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Now the first question is—which elf? Santa's elves? Shoemaking elves? Keebler's cookie-making elves? Tolkien's elves? The Dökkálfar (dark elves) and Ljósálfar (light elves) of the original Norse mythology?

My first proposal is this—let's mix the latter two together, the "dark" and "light" aspects reflecting an African-European division. The reason I'm mixing Tolkien's elves with the original elves is that both categories are quite prominent in the high fantasy subgenre.

Now the most obvious difference between us and elves is the pointy ear. In the mammal world, this isn't so far-fetched.

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Foxes have pointy ears.

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Bats have pointy ears.

BUT WAIT!

The fennec fox's ears are just too big for someone supposed to reside in the frigid forests of northern Europe, and a bat's ears are too naked for the same thing. So my proposal is this—don't make the ears themselves pointy. Instead, let's keep the human ears but cover them with hair, going as far as giving them tufts, just like the ears of a lynx.

Another obvious difference between us and them is that elves are immortal. Now, biologically, we can't make any lifeform truly immortal, but we CAN lengthen the telomeres, repetitive nucleotide sequences at the base of each chromosome, to make them live longer. A "biologically immortal" organism, as scientists would call it, would still die, but senescence (think "senile") would not be an existant cause. My proposal is that we lengthen the telomeres to the extent that the average elvish lifespan is triple-and-a-half greater than the average human lifespan.

This would suggest altering the elvish metabolism from endothermy (generating an internal body heat system, therefore keeping temperature constant) to mesothermy.

As always, enlarged respiration and tetrachromacy will include the elves on the list of candidates.

Tolkien described his elves as "slender" and "graceful, yet strong". My proposal to make that description more concrete is to, essentially fit a musculature as dense as a Bowflex body onto a skeleton as slender as a gibbon's (while at the same time retaining the human proportion.)

My final proposal differentiating elves from humans may be the most radical — hermaphroditism. To be specific, simultaneous hermaphroditism, which means that each and every adult has both male and female sex organs simultaneously active. Unlike humans, there is no clear-cut distinction between a male elf and a female elf.

Are any of my proposals listed above sound, or have I created some unintentional side effects to the elvish body?

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Sep 30 '16 at 13:39
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Ears are a pretty simple change, so I'm just going to gloss over that and go straight for the more interesting bit: the hermaphroditism. While true hermaphroditism is a very extreme change, there is actually a connection between increased similarity between the sexes and long life. Animals which take a long time and a lot of energy to grow are often helpless at birth, which means they need more care, which can mean an increased push toward a monogamous lifestyle, since it promotes both parents caring for the young. This connection is seen in many birds, as well as humans - as sexually dimorphic as humans are, human males and females are much more similar than than males and females of other great apes. I would say not to push them so far as to be actually hermaphrodites, but to make the sexes extremely similar to the point where it is almost impossible to tell them apart if they are wearing clothes.

These elves can be seen as a continuation of some of the same evolutionary processes that led to humans, perhaps developing in a more static environment where adaptability was less important. They can be more intelligent (elves are supposed to be wise, right?) with the drawback of being born even more helpless and taking even longer to grow. Perhaps elves are born tiny, like bears - this would make pregnancy and childbirth much easier, decreasing the need for the widened hips of the female. A small mutation is all it takes for human men to produce milk, maybe in elves both parents nurse the child. These two changes would cause the burden of child-raising to be much more evenly divided between the parents, leading to decreased sexual dimorphism. Elves may be either highly monogamous or alternatively sexually communal, as is the case in bonobos. Sexually communal elves would probably share the burden of raising children among all members of the tribe.

An elf might not reach sexual maturity until around 40 years old, but could live for 300-400 years. Further drawbacks are very similar to what is assumed for traditional elves - the slow reproductive rate would mean that elves are less adaptable than humans, which also means that they are likely to be more risk-adverse. They would likely be culturally stagnant and less likely to migrate from their original home. However, the increased intelligence and lifespan might allow them to develop technologically anyway.

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  • $\begingroup$ Wouldn't that be a problem if the sexual dimorphism is decreasead except for genitalia ? I mean, it is unimportant if you have animals releasing gametes in the environment (like sea urchin for example) but if your sexual reproduction if anything like human reproduction that means that you have to get females and males pretty close to each other to get things done. So wouldn't that trait be counter-selected as it might end with more same-sex (infertile) couples ? $\endgroup$ – Riff Sep 28 '16 at 7:03
  • $\begingroup$ There might be chemical signals as to who is an appropriate mate. These could be detected through smell or even taste. With hightened senses these signals could be pick up on more accurately. That could lead to better mate selection and reduce same sex coupling in a monogamous society. In a sexually communal society I see it being even less of a problem where intercourse might not just be for the purpose of procreation but to strengthen bonds between group members. An almost side effect of this is childbirth when a male and female pair. $\endgroup$ – Kalcipher23 Sep 28 '16 at 12:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Kalcipher23 No, being simultaneous hermaphroditic means that same-sex coupling is possible because that way, it could get both partners pregnant. Besides, monogamy is societal, not natural. $\endgroup$ – JohnWDailey Sep 28 '16 at 13:08
  • $\begingroup$ @JohnWDailey There are numerous examples of monogamous animals, so I wouldn't say it is all societal. If elves are true hermaphrodites with both sexual organs being "active", then this means every individual produces sperm and eggs, correct? Elves ought to be a mono-gendered species then. Seems to me the biggest risk is self-impregnation and a rapid incestual descent into madness :) $\endgroup$ – Jason K Sep 28 '16 at 14:46
  • $\begingroup$ Nice answer. Another point asked about was the musculoskeletal question; I'd just add that skeletal structure and muscle mass correlate, so it may be biologically hand-wavy for a slight frame to support a proportionally large muscular build as described by the op. $\endgroup$ – Dan Sep 28 '16 at 18:52

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