Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Animals with wheels
I read a discussion about why it’s highly unlikely that animals would evolve wheels.
From what I gathered, the wheel and axle are not only composed of several different parts but the wheel would need to revolve in a way that’s not compatible with muscle structure. I might handwave my way past that in fantasy, but there’s a further concern. The wheel does best on flat smooth surfaces. It’s difficult to imagine wheeled creatures achieving any great speed in forests or plains or marshes.
Bacteria do have wheel-like structures which power their flagella (tiny whip-like tendrils that rotate rapidly and permit them to swim, swarm, tumble, etc). But they’re working in a fluid environment that permits them much more freedom of movement.
On the other hand, there are wheeled creatures in both science fiction and fantasy. I watched Return to Oz years ago, but still remember the Wheelers – humanoid beings with wheels for hands and feet – because they ended up harnessed to Mombi’s chariot and whipped to even greater speeds.
They were unnerving enough as-was. But they could have done even more if they had the ability to move or retract their wheels and allow hands to emerge.
Of course, wheeled creatures would be best adapted to roads or road-like structures, but given the popularity of urban fantasy, there’s no reason such mechanimals couldn’t turn up in futuristic or fantastic cities. They’d fit right into a place like New Crobuzon.
And I’ve read that Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy has creatures which “use natural roads on the planet's surface formed from cobalt ribbons. Their wheels are also a tool rather than a body part.”
Animals could also create such roads. If they have wheels, why shouldn’t they also have the magic to lay down roads just before them? Such roads could wind through an environment or could float just above the surface of a marsh or desert, like the path in Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder”.
Being magical rather than physical structures, they would also dissipate after a few seconds, so they would offer no advantage to any predator pursuing the wheeled creature.
The other advantage of wheel-like structures is that they can be damaging. Not only a la the chariot race from Ben-Hur, but similar to flywheels with serrated edges. Such a creature might not even need speed; its sheer weaponry would be enough to keep it safe.
What are your thoughts on wheeled animals?
Image from: http://www.jupiterimages.com/Image/royaltyFree/91805515