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Behold the Khajiit;

enter image description here

Born from the insanely popular game series, Elder Scrolls, the Khajiit are a race of cat people who live in hot jungles. From the moment I saw this race, I fell in love with them, their natural sneak and unarmed attack made me want to play as them in every play through. Recently, after yet another play through I wondered if it was even possible for the Khajiit to exist. Biologically speaking, could the Khajiit exist? What evolution would support them?


A list of all of the Anatomically Correct questions can be found here

Anatomically Correct Series

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    $\begingroup$ Anatomically incorrect?! Khajiit did nothing! Khajiit is innocent of this crime! $\endgroup$ – Ranger Jul 27 '16 at 16:58
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    $\begingroup$ They did exist. They are the prehistoric ancestor of the modern house cat, which used cunning and brute force to obtain its objectives, unlike their "domesticated" ancestors who allow their human servants to handle such tasks. The modern cats have erased all trace of their biped forebears to keep their slaves from ever finding out that they used to fix their own meals and scratch behind their ears themselves. $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Jul 27 '16 at 17:01
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    $\begingroup$ I once considered a sentient feline for one of my stories, then realized that the most likely conversation it would have with a human is, "Oh, I'm sorry, did you still want this? I didn't smell anyone else's pheromones on it, so I rubbed it with my head. Clearly it is mine now. What do mean that's not how it works?" $\endgroup$ – cobaltduck Jul 27 '16 at 17:39
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    $\begingroup$ I honestly don't see why they couldn't exist. They basically just need opposable thumbs and a "smarter" brain than that of an average cat. Standing upright is an easily explained evolutionary advantage, and the tail can be somewhat useful, although mostly a remnant of their ancestry. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Jul 27 '16 at 17:46
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    $\begingroup$ @AndreiROM No, no no no...... If you worked for me, you'd get paid. Think more along the lines of minions. $\endgroup$ – TrEs-2b Jul 27 '16 at 20:27
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Renan knows that Khajiit look like customer's world Lynx. But Renan is going to base realistic Khajiit on another, smarter cat. Anatomically correct Khajiit is based on rainforest jaguar.

The reason being that jaguar is much smarter cat. Just like Khajiit, see?

Tiger is strong in body and lion is strong in number, but jaguar is fierce. Lion and tiger are afraid of crocodile and alligator, but jaguar hunts alligator.

Jaguar is versatile too. Jaguar has many tricks up its furry sleeve:

It was recently discovered that the Margay, a small arboreal feline from Mexico, Central and South America, has the ability to mimic the calls of baby monkeys in distress. This, of course, attracts worried adult monkeys which can then be attacked and devoured by the Margay. Scientists who witnessed this while doing research in Brazil just couldn’t believe their eyes, but natives were not surprised; they informed the scientists that Margays can also imitate the sounds of other animals, such as the tinamou (a flightless bird) and the agouti (a large rodent). Even more, the natives claim that pumas and jaguars also use vocal mimicry to hunt once in a while.

...And...

(...)one of the jaguar’s favorite foods is fish. In order to obtain it, they say, the jaguar has developed a clever trick. It taps the water surface with its tail to mimic a waterlogged insect or fallen, floating fruit. Fish soon swim to the surface to investigate the lure and the jaguar then scoops them out of the water with its paw. This makes the jaguar, according to natives, “the most cunning animal in the forest”.

So jaguar already has the brain. But how about the body, customer ask?

Let's say that a particular set of cunning jaguar develop opposable thumb, to climb tree and rock better. Now jaguar can make use of handheld tools, just like you primates do. Perhaps the primitive cave Khajiit made spears or fishing rods out of tree branches. Perhaps they used their hands to build boxes to sleep in during the night, using tree bark and mud.

Cave Khajiit then had to evolve a bipedal posture to have hands free for tools. A bipedal posture could not support a cat's malleable body, so vertebrae became more hardly fused, less flexible. That's why Khajiit have straight back that does not easily curve like you primates and scaly Argonian do. But Khajiit kept other things like free-floating clavicle, which is why Khajiit is so nimble with arms.

