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Imagine a centaur. Humanoid torso attached to where the neck should be on, say, a horse. Is this the best/most realistic animal to use? Would an "anatomically correct" centaur be more plausible if it were part dog instead? Part mouse?(sized up tremendously, of course). Etcetera. It doesn't have to look like a classic centaur; the humanoid torso/head/arms can more smoothly transition between animal and human, but the basic idea is the same.

What animal would best work for a realistic centaur?

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    $\begingroup$ Is it a problem that Centaurs are basically insects because they have 6 limbs? $\endgroup$
    – Gillgamesh
    Commented May 1 at 18:36
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    $\begingroup$ @Gilgamesh Why would that be a problem? Insects have a defined head, thorax and abdomen, splitting their body into three specific sections. I wouldn't consider centaurs insects. They have a head, torso and body, but I wouldn't define their shape as "a defined head, thorax and abdomen." Springtails have six legs, but are not insects. I imagine centaurs would be similar to them. $\endgroup$
    – Talbot
    Commented May 1 at 18:51
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    $\begingroup$ I see. However, I am looking for what would realistically be the most structurally sound animal body type for a creature similar to a centaur. Evolving said creature is not part of the criteria of my question. (Sorry if that sounds rude, I don't do type tone well). $\endgroup$
    – Talbot
    Commented May 1 at 19:14
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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps a kangaroo? Then you wouldn’t need to worry about additional limbs? $\endgroup$ Commented May 2 at 0:23
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    $\begingroup$ @Gillgamesh there's a lot that makes an insect an insect besides the number of limbs, that a mammal-adjacent centaur would not have. They aren't even close to being crustaceans, much less insects. $\endgroup$ Commented May 3 at 18:37

8 Answers 8

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It depends on what you mean by BEST

Before I start randomly slapping humans on animals, first off, you do not want to just take a smaller animal and scale it up, because small animals have all sorts lacking adaptations that big animals have for being big. Big scales down way better than small scales up. A 1000lb rat would simply die under its own weight, but a 1000lb elephant would be fine. So, we should only consider animals that already have a head that weighs as much as a human's upper body, because that animal actually has all the special adaptations needed to carry its own weight if scaled to make since with the human parts.

An average human male, worldwide weighs in at about 150 lb (68 kg). Once you remove the legs and pelvis, this should leave your centaur needing to carry about 100 lb (45 kg) worth of human in place of its head.

So, this already rules out the vast majority of animals: No reptiles are fast enough, no birds, bugs, or amphibians are big enough. I'm also rulling out aquatic life since I'm assuming the OP wants this to fill more or less the same niche as a centar. Basically this just leaves mammals. Among mammals, no predators have heads bigger than about 50 lb (23 kg), so all you are really left to pick from are your larger ungulates and pachyderms.

You can't beat horses at mobility.

enter image description here

Wild Horses travel an average of 35 miles a day, but they can push themselves to over 100 miles in a day if they have to. This is because they can maintain speeds of 10-17mph for 7 hours straight. Not to mention, they can sprint at speeds up to 54 mph. Also, horses are one of the few animals besides humans that sweat to keep cool. This makes them especially performant when they need to push themselves for long periods of time or through hotter conditions that would force other animals to reduce thier activity. All these factors together make them by far one of the most mobile body plans in the animal kingdom.

They are also a good pick because they need less food than most other body plans. As it turns out, most ungulates and pachyderms, even those with big tusks or antlers have heads that make up about 3-8% of thier total body weight, but horses have unusually thick and dense skulls and muscular necks compared to other ungulates meaning that thier heads can be up to 10% of thier body weight. So, while a 1200 lb moose or a scaled down 3000 lb elephant would in theory work, a horse only needs to be 1000 lb (very average for a horse) to be able to replace its own head with a human top part. This makes feeding your centaurs more reasonable than most other options.

But Giraffes win out on efficiency

enter image description here

On the note of body weight, perhaps you want to focus on going for a smaller body plan in lue of a faster more endurant one since this will help a lot with food requirements.

The one large animal with a significantly larger head to body ratio than a horse that would work is a giraffe. A giraffe's head and neck weigh in at almost 20% of the animal's weight meaning that you could have a 500 lb centaur based on a giraffe's body plan instead of 1000 lb. They do this by having a much shorter torso that slopes front-to back instead of being flat. This allows the giraffe to shift some the the weight of the head and neck onto the back legs in a way that other ungulates can't which keeps it from being too front-heavy. That said, a giraffe can not keep pace with a horse of similar size because there is not enough distance between the front and back legs or elastic motion in the spine to perform a proper gallop. Full sized giraffes are already slower than horses, but thier long legs allow them to sort of make up the difference of what thier back does not let them do. Shrunken down, I'd expect a girafataur to struggle more with its torso shape when trying to achieve any sort of horse like speeds... but the lower body mass would make feeding a girafataur a much easier task.

