In this case, I am referring to my orc-equivalent species who are closely related to the true elves, adapting to the intelligence of the elves with camouflage and mimicry, as well as tusks that are perfect for going into the ocular cavities of the skull and into the brain. These “orcs” are able to use weaponry but prefer to rely on physical strength, with weapons being reserved for the elderly, frail and prodigious hunters.

The “elves” evolved sapience as a result of being removed from their grassland habitat and being forced into the forests and adapting to a plant and insect-based diet, which spurred them into developing agriculture and fixed settlement.

If there are any additional adaptations that may be more suitable, or any alternative events that could have led the elves to sapience please include those too.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Please clarify your specific problem or provide additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it's hard to tell exactly what you're asking. $\endgroup$
    – Community Bot
    Commented Apr 24 at 11:55
  • $\begingroup$ Interesting question. Some info that could help: Are you considering orcs to be specialized on elfs or eat other things? Are there other humoinds or primates they can eat or just elfs? Are the social or solitary like many large predators? $\endgroup$
    – N Brouwer
    Commented Apr 24 at 19:10
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @NBrouwer the orcs are somewhat specialised but not to a great extent as they can subside on other animals and plants but prey on elves like chimpanzees prey on lesser monkeys. $\endgroup$
    – Segg Gway
    Commented Apr 25 at 4:44
  • $\begingroup$ HG Wells, The time machine had eloi-elves and morlok-orcs... $\endgroup$
    – Trish
    Commented Apr 25 at 8:28
  • $\begingroup$ FYI prior art: Larry Niven has some evolved hominid "vampire"-like human predators on the Ringworld. They are not smart (trying to out-evolve humans for intelligence is an arms race they lost), but instead lure in prey by being very attractive, physically charismatic, and using pheremones to enhance those effects. The main character is entranced by a beautiful seducer, before being rescued by his unaffected alien compatriots, upon which he realizes that that a portion of his seducer's head size is actually just hair, she has an unnaturally small head. And a carnivore's very pointy teeth. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 25 at 14:55

6 Answers 6


One adaptation, that requires very little mutation to occur is voice mimicry. Have the orcs evolve a much more powerful, and much more complex vocal aparatus, and brain structures related to speech, something that allows them to perfectly mimic elvish voices, and other sounds like:

  • mimic the voices of their loved ones in distress. An orc could capture an elf, kill them very slowly, and learn to mimic its agonized cries for help to lure in more elves
  • mimic the cry of an infant, or a voice of a lost child
  • "throw" voice like a ventriloquist to confuse elven hunters
  • mimic the voice of an elvish leader or authority figure to deceive their prey into compliance
  • mimic the sounds made by farm animals, squeaky door, wind, etc to make elves who heard an orc sneaking upon them to relax ("eh, it was just a cat...")
  • inversely, use very powerful basso roars to scare the crap of elven hunters challenging the orc, terrify elven horses or attack dogs etc
  • use near ultrasound shrieks to communicate with other orcs over large distances, or even as crude echolocation when hunting in total darkness
  • use high-speed, multiharmonic throat singing to communicate with other orcs mid battle, in a way that elves cannot follow
  • combine all the above to evolve a multi-sound, multi-channel language that would make orcs capable of holding several conversations at once and "sing" 3D sound-shapes at each other, making them incredibly efficient at sharing information.

In the real world, things which might have predated on humans and proto-humans didn't get the opportunity to adapt to the burgeoning intelligence of their potential food items... they either made do with eating other things, or they were wiped out.

Trophic levels being what they are, there's a limit on how many orcs there can be relative to your elves, and if elves are orcs' primary diet then the orcs need the elves to continue to exist. The converse is not true, and intelligent tool using species who outnumber a dangerous opponent and having nothing to lose by the utter extermination of that opponent are very dangerous things to mess with.

Peter Watts invented a predatory subspecies of humans which he termed "vampires", though they eat people rather than drink them. He started this so long ago that he made a flash presentation which is obviously rather had to play these days, though there is a PDF transcript available now. The end notes of Blindsight are also available as a PDF and have a bit more detail of the hows and whys. There's more detail in his novel Echopraxia, though unlike his other work it isn't available for free on his site.

His vampires were notably:

  • very strong, strong enough to overpower and outfight any individual human, and some groups of humans.
  • very intelligent, enough to outthink any human, making them extremely effective hunters.
  • capable of "hibernating" (technically dormancy) for extended periods of time, letting them feed then hide away long enough for the humans to settle down and drop their guard.

The intelligence is the critical bit, I think. Without superelvish intelligence, your orcs will find themselves outnumbered and against a hostile group of intelligent tool users with equivalent or better technology and that's a bad place to be. They will be driven out of elvish lands, and if they are obligate predators of elves, they'll be exterminated. If they do have superelvish intelligence then that's going to have a major impact on the nature of your setting (not least of which is the fact that writing superintelligences is difficult when you're not a superintelligence yourself). To some extent you can substitute long term dormancy for intelligence... eat an elfling, then bury yourself in mud for a year or decade or two to let the heat die down before you come back, but that leaves orcs as more like rarely encountered solitary monsters which may not fit your thematic needs.