Khajiit is good climber because Khajiit has retractable claws. Also handy in a fight, as Khajiit does not need a knife. But Khajiit keep claws hidden and safe when Khajiit shake your hand after a good deal is made, see?

Khajiit tail is vestigial. Tail can shake and move, but does not serve to balance the body anymore. That is because tail is now much smaller part of Khajiit weight to make a difference.

Khajiit can see better than you in the dark because of tapetum. That is an organ that makes light hit the retina twice. Khajiit therefore needs less light to see the same object, hence the slit pupil by day to filter excess light. Please stop casting Candlelight now.

Now Khajiit knows what customer is going to speak about trade. Khajiit are good in trading due to culture. There is no neurological nor genetical predisposition for trading. Some Khajiit decide do sleep with lizzards and become adventurers instead. Bah! An arrow to their knees!

Last but not least, Khajiit have better smell and hearing senses than customer. That is just the way Khajiit are made.

But other than senses, Khajiit brain is same as customer brain. Khajiit are smart and educated, and in some worlds elsewhere (sorry, Khajiit could not resist!) Khajiit have built advanced society with technology. There is a world where Khajiit even built super advanced flying machine to fight crime!

These Khajiit are from SWAT Kats, a magically animated drawing of sorts

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    $\begingroup$ At first I was a little confused, then I saw what you did there. Niiiiiice +1 $\endgroup$ – TrEs-2b Jul 27 '16 at 18:32
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    $\begingroup$ At first I was thinking "his grammar needs some work", and then it hit me. I'm gonna go install Skyrim now ... $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Jul 27 '16 at 19:09
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    $\begingroup$ @AndreiROM Renan is sorry. Renan is only fluent in Khajiit and Dov (have to fuz-ro-dah thieves who try to steal from shop, Renan hopes customer understand). $\endgroup$ – Renan Jul 27 '16 at 19:15
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    $\begingroup$ Swat Cats is one of my favourite cartoons ever. I encourage everyone to check it out on the youtubes. It's worth it for the badass music alone. $\endgroup$ – Wossname Jul 28 '16 at 9:52
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    $\begingroup$ +1 for the solid answer. +10i for the writing style. (Sorry, those last ten are just imaginary.) $\endgroup$ – Engineer Toast Jul 28 '16 at 12:06
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I'll be focusing my answer on a specific piece of the question here: their legs.

Khajiit look like they're essentially bipedal cats, which means their legs will be rather different from ours. Humans are plantigrade, so they walk flat on their feet; the toes and ankle are on the ground, while the knee is about halfway up the leg. However, the legs of these Khajiit will be digitigrade, like in this question and its answers; they're effectively going to be standing on their toes.

Digitigrade legs are intended to bear the weight of an animal over a flat plane, preferably on more than two legs; stand them up and put all their weight directly on just two legs, and those legs will fold up and collapse like an accordion; they can't easily bear that weight. To counteract this, the joints need to be made stiffer, so they aren't prone to bending as much. The Khajiit ankles and knees will have to migrate up the leg (in comparison to a human leg) to minimize the bending, which will probably make it look double-jointed; I can't tell you the exact proportions, but try to imagine if the human knee moved halfway up the thigh while the ankle moved up somewhere in the lower leg, as the human in question was standing on their toes: that might give you a good picture.

This is also going to compromise their balance; humans are balancing their weight on two feet between ankle and toes, but the Khajiit have to rely entirely on the toes. This isn't quite as bad as someone standing on stilts (although immobile toes would make it that bad), but it's still going to be difficult. The Khajiit are going to have trouble standing still without losing their balance and stumbling or falling. This won't be nearly as bad if they stay on the move or have something to brace against, though.