But Orangutans might win if your main goal is plausibility

enter image description here

If you want anatomical correctness, we have to think a bit outside the box here. Hooves and hands don't really make a lot of since together and neither does fur and hair. So, you should try to unify what the bottom half and top half looks like a bit. Since hooves for hands kind of defeat the point, I'm going to propose that you need a lower half that grows hair instead of fur, and give it hands and feet instead of hooves... but still has the overall shape to perform like a giraffe. The key features of the giraffe that makes it able to hold up its head is the longer forelegs than back legs and the sloping back.

The closest we see to this in any animal is probably the orangutan. Orangutans have that 45 degree short back and limb proportions that are already close to what we are looking for, though you will want to alter the back to sway in instead of hunching out to get the weight distribution you want. You will probably also want to replace at least one set of feet with something more human like for better walking. Bodyweight wise, I'd expect something in between a girafataur and a centaur, and a bit slower than either, but this body plan could have certain advantages that neither has like the ability to climb trees or to use its forelegs as a second set of hands; so, there are interesting things to be gained by doing it this way.

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  • $\begingroup$ That illustration with the half-woman half-giraffe looks very "natural" for something that is clearly fantasy. The proportions look believable though I might try some variations on the theme before settling on details. $\endgroup$
    – MacGuffin
    Commented May 2 at 23:34
  • $\begingroup$ @MacGuffin If natural looking is you end goal, something a bit more orangatang like, but with giraffe like proportions might be even better. See updated answer. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented May 3 at 15:22
  • $\begingroup$ " See updated answer. " I think I like the previous answer better. There's a lot of room for interpretation here so much of this comes down to a matter of opinion. $\endgroup$
    – MacGuffin
    Commented May 3 at 22:09
  • $\begingroup$ @MacGuffin that is a bit of a shortcoming of the question itself. It looks like you narrowed the scope down to "smoothly transition" which makes the horse no longer a consideration, but the question remains if a smoothest transition is just skeletal or also dermal. The giraffe gives the best skeletal transition, but using another great ape will give you a smoother transition of body features. You are also unclear if you want to accept minor-moderate changes to the animal parts to make things work; so, a giraffe works best unmodified, but with small changes, other animals may work better. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented May 6 at 14:34
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A centaur is hardly "anatomically correct" because the human torso in place of the neck of a horse would have its own heart, lungs, and digestive tract where the horse torso would have another heart, set of lungs, and digestive tract. Is the human digestive system uh... excreting waste into the digestive system of the horse? How can a human face get in enough air, water, and food to keep a horse body alive? Looking into a horse's nose is lot like looking into the dangerous end of a double barrel shotgun, two holes big enough to lose rolls of coins into. The nose of a human by comparison has pinholes.

You did point out that anatomical features could be scaled appropriately but I'm wondering how to scale a horse neck to a human torso while retaining anything that still is recognizable as hominid and equine as well as being something realistic to breathe and eat. I guess the human torso doesn't have to contain heart, lungs and digestive tract but it would still have to retain a human head, torso, and arms in place of the head and neck of some four legged animal to be considered anything analogous to a centaur. Maybe I'm not creative enough to think that out.

A creature more like a satyr or Minotaur would be more "anatomically correct", having the upper body of a human but powerful legs of a bovine or equine. I suspect two hoofed legs would make it difficult to stand but possibly still allow for fast running over rough terrain. Hoofs don't have toes to give balance while standing or walking, but while running this isn't as much of a concern as the body is in constant motion and in effect always in a motion like that of recovering from a fall. Perhaps these creatures are known to keep a staff or cane to aid in standing and walking, such items would also be useful weapons for self defense, hunting, or taking to battle.

Having clawed feet like a cat/lion/puma, bear, dog, or some such could allow for standing and walking as we can see such animals navigate well enough on their hind legs alone. Size up the paws some and add the greater ability to keep balance with long humanoid arms and walking, standing, and running should be easy. The claws would come in handy for a fight, climbing trees, and other tasks where human feet might prove less optimal. Also see above note about a walking stick or such.

