As a school project, I am designing an extraterrestrial animal, and I would like to include a multiple-hearted mammal-like organism. Is there any set of circumstances in which having 3 hearts would be beneficial to a mammal-like creature, such as the hematocrit or possibly the complexity of the organism?

  • 18
    $\begingroup$ Well, two hearts is already enough to be a time traveler, I don't think you can do better than that. $\endgroup$
    – PatJ
    Feb 3 '17 at 17:03
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    $\begingroup$ Your biggest issue is the hearts need to be parallel not in series, otherwise a single misalignment in heartbeats would burst all the vessels in between. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Feb 3 '17 at 17:18
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    $\begingroup$ The hagfish has 4 hearts... Maybe you can take inspiration from them as to why. $\endgroup$ Feb 3 '17 at 20:03
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    $\begingroup$ @John, you can do series, you just need some way to absorb pressure spikes (think: a giraffe with a heart at the base of the neck, and an auxiliary heart in the head, on the far side of the rete mirable, to circulate blood around the brain). $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Feb 3 '17 at 20:05
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    $\begingroup$ Mammals already have two hearts, they are just attached together and beat in unison. The respiratory circulation and peripheral circulation are two separate systems, you could separate the right and left sides of the heart and very little would change other than a little added complexity for no survival gain. $\endgroup$
    – Jason K
    Feb 3 '17 at 22:07

Well... we already have some 3-hearted organisms here on the earth. Octopuses have 2 "respiratory" hearts, that they use to increase the flow of blood running through their gills, and one "main heart", which keeps the blood-flow on the body.

You can do something similar for your mammalian creature, having your extra hearts do work for some specific but intensive task, keeping the main heart free to focus on the flow for the "main" parts of the body.

I used a concept similar to this for the dragons of my fantasy world - they are dual-hearted, and have two completely separated circulatory systems with different functions. Each heart serves one of those systems.

You creature can have two sets of lungs, each set tied to one heart and providing oxygen to a different body section. A third, segregated heart could be localized on a central part that serves as a meeting point for those two body sections, pumping blood between those halves as a bidirectional pump.

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    $\begingroup$ Once again: a situation where a 'crazy' world building idea has already been done by Mother Nature. $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Feb 3 '17 at 17:09
  • $\begingroup$ mother nature doesn't talk about mammals having multiple hearts though ;) He would need to have a decent understanding of biology and creativity which it is clear may not be his strongest points. $\endgroup$
    – ggiaquin16
    Feb 3 '17 at 17:17
  • $\begingroup$ Many mammals have contractile spleens. I say that is pretty close to second heart. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Feb 4 '17 at 3:25
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    $\begingroup$ Humans have a second circulatory track, the lymph track, which works as part of the immune system. Fluid is pumped through using muscle movements, but a second heart could also be used for that purpose. Something like that could be one of your extra systems. $\endgroup$
    – DonyorM
    Feb 4 '17 at 4:06

Take a look at our own organs. We have 2 lungs, 2 kidneys for example. We COULD survive with 1 lung or 1 kidney. We may not be able to function as WELL, but we could survive. A creature in turn, who has multiple hearts may be able to have far superior endurance because their body can feed oxygen to the muscles much more efficiently. The 3 hearts would also share the workload of 1 heart significantly reducing the wear and tear of a tired heart that will eventually cause death.

Now, depending on how you work it, as I stated in my first few sentences, you can survive losing 1 of a set of an organ. The implication is that if someone with 3 hearts were to lose one due to an attack (stabbed, gunshot, etc), or because one went bad, a surgical procedure or an internal process could then bypass the dead/failed heart and continue living while the 2 other hearts pick up the slack.

  • $\begingroup$ Not sure why you think having more than one heart would enable "more efficient" delivery of oxygen. Speed of blood flow is basically fixed, for a given organism, volume too; the process of oxygenating and releasing oxygen happens at a predictable rate. I don't see a place in the process where more oxygen is delivered to the muscles by two hearts. $\endgroup$
    – Seeds
    Feb 3 '17 at 19:52
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    $\begingroup$ It's worth noting that there's no obvious evolutionary advantage to us having two kidneys instead of a single bigger one -- losing a single kidney, in a way that would not likely be otherwise fatal, is pretty rare in nature. Presumably, the only reason why we happen to have two kidneys is that our body plan is bilaterian, so that all of our body parts tend to come in pairs unless they form right along the centerline of the body (as the heart does, although it subsequently develops asymmetrically). $\endgroup$ Feb 4 '17 at 19:59


Your creatures probably live on a planet with a really strong gravity.
Our body already fights gravity by having valves inside our veins, however on a planet with strong gravity these valves might not be enough to prevent back flow, so the creatures could have developed more hearts which work in parallel to increase blood flow in order to decrease the chance of back flow.


In STTNG Worf had duplicate organs. So they thought it worked and the audience accepted it.

My own heart has four chambers, they could be separate in another species, I'd think. Perhaps if one or two were harmed/destroyed the others could do the work. Ruminants have more than one stomach. Humans survive with one lung or one kidney after an accident. It works if you make it work. Some species regrow organs (humans/partial livers) or (lizards) limbs.

If a human man can potentially lactate LINK then I'd say it's possible.

The benefits of a redundant system seem fairly obvious. You can survive when 1 fails.

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    $\begingroup$ It's worth noting that many animals are in the womb with 2 separate 2-chambered hearts that then combine, and they function adequately when prevented from combining. $\endgroup$ Feb 3 '17 at 18:56

In the Mass Effect games, the Krogan species is often mentioned having several redundant organ systems, developed to survive an astonishingly hostile home world. From the Mass Effect Codex entry on the Krogan:

The krogan evolved in a hostile and vicious environment. Until the invention of gunpowder weapons, "eaten by predators" was still the number one cause of krogan fatalities. Afterwards, it was "death by gunshot".

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Another solution is segmentation. Some organisms have multiple body segments, each with its own set of organs. Although vertebrates are segmented, we only have one or two of most of our organs. But a more strongly-segmented organism could have one complete set of organs for certain segments. There wouldn't even need to be a strong reason, it could just be imposed by their evolutionary history (like the fact that human segmentation is laid out for an animal that walks on all fours).


A sufficiently large organism (e.g., the size of large dinosaurs) might have secondary hearts to assist circulation, even if there isn't a question of gravitational impedance. The more blood a single heart has to move at each beat, the more stress is being placed on that heart. Under such circumstances, two or three hearts at relatively large separation may be more efficient than a single heart, even one significantly larger, and the organism may well be able to live longer.


According to an authoritative source, earth has 3 creatures with multiple hearts:

  • Cephalopoda have 3 (1 main plus 1 at each gill)
  • Earthworms have 5 ("aortic arches" are simple pumps that effectively hearts)
  • Hagfish have 4 (1 main 3-chambered, plus 3 boosters)

The creature is arbitrarily large as a result of higher rates of evolution, and has multiple hearts, lungs, etc. to avoid negative consequences of the square-cube law. Having multiple respiratory/cardiovascular systems could provide oxygen to the larger area, which a single system may be unable to cover (because the creature needs more of its mass to be muscle to support its higher weight.[These creatures evolved very rapidly in this scenario])


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