However, digitigrade legs are not all downsides; the Khajiit will be able to run considerably faster than humans, and they're going to be more nimble as well. A digitigrade leg allows for much more leverage in the foot, which means each step can have more thrust put into it and thus more speed. I think they'd do great as fencers or other duelists, probably swordsmen as well, but they likely will underperform if you tried to use them as hoplites or similar heavy infantry. In a hypothetical army of Khajiit, you'd get good skirmishers and light infantry, but lousy heavy infantry; they'd be nimble, but they wouldn't be able to keep their footing in the event of a collision of heavy infantry, so one solid charge would rip them apart if it connected.

I'm not sure what their resting posture might look like; if somebody else has any better ideas here, feel free to point them out. However, the position of the knees and ankles, the limited flexibility they have (too much flexibility and the legs won't be able to stay straight, leading to the accordion problem I mentioned); that suggests to me that sitting in chairs will be awkward at best, and unworkable at worst. Going down to one knee (with the other knee still above the ground) would not work given the proportions of the legs, since the knee is simply too far away from the toes, but kneeling on both is possible if the knees are capable of bending that far. A cross-legged position is a dubious prospect, but it might work, albeit with the feet sticking well out.

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  • $\begingroup$ Very good points about their legs, but for the benefit of the OP I'd like to point out that the Khajiit could have legs like ours while merely looking like cats. Not actually share the ancestry as far as the full biological makeup is concerned. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Jul 27 '16 at 19:13
  • $\begingroup$ @AndreiROM That's a valid point. I'm assuming, however, that the Khajiit are supposed to have a plausible evolutionary history behind them. They look like bipedal cats, so I think it a safe assumption that they evolved from.....well, cats or jaguars or the like, instead of something wildly different. Cats and jaguars are digitigrade mammals, so I'm working on the basis that these Khajiit would be as well. Still, it is ultimately the OP's choice; the kinds of details described here would not be trivial to write into a story, given how many unstated assumptions would be violated by them. $\endgroup$ – Palarran Jul 27 '16 at 19:43
  • $\begingroup$ upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/71/…,Trafalgar_Square,_London-_20110908.jpg Real life digitrade legs on a biped. $\endgroup$ – TheSexyMenhir Jul 28 '16 at 6:51
  • $\begingroup$ They could use hold their tails against the floor when standing still to create a tripod between that and their 2 legs, allowing them to be stationary. $\endgroup$ – Mike.C.Ford Jul 28 '16 at 10:30
  • $\begingroup$ Resting posture might well end up being like a kangaroo. They have a similar joint structure. $\endgroup$ – Perkins Jul 28 '16 at 16:48
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This and the Argonian are surprisingly the only two of this series that I could see that involve the evolution of bipedality.

Whether digitigrade ("furry style") or plantigrade (human style), the important thing about bipedal locomotion is that it requires a massive overhaul of the entire body structure, in evolutionary terms.

Let's consider the skeleton first. Obviously, what the legs connect to - the pelvis - must change, to support the changed leg position, and force from what was previously behind. That's a 90 degree change.

Because of the extra weight borne, the legs themselves need to be made thicker, heavier and more muscular, while at the same time becoming more columnar - the weight of the whole body needs to be able to rest through a vertical pillar of bone, not a zig-zag, or standing will require constant work by muscles.

The spine, which previously was a splendid cantilevered system, with head and tail balancing out the spine and creating a spring that could be used for great leaps and bounds, is now vertical, and under constant compressive stress - this requires bulking it up significantly, and making it far less flexible.

The forelegs are now free to become more flexible, though for this to have any significant evolutionary advantage, there'd need to be something like brachiation (walking while holding to branches).

The ribcage no longer ties running to breathing, as it won't be compressed at every step. The deep keel that ws once important no longer matters and instead a wider, flatter chest is better because it gives a wider grip and means you can cling to more stuff in an armload.

The fixture of the skull to spine needs to rotate forwards 90 degrees to be supported by the spine, and since it is no longer providing a counterweight to the organs, it needs to be balanced atop the spine. Looking from side to side becomes a rotation rather than a flexing of the neck vertebrae, which means rebuilding them and reducing flexibility once again.

