I want to create an intelligent creature(grit) that has a eusocial social system. They need to be small(10-20cm height) and live in small towns on top of the canopy of tropical forests.

by intelligent, I mean that they can learn and have a way of communication, they can craft tools and use them to shape materials that you would typically find in a forest and they can either farm, cook, or tame small animals

(earth-like environment)


closed as too broad by L.Dutch, sphennings, Mołot, Vylix, Bellerophon Nov 12 '17 at 13:03

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    $\begingroup$ So basically you want to crossbreed humans, monkeys and mole rats? Sounds like a truly mad science project to me. Let us know how that one went! $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Nov 11 '17 at 13:19
  • $\begingroup$ We have no evidence that a creature that small can evolve a brain capable of the kind of sophisticated tool making society you describe. Very doubtful IMO. But you also want them to "tame small animals", when they themselves are only 10-20cm height, which sounds, if I may say, like a tall order. :-) $\endgroup$ – StephenG Nov 11 '17 at 13:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Raditz_35 Hardly "all sci-fi, fantasy or even fiction in general" - wild exaggeration. The point is, it's wordbuilding and we're asked "how to create" and as far as we know, it can't be done. We're into handwavium beyond that. The problem is making a fully functional human brain in a much, much smaller space. $\endgroup$ – StephenG Nov 11 '17 at 13:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Raditz_35 You mean compared to your comment that that sounds like "truly mad science project" ? Really ? $\endgroup$ – StephenG Nov 11 '17 at 13:59
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    $\begingroup$ First consider the energy consumption and efficiency of their brain, just like you can't fold a paper more than 7 times there is going to be a cap. Digest food outside stomach(cooking) and walking to free both hands help to propel human to develop necessary tool and promote social interaction. I'm not saying ants and mole rats can't be intelligent, I've seen octopus opens a bottle of whiskey and lit a cigar with only dried leaves and stick. I immediately caught it and years later it mastered the control of its chromatophores and turns into Ti-84...🐙 $\endgroup$ – user6760 Nov 11 '17 at 15:00

One primate or another does all the things you want. I think you should start with golden lion tamarins.

golden lion tamarins

They are 20 cm so the right size. They live in social groups, which you could certainly make larger. They live in trees. Plus they have rocking red hair which they could braid and bead, according to their caste.

What you need now is for them to make tools and keep animals. Our own ancestors made tools for about 2.5 million years before they kept any animals. Chimps and bonobos use tools they invent and they are quick to learn how to use human tools.

The only question is whether an animal as small as a tamarin has a brain big enough to be able to make and use tools.


crow using tool from http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-37024393

If you want a different angle, do it with birds. Crows are eusocial and live in the bigger groups you want. They live in trees (and all over). They make tools. They have castes (a pecking order, if you will - couldn't resist!). The only thing you need is for them to keep animals. It does not seem that farfetched to me that they might.

Crows are really smart. Check the link. I was moved by the one about the funeral the crows held for their cat friend Bart.

  • $\begingroup$ thank you, thanks for giving me an answer(that works) and not arguing in the comment section. I'll try to send you a copy of the story when I'm done. $\endgroup$ – A. Soreq Nov 11 '17 at 15:11
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    $\begingroup$ You really are writing a story! That is great! It seems like people never put links to their stories on worldbuilding questions that they used, but I think they should. You can be the first. I look forward to reading it. $\endgroup$ – Willk Nov 11 '17 at 16:16
  • $\begingroup$ Yes I seconds Wills comment. In fact I might do something similar myself $\endgroup$ – Slarty Nov 11 '17 at 16:44

Good answer from Will about the tamarins. Other potential species to base your creature on are:

  1. Vervet monkeys. Here's the wikipedia entry. Vervets have a 'proto-language' as they have different alarm calls for different predators, since the response should be different. They also do very, very basic tool use
  2. Capuchin monkeys (various species) are tool users with much more adept and sophisticated planning than the vervets, as this BBC clip shows. They also and have proto-language alarm calls. This video clip at about 4 mins 50 seconds in shows a sequence about a capuchin being cleverly deceitful.

For castes, you need to have division of labour. A 'queen' is reasonably easy - you have a dominant female who produces all the young. Lots of mammals (mostly pack-living canines like wolves or African wild dogs, but also mongooses and meerkats) already do this: the alpha female harasses the subordinate females physically and emits pheromones in her scent to prevent them breeding. If they do breed, she often kills their pups. Her own youngsters stick around to help her raise the next litter: This is called cooperative breeding.

Your creatures (and mole rats or ants) have taken the next step, and divided up other tasks, not just the breeding. In the case of ants, the castes are fixed - you are a soldier ant at the beginning, middle and end of your adult life. You have a body tailored to being a soldier ant (e.g. big jaws and/or a powerful sting). In the mole rats, however, caste is more about body size: when you are little you dig tunnels, when you are big, you defend the warren.

If the ancestors of your creatures have fungus gardens in a nest (like leaf-cutter ants do) and helpless babies which can't travel with the adults (like ants and mole rats do), they therefore have a fixed home to defend. That would have encouraged the evolution of a 'troop' or 'colony' to defend the queen's offspring and food supply. Which could eventually lead to true eusociality.

If you want castes as bizarre as honeypots in ants, you'll need to invent the 'job' they are doing and the biology or ecology to justify it (crippling food shortages at certain times of year for the honeypots - leaf cutters solve this by fungus gardens instead of honeypots).


Bees make distinct castes with extra food. They feed queens-to-be lots of "royal jelly" to allow them to grow larger with functioning sex organs.

Your eusocial species might do something similar with "brain food". So the typical member might have a crow or monkey's intelligence. But the chief or royal member might be more intelligent with an extra large head that might prevent them from moving.

Soldiers might simply receive more food. They grow bigger and stronger but can't fit inside the nest. Perhaps they live on the ground or even on the lower parts of the tree where the branches are thicker. Perhaps the soldiers are given "angry" food, particularly when they need to attack.

Other specializations may develop over time. Engineers might be given some of the royal brain food and more of the regular food. So their bodies might be as big as a soldiers, large enough to support brains that can understand more complicated instructions from the royals. Perhaps some would be fed less food and have parts of their bodies stretched when they are young. They might become gliding messengers, built like flying squirrels or feathertail gliders.

Females that receive lots of food may become like a bee queen. Powerful chiefs may have the hive secure food for their sisters who do the actual reproduction. They may trade with other hives for good drones for genetic diversity.

This would be easier with an egg-laying animal like a bird or monotreme. This is because they can gestate outside the body, be released into a womb-like cell (no Earth mammal does this, but bees do), and receive separate food. So they may look like monkeys as adults, but they get there a very different way.


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