The other practical adaptation is to stop eating elves. That seems like the best way to encourage the elves to relax a bit instead of annihilating you. There are plenty of colors and flavors of predatory megafauna across the world that have survived either watching the evolution of Homo or encountered it in migrations or colonizations, and they've survived by being either cute and fluffy (which your orcs probably aren't) or tough as old boots, and happy to eat things other than humans and livestock and happy to live places where humans don't visit so often.

Consider taking a leaf out of the crocodilian's book. Make sure you have a varied diet, and live away from the forests. You can eat an elf, every now and then, as a treat. But don't eat too many, or you'll get to experience exactly what the cutting edge of technological progress feels like.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Maybe an interesting plot twist might be elves going on orc hunts. Maybe the orcs get eaten every once in a while too as a treat. Humans happily go on alligator hunts. Why couldn't elves go on orc hunts? $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 25 at 18:39
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @GregBurghardt orcskin boots. Or perhaps those tusks make for an ivory trade... $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 25 at 18:41
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @StarfishPrime Now I'm thinking of orc tusk scrimshaw, and "Moby Orc", the classic elven cautionary tale about obsession, pride, and the futility of revenge. $\endgroup$
    – R.M.
    Commented Apr 26 at 15:10

Frame Challenge

I'm assuming your orcs are not themselves sapient, otherwise this becomes a very different question.

I think specific adaptations to predating on sapient species are neither necessary nor possible. They aren't possible because evolutionary adaptations are very slow - a mutation that will prove beneficial will need a lot of time to randomly emerge and then spread through the population. On the other hand, sapient prey will very quickly come up with strategies to counter any evolutionary adaptations that emerge in the predators.

Specific adaptations aren't necessary either. There are still species that may occasionally hunt humans - see this for example. There's also sharks, alligators, wolves used to be a major threat in many places before becoming largely extinct. You don't need any special anti-sapient behaviors. Some things will help however - being more physically powerful than you prey of course, being ambush predators, going after the weak and the young, living in a habitat where you can hide effectively.

Eventually, as the elf civilization becomes more advanced your orcs will probably go extinct, or become critically endangered, unless the elves themselves try to prevent their extinction. It sounds like the elves are still in a very early stage in their civilization though, so the orcs will continue being a danger for a long time.

  • $\begingroup$ Nonsapient predatory species are of course a possible candidate for domestication... $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 24 at 14:06
  • $\begingroup$ The orcs are very much sapient though not as culturally developed and they lag behind the elves considerably $\endgroup$
    – Segg Gway
    Commented Apr 25 at 4:34
  • $\begingroup$ This! While wolves are mostly extinct today, it took a long time -- through pre-history, antiquity, and the middle ages -- to reach this point, and all along they were a major threat... in sparsely populated areas. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 25 at 10:08
  • $\begingroup$ @SeggGway in that case it's doubly true. A conflict between two sapient species will be decided by who has the better weaponry and/or military tactics, greater numbers, better economy. Evolutionary adaptations for creatures as complex as your orcs would be could take thousands of years to take hold, that's way way too slow. Perhaps your orcs evolved to predate on elves before either species achieved sapience. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 25 at 12:00

Evolve armour.

An exoskeleton lets a powerful predator rush elves and eat them. They could grow a skeletal exoskeleton which they can use to block spears and bow shots, perhaps a turtle shell barrier grown from the back or the dermal plates of the armadillo. Then if attacked they can simply duck in their shell let the attacks bounce off and then charge and eat the elf.

Evolve a powerful sense of smell and hearing

Tracking, ambushing and avoiding ambushes are very important for beating intelligence. Any intelligent species will seek to gather weapons to ambush predators with superior numbers. You want to avoid that, and sight is easy to deceive. Smell and hearing can see through walls, and are much harder to deceive. Weak eyesight is fine.

Get powerful claws for stabbing and digging

The walls and houses of elves are a powerful barrier against dumb creatures eating delicious elf flesh. As such, you need a bypass. Digging. The orcs can dig under walls and houses and seize vulnerable elves, children and elderly especially. Their powerful claws can let them do brutal ambushes from their earthly tunnels.

So, a clear strategy emerges. They use hidden tunnels and warrens to avoid any organized effort to exterminate them by warbands, and dig under villages and towns to ambush vulnerable elves, using their powerful natural weapons and armor to resist unorganized attacks. Before elves can use their intelligence to organize a warband, they retreat under the earth where their superior senses let them ambush and eat anyone who follows them.