Then there's the soft tissue.

Sex, which used to be a simple matter, becomes complex, as genitals move around with the pelvis, and the legs start getting in the way, as do the new buttocks, which are required to make any kind of sitting comfortable (though the tail could be co-opted for this I guess), and for storing the massive muscles required to merely remain upright while walking.

Internal organs, which used to be pleasantly supported by ligaments suspended from the spine, now sag downwards, causing prolapses. Muscles need to be moved around just to keep all that in place, but hernias still happen as stuff bursts through.

The heart, which used to only have to pump blood up and down a few feet, now has to handle pressure differences of perhaps six feet, and the legs require a lot of blood for their newly-strenuous work. The brain becomes subject to blackouts when standing up, so various filters, gates, and pressure sponges need to be developed to prevent that.

For all that to happen, there needs to me a MASSIVE evolutionary imperative to cause such large changes. There are various hypotheses about what happened to humans.

Some claim that we just sat under trees and needed to be bipedal to reach up into branches, or hang from branches, etc. Others say it was to carry things, citing tool use. Others say it was because the hot midday sun caused us to become bipedal to reduce our surface area to the sun.

My favorite, though I'm very biased, is that we went semiaquatic, and needed our hairlessness, blubber, and bipedality for wading and brachiating in flooded mangrove swamps. In fact, monkeys in such swamps tend to move around in exactly in this way.

For the Argonians evolving in the swamps, then, bipedality can arguably make sense. But Khajiit are a harder problem...

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While very informative (and hilarious), I don't think the current answers approach the question in the best manner. They seem to be trying to take a cat and transform it into being human-like, while pointing out the incredible skeletal changes that have to happen along the way. But that's likely not how they would have evolved. Our current "cats", both big and small, are not suddenly going to change their evolution niche from top killing machines to... and I don't mean to insult the khajiit or promote the game's racism but... tool-using, sneaky humanoid thieves.

I personally think it would be easier to take a human and think about how we might have ended up with the cat head structure, fur, and a tail. However, the whole argument is pretty much moot within the Elder Scrolls world and lore, which states that deities created each of the races. Its actually a decently long creation story full of characters but here is the part about Khajiit,

She [Azurah] was told to take one of Nirni's children and change them, making them the fastest, cleverest, and most beautiful of creatures, naming them the Khajiit;... they must be fashioned as the best climbers... lastly, that the Khajiit must be the best deceivers, able to hide their true nature from others. Then Fadomai died, and Azurah left to join her kin.

Thus, if we are to believe that these Gods exist (and they prove themselves to exist, many times within the Elder Scrolls world) and that Azurah specifically created the Khajiit, we can't really argue against their evolution, or lack of one, without also arguing against the very nature of that world.

One of the khajiit's physical attributes would have to break the laws of in-game physics (easier to do on some platforms than others) to claim they are unrealistic within their world, but luckily nothing within their or our world contradicts bipedal cats

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  • $\begingroup$ Khajiit has no votes for you. ... but I do. $\endgroup$ – Ghanima Jul 30 '16 at 11:19
  • $\begingroup$ Haha - congratulations, the first argument for "god did it" that I've ever agreed with! :D I will say, though, that just about every point of lore in the TES world is secondhand, from books and such. We don't know for sure how the species truly came about: only what later authors have claimed that the gods have said about it. And the gods are not always known to be completely honest. What was the breaks-physics attribute? $\endgroup$ – Dewi Morgan Apr 10 '17 at 16:15
  • $\begingroup$ (this isn't a complaint about TES, though: this uncertainty about what parts of lore are truly canon is one of the great strengths of the mythos, for me. RIchard Garriott's MMO, Shroud of the Avatar, has been holding off developing its most important part - the story - in part because they felt they needed to get it completely consistent and nitpick-proof. I have done my best to argue instead for them to take a TES-like "lore is not the same as canon" point of view, but... well, they aren't Bethesda). $\endgroup$ – Dewi Morgan Apr 10 '17 at 16:21

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