The main creature in question is an intelligent species that stands from 3' to 4' tall on average. They are heavy-set and primarily bipedal, but able to move comfortably on all fours at the same speed as when upright. Don't think muscular like a typical fantasy dwarf, think a cylindrical torso with short limbs and a large head like a mole. Though they do use technology in wood-boring now, I want them to have a natural method they evolved with, and that is the subject of the question.

Possible methods of natural wood-boring I have considered include:

  • Using claws like how a mole digs in dirt,
  • A chisel-like structure in their head like a woodpecker,
  • Chewing like a wood-boring insect,
  • And chemically removing the wood with some naturally produced enzyme.

Which of those methods, or combination of those methods, would be most efficient at creating tunnels in wood within which this species can move freely? I'm also open to suggestions of methods of wood-boring that I didn't mention.

It's worth note that while this species is my primary concern in the issue, the world in question does have a number of other wood-boring species of similar or slightly larger size, but the others aren't sapient.

Update: Magical solutions are acceptable, and are probably among the advancements in wood-boring tech this race has made, but for answers to this questions, it must be something like an innate magical or supernatural ability. Anything that has to be taught or studied counts as tech for the purposes of this question.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ 3' to 4' tall species - how big are going to be your tree trunks? $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 23:39
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexander I'd assume he means this one: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/99849/… $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 23:46
  • $\begingroup$ @adaliabooks That is the tree in question, but I'm actually a she, not a he. $\endgroup$
    – Cowrie
    Commented Dec 12, 2017 at 1:37
  • $\begingroup$ You've already established a magical basis for your world. Would you consider a magical solution? (I'm considering something shamanistic, such that technology would be more efficient and more easily distributed, thus preferred.) $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Dec 12, 2017 at 2:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Corrie Sorry, my bad! $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 12, 2017 at 8:37

5 Answers 5


Giant Beaver Teeth!

giant beaver from https://msu.edu/~yansa/

I like this picture! And I think one could make a good case that nothing goes thru wood with only its own equipment faster than a beaver. This source http://animals.mom.me/long-beaver-chew-down-tree-11371.html says a beaver can take down a 5.5 inch tree in minutes.

And that is regular beavers, not one of the Pleistocene giants Dr Yansa is posing with here. Those were big beavers, 3 to 4 times bigger than the beavers of today. I here assert the wood chewing powers scale up too.

https://prehistoric-fauna.com/Castoroides-ohioensis beaver comparison chart

It is interesting that the giant beaver looks to be just about the size creature you need, and it is standing on its back legs as if auditioning for the part!

  • $\begingroup$ Good points, but my concern is that beavers typically target a relatively small cylindrical surface (normal trees, and especially saplings). I'm not sure how efficient they'd be at actually tunneling into a much larger surface. $\endgroup$
    – Cowrie
    Commented Dec 12, 2017 at 1:35
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I can imagine it might be tough for a beaver to dress the flat side of a door. On the plus side for beavers (as opposed to woodpeckers or carpenter ants) is that they take on green, live wood. I think other creatures with wood-tunneling abilities keep their reputations by only going after rotten wood. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Commented Dec 12, 2017 at 13:15
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    $\begingroup$ With carpenter ants at least, as I understand it, they actually improve the health of living trees by taking away unhealthy or dead sections wood. Which is sort of the sort of situation I want going on. On the other hand, after a quick web search, it appears some other rodents can make pretty good progress chewing into flat surfaces, so maybe it wouldn't be so hard for beaver teeth to do something like this. $\endgroup$
    – Cowrie
    Commented Dec 12, 2017 at 18:30

Use termites

If you species is intelligent, then perhaps it is intelligent enough to just use termites to do the job. Stick some termites on the part you want cut, maybe induce them by putting some delicious-to-termites substance on the bits of wood they want chewed, then let the termites do the rest.

These creatures could have evolved symbiotically with the termites. A comparison to this method from nature would be birds that rub themselves with various compounds from ants. This kills the ants, but it is similar. Another similar in-nature domestication technique would be ants 'farming' aphids. The ants keep the aphids fed, and the ants get back a honeydew the aphids secrete.

  • $\begingroup$ While I see what you mean about animals symbiotically evolving together, I want something innate to the species' biology/anatomy, no tools necessary. Even if they evolved symbiotically, in this context, termites count as tools. $\endgroup$
    – Cowrie
    Commented Dec 12, 2017 at 1:32

Combine localized degradation with physical tunneling

Wood can be a quite sturdy material but there is one thing it is very vulnerable to and that is rot.

The species you mentionned could have evolved an organ near the saliva glands that produces specialized cells that can be spat on the wood during tunneling, these cells have the following characteristics:

  • They replicate and act like funghi, producing water, oxygen and a chemical like hydrogen peroxyde (H2O2), to break down cellulose and cause brown-rot (possibly massively accelerated by some kind of magical catalyst) that causes wood to become as brittle as sand.
  • They produce a hormone-like chemical which in the right quantity kills them off immediately. This acts as a biological self-regulatory mechanism which limits the rot to a certain area by killing the cells when they become too numerous.

The animal produces these while tunneling (which makes it very very fast and easy as the rotten wood part gives way almost instantaneously). The tunneling itself is done by using bone-like structures (around the head for example) and rotating very fast (which could be more efficient for digging than bucal pieces).

Icing on the proverbial cake: The wood can rot into pretty good fertilizer.

For more info see video I found on wood decay


Chemical Boring.

I presume the animal eats the wood as it goes. In that case the most energy efficient way to dig the tunnel is to digest the wood and suck it up like a milkshake.

The animal smears its stomach juices on the wood and waits for it to soften. Then it slurps up the softened wood up and repeats. Yum Yum.

To see what this feels like place a biscuit in your mouth and leave it there. I suggest generic Digestive Biscuit. The biscuit will absorb the saliva from your mouth and fall apart.

This is more efficient than what a beaver does, since the beaver spends energy chewing the wood with its teeth, and then digests it. Your not-dwarves save energy on chewing.


Chewing/biting is more efficient than clawing or cutting

Woodpecker-style or mole-style are about banging something sharp&hard against the wood to break it. The harder and sharper the tooth/claw, the more progress it will make. Human tools like a knife, axe, and pick all work this way.

Chewing is a different mechanical process that involves two opposing blades. Scissors or shears is the analogous human tool.

Two opposing blades are more effective than one thumpy blade.

  • $\begingroup$ I am not sure about this one. If you pull one end of a rope and I pull the other, we will get less tension than if we tied the rope to a tree and both pull. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Commented Feb 19, 2023 at 23:08

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