  • $\begingroup$ I grant that sometimes you just need Felix get in his Armor and illogically punch illogically burrowing giant ants. But alas, our old nemesis the square-cube law ruins this possibility if we're trying to be even borderline consistent with the laws of physics. Excavating man-sized tunnels, rapidly, undetected, over long distances, without technology, planning, and cooperation, is definitely magic. $\endgroup$
    – g s
    Commented Apr 25 at 5:25
  • $\begingroup$ It doesn't need to be rapid, and can involve planning and cooperation. The orcs aren't very smart, but they can use weapons and tools so they're not so dumb they can't work in a team or follow some basic digging rules from their instincts. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Commented Apr 25 at 12:27

Be able to live somewhere intensely hostile to elven life, such as:

  • Underwater (mermaid orcs)
  • Extensive lightless fantasy caverns
  • Irradiated nuclear ruins
  • Disease-infested jungles
  • The demon-haunted lands of the blood curse

The elf-hunting predators who don't or can't live in those places are endangered species. You cannot compete for territory with plans, packs, and pointy sticks, no matter how dangerous you are in a fight. There is a strong selection pressure towards whatever traits let you live in those places: if you aren't hard for a warband of elves with pointy sticks to reach, and anyone who looks like you eats elves, the elves will kill you.


Preying upon a sapient species is a very bad idea for the most part. It's not likely to evolve because of just how bad an idea it is... with some exceptions.

Consider the one truly sapient species we know IRL: Humans. What do humans do when something preys upon them? For the most part, the predator doesn't get to reproduce much more, because the humans get together with their weapons and go out and kill the predator. It's a rule of biology that predators are always outnumbered by their prey because of the inefficiencies of hunting and digestion, and because if predators become too common, prey numbers drop and the predators starve. It's a bad idea to piss off a species that outnumbers yours to the point where they're going to come and kill you.

Sapience is a result of runaway evolution of intelligence. This happens not because of challenges in the environment, because once the species is smart enough to deal with its environmental problems, there is no more need for brain development, since a bigger brain uses more energy. Runaway evolution of intelligence happens as a result of sexual selection in a social species. When the smarter individuals get to breed more, intelligence is selected for, without limit. Intelligence achieved as a result of sexual selection also has the advantage that it is still a survival trait.

So, these social, intelligent elves are getting smarter generation by generation because brainy is sexy, and it's a survival trait all by itself. Predators are less social, because they have limits upon their numbers that herbivores and omnivores don't have, that being the need for prey. That makes it harder for these orcs to be smart. They aren't going to be as intelligent as a group of elves.

So, what would these orcs do? The most logical thing is to do what lions do IRL when humans come around: The sight of a single armed human can send an entire pride of lions into a slinking retreat. Not attempting to prey upon humans is a survival trait, and lions are the smartest of cats. Lions eat other animals that aren't so organised and dangerous. Tigers are opportunistic predators on humans... but they're nearly extinct.

However, there is another option that will allow orcs to prey upon elves: Orcs can be the elves' pets. Consider humans again. The number four most dangerous animal to humans (behind mosquitoes, other humans and snakes) is dogs. Why is this... aren't dogs pets?

Yes, dogs are pets. They are also pack predators capable of taking on prey larger than themselves. For the most part, dogs don't bite the hand that feeds them, but occasionally instinct takes over, and a human gets bitten... and eaten. This occurs most often in the fighting breeds.

Why hasn't this led to dogs becoming extinct? My theory is that dogs are brood parasites. They trigger humans' nurturing instincts, and many dog owners will even protect a dog that has killed someone. Certainly, steps are being taken to reduce the numbers of fighting breeds, and many biting dogs are put down... but not all of them. Some dogs that bite are trained to do so. That they bite is then not the dog's fault at all.

So, we could have orcs be the elves' pets. The elves might keep them around for home defence, or as an army to defend their nations. They would have reason to breed big, strong, dangerous-looking dangerous pet orcs, because that's what they're for. Some elves might get eaten... perhaps they were bad owners who didn't train their orc(s) properly (that's one of the justifications that dog apologists sometimes use with regard to human-killer dogs). The elf-killer orc might even get to live after such an event, especially if it killed elves during wartime.

The other possibility is that orcs kill and prey upon elves by stealth. If an orc was to mimic the relevant features of an elf, it might be able to get close enough to kill and eat an elf and get away with it afterwards. However, it wouldn't be able to have much more muscle mass than an elf (or it would look wrong), so it would either be no stronger, or it would be stronger but slower if it changed its skeletomuscular lever ratios to favour strength. It might be faster but weaker. It would likely be venomous, since venom is easy to conceal... but it would be more like a living elf vampire than a stereotypical orc because of its need for mimicry.


If you want properly muscular, vicious-looking orcs that can get away with eating the occasional elf, they're going to have to be pets.


You must log in to answer this question.

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