Just like my last post, I asked what if humans evolved from predators. So I have another question, what if we also evolved from herbivorous gorilla-like primates too?


closed as too broad by Mołot, James, Hohmannfan, Monty Wild, Frostfyre Jun 26 '17 at 12:23

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    $\begingroup$ Maybe you should be more precise. Are you asking for biological or for technological or completey different implications? Also you worded it as if you were asking what would've happened if we evolved from two very different species, maybe you should reformulate that part. $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Jun 26 '17 at 6:13
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    $\begingroup$ It's worth noting that even herbivores will eat meat if given the opportunity - deer, for example, have been observed in the wild eating meat on an opportunistic basis (as is true of most "herbivores"). Digesting meat does not require specific adaptations, like digesting cellulose does. Given that, I'm not sure what would change ... I'd say that maybe we'd have more plants in our diets, but given what bread is made of (or rice, or whatever other staple grain), maybe not. $\endgroup$ – HopelessN00b Jun 26 '17 at 7:42
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    $\begingroup$ there many humans who are herbivorous/ vegetarian from many generations none of them have evolved , so evolution is false .. $\endgroup$ – Amruth A Jun 26 '17 at 10:46
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    $\begingroup$ @AmruthA: Are you even serious? $\endgroup$ – Lightness Races in Orbit Jun 26 '17 at 11:32
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    $\begingroup$ In the future, please refrain from using reality-check as the only tag on a question. Additionally, "What if?" questions are generally discouraged on the site, especially ones as open-ended as to ask about all of society after millions of years of evolution. Voting to close as too broad. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Jun 26 '17 at 12:23

A Problem With the Premise

Some people have a beef with the idea that humans could even evolve without the capacity for eating meat.

Getting fruits and vegetables is not very hard, and therefore doesn't reward smart animals very well. Those foods also require more work to sustain a creature.

Meat-eating gave use a food source which was more calorie-rich, therefore giving us a little surplus energy which we could spend on things like our brains. The further brain development may have allowed us to develop speech and other things which help humans conquer the world.

Also, one should note that eating insects does make you a meat-eater, from strict biological standpoint. Therefore gorillas, who eat insects (where available), and orangutans, who eat eggs, are meat-eating creatures. Consuming anything from Kingdom Animalia, except milk and honey, makes you a meat eater. (Sorry pescetarians, ovo-lacto vegetarians, but from a biological standpoint, you're not vegetarian!)

The Big Differences

So we need to assume some human-like creature evolved from a herbivorous, ape-like creature. There would be some basic differences:

  1. No canines or incisors, because it wouldn't need those teeth for eating meat. The teeth it does have needs to help with eating plants, be they cooked or otherwise.
  2. Altered digestive systems would also occur. It does not need the complicated meat-digesting enzymes us humans have, and may benefit from having a different digestive system. It would not be a ruminant, as apes do not possess this, but it may be taking steps in that direction.
  3. Dependency on a purely herbivorous diet would have limited how far and where humans could range. This certainly prevents cultures like the Inuit, who rely heavily on meat, and also limit what food sources are available to explorers, like pemmican.

Some attributes of humanity may not have developed, although I am not currently sure of this. Would some of them develop the mutation to drink milk after childhood? Would "white" be a skin color? Limited range means these mutations may have never occurred, or never provided any particular benefit and thus prevented their proliferation.

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    $\begingroup$ "No canines or incisors": aren't gorillas a perfect counter-example? And nobody has "white" skin unless they are albinos; all humans are some shade of brown, which the YouTube video you have linked shows beautifully. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jun 26 '17 at 5:46
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    $\begingroup$ If meat-eating actually DID lead to advanced cognition, there would have to be some other environmental pressure for these herbivores. As an example foraging led to primates having excellent color vision, so there's still room for plants to pressure herbi-humans towards greater intelligence. Maybe the plants and fruits are so hard to find, hard to identify and have to be prepared in a complex way, such that the primates develop advanced faculties to survive. $\endgroup$ – Fred the John Jun 26 '17 at 10:09
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP I've updated the answer to reflect the strict definition of vegetarian that I'm working with. (Vegetarian means to consume nothing from Kingdom Animalia except honey and milk.) Gorillas eat insects, orangutans eat eggs, and all other great apes eat something that is an animal. They are therefore are not herbivores, although their diets do mostly comprise of fruits and vegetables. $\endgroup$ – PipperChip Jun 26 '17 at 19:03
  • $\begingroup$ @FredtheJohn I feel like it wouldn't be a complete answer without mentioning the idea that meat-eating and the evolution of humans were not entirely divorced, and may be critical to our evolution in general. I'm not an expert on the theory, and I think that's an excellent area to ask another question: what evolutionary pressures would drive a true herbivore to develop human-like intelligence? Many of the "smart" animals seem to be omnivorous (like pigs) or carnivorous (like dolphins, whales, and ravens), with elephants being the exception. $\endgroup$ – PipperChip Jun 26 '17 at 19:14
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    $\begingroup$ You do realize that cows eat insects too, don't you? Projecting human foibles on biology is of course allowed, but rarely productive. It is a category error to speak of "vegetarian" animals; vegetarianism (and veganism etc.) are human ideologies. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jun 27 '17 at 0:03

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