Pairing a human upper body with the lower body of anything not mammalian can bring up a lot of questions on uh... shall we say propagation of the species? There's creatures in myth that have a human upper body but the lower half of a bird or fish but that's going to raise some questions on what makes this anything approximating "anatomically correct". If looking for a creature suited for an aquatic or semi-aquatic environment then there's a number of aquatic mammals to choose from for the lower half on this being/species.

Want something that flies? I'd personally not go with something bird-like but rather a kind of bat, or maybe something like flying squirrel. Squirrels don't exactly fly, more like glide, but we are already into some stretches on anatomy so... get creative I guess? This could mean getting creative on what it means to have human-like arms and hands but... whatever works for the world/story.

Perhaps consider anatomy and behaviors for things like thermal regulation. Humans are a tropical species and so will sweat when hot, then seek out clothing and/or shelter when cold. Fur/hair helps retain heat but to shed heat furred animals tend to seek out water, mud, or holes in dirt to cool off. Some furry critters learn which kinds of trees and rocks are the best to curl up against to cool off. I don't know what to think of how a half human in a truly polar/arctic/icy environment would act. They may have fur on their lower half but would they be comfortable to take the skins/furs/organs of some other animals to construct shirts, coats, dresses, or other warm clothing?

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    $\begingroup$ Maybe go the way of the kangaroo. A sturdy tail, acting as a 'third leg' of sorts when standing, and a balancing tool when running ? $\endgroup$
    – nick
    Commented May 2 at 7:31
  • $\begingroup$ A half-human half-kangaroo creature would be interesting, there's other variations to consider that would have tails useful for standing upright. The beaver comes to mind but I don't know if real beavers use their tails like kangaroos to fight or hop upright. I guess nothing keeps this creature from routinely traversing over the ground on all fours. There are cases of people that never learned to walk upright because of some deformity, neurological condition, or some such. I suspect that a half-human that is unable to walk upright would lose much of the appearance of being humanoid though. $\endgroup$
    – MacGuffin
    Commented May 2 at 15:49
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Felines have the most flexible spines, which are necessary to allow your centaurs to sleep in various different positions, have comfortable sex, swim and climb on surfaces at various odd angles, etc.

They have thick and strong legs and sturdy necks that can support giant heads.

Northern egyptian lions used to be as tall as a person's shoulders... and they are genetically just normal African lions but slightly taller.

The next best things are siberian tigers.

Felines are the only options that bring only pros and no cons.

Even if you go with a rhino or hippo which might have more power and sturdyness, they lose in a lot of day to day comforts.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for your contribuition! Good point on the flexibility of cats. Hadn't thought about that. $\endgroup$
    – Talbot
    Commented May 1 at 18:13
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    $\begingroup$ felines also have proportionally smaller heads than most mammals; so, those flexible spines will likely not hold up well when you hang heavy human bits from them. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented May 1 at 21:52
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    $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki a human torso goes for like 30-35kg for a fit adult man. Sounds quite easy to manage for a 200-300kg siberian tiger since even Humans can work 35kg with their necks. Plus the human torso gets even lighter if you DONT double the organs and keep them only in the tiger chest. $\endgroup$ Commented May 2 at 5:08
  • $\begingroup$ @Xenophile More like 45kg: you need to include the weight of the arms and head. As for weight capacity, the human neck can hold a lot of weight for couple of minutes, but we can't live like that. We quickly develop neck and back problems from long term use of helmets that weigh more than 1.5kg. As for a siberian tiger: large feline heads are only about 4% of thier body weight; so, you're talking about replacing a 12kg head with a 45kg body... that is before you consider the weight this creature would want to carry with those tool using arms. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented May 2 at 13:37
  • $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki solution: Add (45-12)/6 = 5.5kg of pure neck muscles....so literally just add 5.5kg of pure neck muscle to the tiger and it can support Comfortably a human for the entire day...tigers already can support big mammals for with their necks for minutes...climbing with prey in mouth or grappling live pray holding them with their mouth. I mean a trained human can lift another person with their neck after years of strength training...an untrained sedentary tiger can drag a person up a tree no probs... $\endgroup$ Commented May 2 at 16:53
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Having a humanoid torso in place of a head and neck would likely add significant weight. Perhaps look at african megafauna, such as giraffes, elephants, or rhinos? Or depending on the history of this world things like mammoths might work. Just think along those lines, is my advice. Large animals who already deal with strain.

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Depends on the environment they're adapted to.

Camels are suited to dry areas, with their large feet being adapted to sand-walking. Cold dry areas would lead to more fur of course. Eating thorny bushes with green shoots would perhaps be easier to deal with with hands (perhaps gloved) and maybe a pruning-knife or secateurs. Dates and figs, no issues.

Horses to grassland, the green. Beware that human teeth are not really adapted to tearing up grass nor their mouths to chewing the cud. Maybe grass that's been harvested, then stewing with herbs, barley and oats might help.

Elephant-seals frequent the coastline in cold-areas. Spear-fishing, perhaps even use of nets would serve their appetites well. Clams/scallops/crabs and muscles would be treats.

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    $\begingroup$ Just adding to this - Mountain goats for alpine or mountainous areas, heck that's basically a Satyr with four legs and a pair of arms :) - Dragon centaurs would be very intimidating, just saying and their environments can be based on their chromatic colours, so red would be volcanoes, white for snow, green for forests etc. Maybe just not use elephants a they already have naturally bad backs for carrying people/riding and I imagine the longer the spine of an animal, the more problematic it could be unless its very thick and well supported. $\endgroup$
    – Arkhaine
    Commented May 2 at 5:56
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Human

One oft-neglected issue with centaurs is that they'd have much more weight at the front compared to usual quadrupeds. This is likely to cause issues with maintaining a proper balance when walking

Another issue is allowing the spine to bend between the human's vertical spine and the quadruped's horizontal spine

Both of these issues are solvable by replacing the quadruped part with a second humanoid portion: The extra weight of the secondary torso is directly over the middle of the body, and both the spines are alligned with no need for an extreme bend

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  • $\begingroup$ Would their balance really be off though? I reckon horse's head and neck are quite heavy , perhaps not as heavy as a human torso but still quite heavy. It also protrudes forward way more than the human part of centaurs we usually see, probably shifting the center of gravity even more forward than the torso would. Am I wrong here? $\endgroup$
    – andrewb
    Commented May 3 at 5:13
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Ursataurs

If, as @Nosajimiki suggests, an orangutan is a viable option, then I would suggest considering one of the larger bear species.

A few good options Kodiak or polarbears are quite large and heavy. Bears are also much faster than their size might suggest. Grizzlies may also be decent options. Bears can digest nearly all of the same foods humans can (with a few exceptions). Suggesting that the combination of the two digestive systems wouldn't be too much of a stretch.

Base configuration Utilizing @Nosajimiki's numbers if their heads (which are proportionally smaller than most bears) and necks (which are proportionally larger) are 6% of the body weight of a 1000lb male that would give us a rough weight of 60lbs to work with... much heavier than an orangutan's head.

I would suggest placing the torso as far back as reasonably possible on the body for more reasonable weight distribution and perhaps fuse the two at the lower torso (not waist) of the human side and the upper chest of the bear side (think the abdomen starting at the upper limit of the bear torso). I would also suggest widening the human torso to a reasonable maximum.

More Configuration Options! With the above configuration you would have many interesting options, including:

  • Dedicating the beefed up human torso to lungs and heart (or even spreading the lungs across both
  • Relegating all digestive systems to the bear torso
  • Shortening the bear back legs or lengthening the bear front legs to get that potentially optimal slanted configuration
  • OR duplicating some organs... two hearts, 4 lungs, but meshing the digestive systems

You might, if you chose to have Ursataurans(??), also give them a wider mouth and neck and much heavier brow... & throw in some sharper teeth.

You already have a lot of fun options. Hope to see them in a story or game sometime. Good luck!

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  • Most importantly, you need to move the human part further back, so that the front legs of your centaur are not under, but slightly on front of the human bit. So imagine less of a centaur, and more like a legless human permanently fused with a headless horse.
  • pick an animal that is sturdy, stable on all terrain, and has good stamina. Horses are actually a poor choice for a centaur, they have very delicate bodies and are poorly balanced for this option. They also have very weak hearts and lungs compared to their size, and need organ-slosh to move air and blood around fast enough. Centauring a horse would make it faint and die.
  • Give the human part much longer arms, so that they could reach down to the ground without bending, and much larger mouth and head so that they could tear off clumps of grass from the ground and put them in their mouths to chew.
  • give them extremely powerful back and shoulder muscles to keep themselves upright when running.

In total: I would give the centaur a lower body of a giant pig or a buffalo, with relatively short, powerful legs, broad back, and big hooves. It would give it extra stability to hold the human top straight. It would have equally powerful and muscular arms, which could be used to graze, but also to fight. The arms could have hands with thick claws good for digging out grass clumps, roots and tubers, but also for defense. Cover the upper human body, as well as the lower body in thick, shaggy fur to limit heat loss in an unbalanced system. So essentially, lets build a Sasquatch-buffalo hybrid.

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