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By wyrm, I mean a large, snakelike dragon that completely lacks limbs of any kind. Is there any way they would be able to build houses, paint, weave, etc? Basically, how will they do anything to advance their society beyond hyper-intelligent animal status, like dolphins or elephants, without any hands? Also, if this scenario would never work out, I will accept an answer like, "That won't work, although if they had at least a pair of arms they could do such and such."

Parameters of the question are:

Can, what is essentially a giant, intelligent snake, build huts and suchlike?

How would they do this?

If they cannot feasibly do this, please tell me in the comments and help close the question.

Edit: Saw an answer mentioning humans. I completely forgot to mention, there are no humans in this world. (Sorry! o.o)

Edit 2: Thanks to everyone who answered, you have all been extremely helpful.

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    $\begingroup$ Could they have large and prehensile tongues, or is that silly? $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 19 at 0:22
  • $\begingroup$ There's no harm in handwaving the details. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Commented Jun 19 at 15:08
  • $\begingroup$ @Escapeddentalpatient That would be an interesting idea. I will think about that, Currently, nothing is set in stone. I could include two different species of wyrms, and have one species have prehensile tongues... $\endgroup$
    – Talbot
    Commented Jun 19 at 17:51
  • $\begingroup$ The Thumbtongues is a great idea, and that's a great sci word to throw in your book, "thumbtongue" $\endgroup$
    – Fattie
    Commented Jun 20 at 13:57

4 Answers 4

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Using their mouths and bodies, and by working together

In the animal kingdom, many animals create structures using their mouths. Your Wyrms are very similar to snakes - in the wild the King Cobra builds nests using its mouth, constructing the nest in a similar manner to birds:

enter image description here

Image above: King Cobra nest

These structures are actually quite complex, with entrances, structural sides, and protective roofs.

Your Wyrms could use this example as a start, using their mouths to grab and place structural members, and their bodies being essentially very long arms.

Don't forget too that in your world Wyrms could work together. By doing so they could perform more complex tasks, and even manipulate complex operations similar to us humans with our two arms and opposable thumbs by communicating together and working in cohesion they could be almost like one organism, but with many arms.

This working together addresses the other part to your question - the establishment of culture. Only when organisms are required to work together (live together, be individual but in a group) would culture need to be established to enable decisions and ensure superior competitiveness amongst and against other groups of Wyrms, establishing:

  • Educational culture (passing down superior building techniques to children for example)
  • Hierarchal culture (enabling one to be a leader, to ensure group cohesion)
  • Storytelling, Research culture (where working in a group enables some to experiment, and results to be passed to others in the forms of language and stories)
  • Technological culture (where groups could output complex theories, perhaps even write using their mouths, to enable knowledge to be written and improved)

So working together has many benefits other than simply physical - but also in developing mental faculties and capacities and establish cultural apparatus.

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    $\begingroup$ "Wyrms could work together" - the Mulefa in Phillip Pullman's The Amber Spyglass are a great example of this. They have an elephant-like trunk, and will work together in pairs to perform more complex actions such as tying knots. $\endgroup$
    – Gh0stFish
    Commented Jun 20 at 12:28
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    $\begingroup$ I had literally no clue snakes built nests (or anything) until this fine answer! $\endgroup$
    – Fattie
    Commented Jun 20 at 13:55
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    $\begingroup$ @Gh0stFish Another example is Vernor Vinge's Fire Upon The Deep - in that novel there is a world on which live the Tines - a species of pack animals that resemble dogs. By grouping into tribes of 4 to 6 dogs, they create a 'Hive Mind' where they all act in unison with single purpose. By doing so they can use their mouths to do complex tasks, even create guns and gunpowder (and operate them). Identity is the pack, like a brain made of smaller brains - when a member dies, it is like losing an arm (and losing part of your brain). $\endgroup$
    – flox
    Commented Jun 21 at 3:12
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Elephants can Paint with their Trunk, therefore Wyrms can use Tools with their Tails

Now, before the Opposable Thumb Mafia comes and puts a hit out on me, I want to add some caveats:

There are many animals that use Tails and other bendy appendages (oo-er!) to grip things - some of them (the aforementioned Elephants) can use it to grip tools and do things - however, all of our tools are predicated on being used by Humans with Human hands.

There is no reason to assume a species as Intelligent as us, but without the ability to grip like a Human wouldnt be able to create a series of tools that are designed around tail-like usage.

I would expect that we would see a lot of rotational based tools (Drills, screw drivers etc.) less back and forth tools (like hand saws) - but so long as the intelligence is there to overcome the inherent difficulties and the Tails are dexterous enough to handle fine manipulation - I see this more an issue of Time, technology evolution and progress than a hard limiting factor.

Would they use Human tools - Maybe in some instances (see the paint brush example) otherwise they might use different tools that are borderline unusable by humans, but work really well for someone with a tail.

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  • $\begingroup$ Exactly, just like Sir Hiss in Robin Hood. $\endgroup$
    – Fattie
    Commented Jun 20 at 13:55
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They can 'build houses' in the same way that humans can lay eggs, grow wool or make honey. Obviously, human physiology doesn't allwp humans to do any of the above themselves - but they can 'employ' appropriate animals to do the task for them. So all your wyrms need to do is to employ humans (or elves, dwarves, goblins etc) to do the job for them.

The wyrm society has two obvious ways to achieve this. Either they can employ humans to do the work "build me a house for this pot of gold", or alternatively they might enforce the humans to work for them by threats of violence. With the latter technique they might, after some thousands of years of selective breeding, eventually domesticate humans sufficiently that the humans will be their willing vassals and work as builders, painters, potters, weavers etc. without further threat or supervision.

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  • $\begingroup$ Was literally about to write this answer up when I saw this at the top of the editing window. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 19 at 12:34
  • $\begingroup$ Penguino I forgot to put this in the original question (it has been fixed), but there are no humans in this world. Although, your answer could work if we replace "human" with "intelligent creature with opposable thumbs". Great answer, thanks for contributing! $\endgroup$
    – Talbot
    Commented Jun 19 at 17:54
  • $\begingroup$ Quite a clever answer $\endgroup$
    – Fattie
    Commented Jun 20 at 13:56
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You might be interested in the famous Larry Niven story "Handicapp" or "The Handicapped".

[https://archive.org/details/Galaxy_v26n02_1967-12_modified/page/n83/mode/2up?view=theater][1]

In science fiction, uplift is a developmental process to transform a certain species of animals into more intelligent beings by other, already-intelligent beings. This is usually accomplished by cultural, technological, or evolutional interventions like genetic engineering. The earliest appearance of the concept is in H. G. Wells's 1896 novel The Island of Doctor Moreau.[1] The term was popularized by David Brin in his Uplift series in the 1980s.[2]

[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uplift_(science_fiction)#:~:text=In%20science%20fiction%2C%20uplift%20is,evolutional%20interventions%20like%20genetic%20engineering.][2]

Obviously if you are willing for your "snake people" to have been uplifed by technolgically advanced beings, their technology could have been jump started in the uplift process and they could take it from there. [1]: https://archive.org/details/Galaxy_v26n02_1967-12_modified/page/n83/mode/2up?view=theater [2]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uplift_(science_fiction)#:~:text=In%20science%20fiction%2C%20uplift%20is,evolutional%20interventions%20like%20genetic%20engineering.

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