird-like, may have unexpected advantages in combat. Consider the Great Emu War: The Australian Army were sent out to exterminate a plague of emus, and were almost literally defeated by the birds. It was said by Major Meredith, the commander of the operation, that, "If we had a military division with the bullet-carrying capacity of these birds it would face any army in the world ... They can face machine guns with the invulnerability of tanks. They are like Zulus whom even dum-dum bullets could not stop." Dinosaurs such as Deinonychus or Utahraptor may prove, like emus, to be unexpectedly bullet-resistant, with the bonus of being physically dangerous to the enemy, and not just excellent bullet sponges.

Other animals such as dire wolves may prove useful, though I would expect that Smilodon and its relatives would be of little use due to their supposed solitary habits and likely cowardice. There were a number of elephant-like species and other large herbivores that may be trainable, but like modern elephants, a bullet might be devastating to them. Glyptodon, nodosaurs, ankylosaurs and similar might well prove to be excellent draft animals to pull artillery into battle, given that their heavily armoured bodies would make them very resistant to gunfire.


It doesn't sound that plausible to me. The cost of feeding such large animals would make the fodder supplies for horses look tiny. So they probably wouldn't be used in vast numbers like horses. They would also be horribly vulnerable to massed gun fire and not much use in raiding (like horses). Horses were often terrified by elephants and dinosaurs would be even worse.

  • $\begingroup$ Not even massed gun fire is necessary. The civil war had accurate Minie ball rifles so you no longer needed mass gun fire from a line of soldiers to hit a target. And breech loading cartridge rifles were available so a single soldier could shoot a lot faster, and gatling guns that could shoot even faster. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Dec 21, 2023 at 16:30

There was a conspicuous absence of wolves, lions, or elephants in the US Civil War, despite the existence of these animals in the real world. What they used were horses, and mules, and oxen.

Note also that the role of cavalry was in transition. A few decades earlier, there was light cavalry for scouting and heavy cavalry with cuirass, sword, or lance to run down enemy infantry once artillery had broken the squares. During the American Civil War, cavalry fought as dragoons -- mobile by horse, fighting mostly on foot.

In various conflicts there were military working dogs, and the South would be familiar with using bloodhounds or similar breeds to track escaped slaves. A smilodon or dire wolf trainable/trained to similar levels could be used in a similar capacity. Yet dogs did not play a significant role in set-piece battles. They could not shoot back against cannon and rifles.

The American Civil War also saw the rise of the railroad for logistics. Not in all battles, but large armies which marched too far from a friendly railhead suffered. This could cut two ways:

  • Railways make it possible to feed large animals on the frontline. Imagine Triceratops-riding heavy cavalry, and behind them trainloads of ferns and palms.
  • Railways might have been in the process of replacing an established system of wagons with draft Mastodons. Say that the less-industrial south used Mastodon-drawn wagons (where river boats were not feasible) while in the North they were mostly replaced by steam power. Then the war comes, and with it the need to operate in war-ravaged areas. Mastodons look better again, but the North can't supply them ...
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Elephants and Lions might exist in the real world, but not so much in the US. War Elephants were - and sometimes are - a thing, but they aren't beneficial enough that it would make sense to transport them to the US. If elephants were native to north america, I wouldn't be too surprised if there were at least some cases of them being used in the civil war (probably not on a large scale though). $\endgroup$
    – tim
    Dec 21, 2023 at 12:40

An increased palette of potential working-animals

enter image description here

CGP Grey on why not all animals are domesticated

As excellently explained by CGP Grey in this video, in order for animals to be domesticated, there are four tollgates you need to pass in order to succeed.

The animal must be...

  • Friendly
  • Feedable
  • Family organised
  • Fecund (i.e. breeds easily)

Would this apply to dinosaurs?

We quite honestly have no idea. Removed from them by 65+ million years (plus they existed for many millions of years before that, so species came and went), it is nearly impossible for us to know their temperament, their dietary requirements, population structure and/or breeding cycles.

...which works in your favour!

As the author, you can simply decree that some dinosaurs do fullfill these qualities! Pick any species you like for this.

"Will they be useful in the American Civil War?"

Again, we cannot know, so you can just make stuff up.

"How were animals actaully used in the civil war?"

  • Heavy transport
  • Rapid transport
  • Battle mounts
  • Food

If you can figure out how various dinosaur species can fulfill these roles better and/or cheaper than traditional animals, then there is your answer.

"What about innovative uses of dinosaurs?"

Well, the issue is that the technological development to that point did not really permit much such innovations besides hauling stuff and people around. Only the horse was actually used to any practical effect in battle.

In fact, today dinosaurs could probably come to much greater use, say for instance intelligent flyers acting as sensor carriers, i.e. living drones. But this is of no use during the civil war because the photographic camera was just freshly invented.

So, I am sorry to have to disappoint you but I have a very hard time to come up with any innovative use of dinosaurs, so what they would be used for is — most likely — improved versions of the uses enumerated above.


A major thesis in Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel is that the historical dominance of Eurasian empires over the rest of the world was predicated on almost all the world's large domesticable animals living in Eurasia (sole exception: llamas in South America).

Why was this? He puts forward the theory that with humans appearing first in Africa and spreading out to Eurasia, animals there had time to evolve behaviors to defend themselves against humans, not be entirely wiped out by human hunters, and thus still exist in the era when humans could domesticate and use them.

He compares that to the other continents -- Australia and the Americas, which in prehistory did have diverse populations of megafauna (large land animals). But the historical record shows they were all wiped out within a few centuries of humans first appearing on those continents (in the Americas, around 11,000 years ago). Diamond suggests the likelihood that those animals simply had no effective predators, were entirely docile, and had no instincts to preserve themselves when humans came to hunt them. So: extinction in every case -- and therefore nothing to be domesticated later, and hence no basis for the later peoples to get to industrial-level civilization.

The specific prehistoric animals he points to in this category include the following (Ch. 1):

Australia/New Guinea today has no equally large mammals, in fact no mammal larger than 100-pound kangaroos. But Australia/New Guinea formerly had its own suite of diverse big mammals, including giant kangaroos, rhinolike marsupials called diprotodonts and reaching the size of a cow, and a marsupial "leopard." It also formerly had a 400-pound ostrichlike flightless bird, plus some impressively big reptiles, including a one-ton lizard, a giant python, and land-dwelling crocodiles.


Like Australia/New Guinea, the Americas had originally been full of big mammals. About 15,000 years ago, the American West looked much as Africa's Serengeti Plains do today, with herds of elephants and horses pursued by lions and cheetahs, and joined by members of such exotic species as camels and giant ground sloths. Just as in Australia/New Guinea, in the Americas most of those large mammals became extinct.

So you might consider if the most historically justifiable twist would be a world in which the non-Eurasian megafauna did not go extinct for some reason, and these were the creatures later domesticated and used by humans. Diamond's thesis suggests that they might actually be more domesticable and easier to manage than real-world horses, cattle, goats, pigs, etc. In North America this could intriguingly include prehistoric giant sloths, mammoths, mastodons, camels, wolves, glyptodons, giant beavers, etc. More at LiveScience.


Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .