“But then what does he eat? And how does he process it?”
March 2, 2018 5:37 PM   Subscribe

So How Does a Centaur Eat, Anyway? by Judith Tarr [Tor] “The upshot of all this is that because the Centaur’s delivery system for nutrition is a human or humanoid head and torso—therefore a human-sized jaw, teeth, and esophagus—the Centaur must necessarily live on human food, and its horse stomach will have been modified to accommodate an omnivorous diet. The Greek tradition backs this up, with Centaurs eating bread and meat and drinking wine. There is no way the conventional Centaur can chew grass or hay with a human jaw, let alone consume it in sufficient quantities to support the mass of its body.”

• Anatomy of the Centaur by Univ.-Prof. Dr. Dr. H.C. Reinhard V. Putz [.PDF]
“This study concerns itself with the systematics of Centaurean anatomical conditions. These are bound to be highly peculiar, combining, as they do, an animal trunk (the equine component) with a human trunk sans legs (the human component). (See Figure 8.) A staple of Greek mythology, Centaurs have made many appearances throughout the centuries and even in our own time. They are represented by numerous sculptures and images in museums. True, when speaking of Centaurs, we have to rely on two- and three-dimensional models—here as many other instances in biology—because there has not yet been a sighting of a live specimen. However, the majority of extant graphic documents show a degree of verisimilitude and accuracy that makes them appear quite trustworthy, at least as regards the outward appearance of those beings.”
• A Discussion of Centaur Anatomy [Deviant Art]
Okay, so it's time for some arguin'. A lot of people have asked me over the years things like: What do you think are the correct proportions on a centaur? How do you think a centaur's muscles and skeleton are arragend? How would a centaur eat and breathe? Where are the lungs? The heart? The kidneys? How does the reproductive equipment work? So let's start with a disclaimer: These are my opinions! There is no real physical centaur to compare against, so the best I can do is make an educated guess. If you prefer a design other than this, that's fine, but this is what I'm going to keep drawing. If you disagree, fine, but do so politely, and above all, please don't ask I draw things your way. I know how I think it'd work, and that ain't gonna change.
1. Centaur Anatomy 101: Proportions
2. Centaur Anatomy 102: Parts of the Body
3. Centaur Anatomy 103: Artist's Joints
4. Centaur Anatomy 201: Leg Bones
5. Centaur Anatomy 202: Overall Skeletal Structure
• Centaur Anatomy- Natural History of the Fantastic by Christopher-Stoll [Deviant Art]
“Since centaurs cannot easily stoop their upper body to reach low lying plants they rely on a peculuiar method of ingestion to eat while on the move. Centaurs graze through grasping mouths on the base of their four hooves. These toothed orifices are attached to a length of esophagus-like tissue that runs the length of the centaur's limbs. The process appears to be automatic, and centaurs continue to graze even while they sleep. Think of it like a foot-anus with teeth. Centaur are already wildly impractical creatures, and it got worse when I tried thinking though how they'd eat. Having them bend their human faces down to graze was the stupidest looking thing I could imagine (not to mention impractical biologically). So I went with something a little more unusual, but potentially more elegant. Remember, I'm having to sort of work backwards from concepts that don't make a lot of sense scientifically and explain how they work in fun/believable ways. The fun part was imagining a whole lineage of feet eating pseudo-centaur in their evolutionary line.”
• The Nature of Centaur Biology Is Something [Monster Blog of Monsters]
“The nature of centaur biology is something eternally baffling to magizoologists and magianthropologists. Even in the past when the slaughter and examination of centaur bodies was deemed more acceptable the precise nature of their bodily functions has been hard to map - why do they need two sets of lungs, two sets of gastrointenstinal tracts? Are they truly a merging of human and horse, with these traits, some ancient biomagicians unnatural creation? Interestingly enough it seems this is not the case. While it might be easier to attribute centaur evolution to the forcible attempts of ancient unethical wixes, it seems far more likely that Centaurs evolved naturally, and maintained these two separate biologies in order to better interact with each - by having an equine gastrointestinal tract they can consume the foods of equines and hide themselves amongst those herds, while, should they wish to, their human biology allows them to break bread with and otherwise interact with humans, allowing them to gain necessary nutrients by whichever means is the most efficient.”
• An Art Exhibit That Imagines the Anatomy of a Centaur [Mental Floss]
“Since 1994, the piece has been on display at the university’s John C. Hodges Library as part of an exhibit called The Centaur Excavations of Volos. Instead of standing on four legs, the skeleton is half-buried in an artificial dig site surrounded by ceramic artifacts. The exhibit also includes an anatomically-correct centaur illustration and a plaque that reads, "one of three centaur burials discovered in 1980 by the Archaeological Society of Argos Orestiko eight kilometers northeast of Volos, Greece.” Even after three decades, Bill Willers’s centaur fixation is still going strong. In 2008, he commissioned a standing centaur made from a human skeleton and that of a zebra that he called the Centaur of Tymfi. We’re not entirely sure if a half-man, half-zebra constitutes a centaur, but we’ll let this one slide.”
• Observing A Centaur’s Life [Another Anime Review] [YouTube Trailer]
“A Centaur’s Life is a slice-of-life comedy following high school student Himeno Kimihara and her family and friends. The story is set in a world in which four-limbed animals became extinct in favor of animals with six appendages, that extra set being anything from additional legs to horns. (The designs of the majority of humanoid beings seem to be derived from various mythologies and folklore.) Otherwise, Himeno’s world looks a lot like our own, complete with all of our everyday conveniences and the problems they give us, not to mention the demands of family and school. And it is in these small expositions of everyday life that the show’s nuanced comedy slant shines most brilliantly! (Seek, and ye shall find.)”
• Mantaur. Such majesty. [imgur]
• Horsetaur: the offspring of a centaur and a horse. [imgur]
• Nobody likes Reverse Centaur [I Waste So Much Time]
posted by Fizz (35 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
They eat a plate of beans.
posted by hot_monster at 6:19 PM on March 2, 2018 [14 favorites]

If you're wondering how they eat and breathe, and other science facts... (la la la)...
posted by gloriouslyincandescent at 6:24 PM on March 2, 2018 [7 favorites]

Sounds legit.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:43 PM on March 2, 2018

I like the mid-aricle horrified Editor's note.
posted by chapps at 6:43 PM on March 2, 2018 [3 favorites]

But how do they wear pants?
posted by peeedro at 6:44 PM on March 2, 2018 [6 favorites]

Also this makes nostalgic for the Harry Potter event I organized at my university... I sadly failed to convince the esteemed biologist (and university President) to participate in a debate on "hippogriff: bird or mammal", but I do have the formal letter declining to participate...
posted by chapps at 6:45 PM on March 2, 2018 [12 favorites]

Oh this is great, now I want to see a breakdown of Dungeons & Dragons' best monster, the Drider. Half Drow Elf, half Giant Spider!
posted by drinkyclown at 6:48 PM on March 2, 2018 [5 favorites]

Think of it like a foot-anus with teeth.

I shan't.

And, of course, a reverse centaur is BoJack Horseman.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:51 PM on March 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

What no way Bojack is just a minotaur but horse instead of bull. Reverse centaur would have a whole horse torso, right?
posted by drinkyclown at 6:54 PM on March 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

A horso if you will
posted by XMLicious at 6:58 PM on March 2, 2018 [20 favorites]

behold, the uselessness of centaur babies, combining the colt's amazing running with the uselessness of a newborn human
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 7:02 PM on March 2, 2018 [22 favorites]

This is now reminding me of a short story about engineered centaurs that I read in an anthology in the early 80s. Didn't discuss eating, but did raise a bunch of points about other problems related to centaur anatomy--in particular, sleeping, as the centaurs had to sleep standing up (like a horse) but then had to somehow find ways of propping up their human heads and torsos.
posted by thomas j wise at 7:06 PM on March 2, 2018

Our 7 year old Percy Jackson fanatic was extolling the virtues of being a centaur until I pointed out how he'd have to back into toilet stalls and couldn't wipe his own butt without a rag on a stick.

We're back to Team Werewolf now.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:17 PM on March 2, 2018 [15 favorites]

Creatures feed themselves to the centaur out of a fear so deep it becomes selfless respect.
posted by Annika Cicada at 8:18 PM on March 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

John Varly in Demon thirty years ago had a throwaway line about the quirky issues posed by the right-angle spine of the centaur design that has always stuck with me.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 8:38 PM on March 2, 2018 [3 favorites]

I saw a funny tumblr screenshot recently debating whether or not having sex with a centaur was beastiality and it made me laugh because it was very silly and clever but it turns out googling those key words was a bad choice. The results were not at all what I was looking for. Woah.
posted by Grandysaur at 8:39 PM on March 2, 2018 [7 favorites]

A Centaur has a man-stomach and a horse-stomach. And of course both want breakfast. So first of all he has porridge and pavenders and kidneys and bacon and omelette and cold ham and toast and marmalade and coffee and beer. And after that he tends to the horse part of himself by grazing for an hour or so and finishing up with a hot mash, some oats, and a bag of sugar. That's why it's such a serious thing to ask a Centaur to stay for the weekend. A very serious thing indeed.
C.S. Lewis. The Silver Chair

After the umpteenth reading of the Narnia books, I remember having some VERY serious discussions with my cousin about the anatomy of a creature that could eat like this. We never really managed to come up with a good answer, so this is awesome food for thought.
posted by gemmy at 8:52 PM on March 2, 2018 [8 favorites]

tl;dr: ⌘ F “Poop” = no matches found.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:58 PM on March 2, 2018

tl;dr: ⌘ F “Poop” = no matches found

Ah what one misses by choice of search terms!
posted by chapps at 9:10 PM on March 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

I always just think "double ribcages", so is that double hearts and lungs too? Not just where, buy why?
posted by sweetmarie at 9:49 PM on March 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

Centaurs are just shoggoths with great self-control. The reason why no one knows how centaurs eat? Go and ask one; I’ll wait here for you to come back.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:54 AM on March 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

tl;dr: Ctrl U, Ctrl F "Oglaf" = no matches found.
posted by sebastienbailard at 3:34 AM on March 3, 2018 [6 favorites]

Maybe centaurs eat blades of grass with hamburgers on top.
posted by ian1977 at 5:32 AM on March 3, 2018

Interview with a centaur (starts at 11:33)
“I have a horse’s body and a man’s mouth!”
posted by moonmilk at 5:32 AM on March 3, 2018

Robert Graves wrote a rambling essay entitled Centaur's Food, to be found in his collection Food For Centaurs, which is largely about mushrooms, which may be of interest if you're into that sort of thing.
posted by BWA at 8:16 AM on March 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

Horses can sleep lying down. So could centaurs. Centaurs could eat that way too, and could also farm their own grain and grass, since they have arms. Centaur babies could be born more advanced than human ones.

The double digestive/respiratory system doesn't make sense, yeah. I think you pretty much have to see them as created by magic or by scifi experimenting, they wouldn't evolve that way naturally. But the other stuff you can theorize workarounds for.
posted by emjaybee at 12:26 PM on March 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

Someone pointed out to me a while back that, assuming that we’re speculating about terrestrial fantasy creatures, there are no six-limbed mammals (or, in fact, vertebrates) — and that therefore centaurs are almost certainly an insect or other arthropod.

(The same is true of traditional fantasy dragons — the ones with both wings and forelimbs, anyway.)
posted by bluemilker at 3:08 PM on March 3, 2018 [6 favorites]

If you look at a giraffe skeleton I think you can see how the anatomy might work: the centaur basically has a neck like a giraffe, but with an extra set of scapulae (shoulder bones) extending up along the cervical vertebrae. The arms are articulated off those scapulae, so what looks like a centaur's chest is really a very long and grossly thickened neck. This explains how they can bend down: it's a much more flexible arrangement than our chest.

I don't suppose they would need anything like a duplicated stomach, but instead have one that accommodates the omnivorous diet described by the Greeks. They'd eat quite a lot but only in proportion to their mass, say around as much as three adult humans. The extra limbs could be explained by something like a heritable polymelia. The only real problem for me is the combination of hooves down low and fingers at front. I don't think there's any evolutionary path that could lead to it.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:34 PM on March 3, 2018 [5 favorites]

Just as a note, in the show The Magicians, there's a magical world called Fillory where Centaurs exist and they poop pretty freely, but they're very talented healers so their human servants come and clean their poop quickly whenever they go, the servants gets advanced treatments as an exchange.
posted by numaner at 7:19 PM on March 3, 2018

As a Sagittarius, I’m loving this post.
posted by LizBoBiz at 12:42 AM on March 4, 2018 [5 favorites]

I had always assumed that centaurs ate people. I'm sure I read that somewhere.
posted by heatherlogan at 9:07 AM on March 4, 2018

My model of a centaur is that it's human down to what is effectively a combination human pelvis and horse's shoulder, except for the spine, which transitions from the lowest or 2nd lowest human lumbar (L4 or L5) vertebra to one of the last equine cervical vertebra (C6 or C7). For the bowel, the human sigmoid transitions straight into the end of an equine oesophagus. There is a common circulatory system with two sets of hearts and lungs. The only thing I can't work out is how the horse's windpipe feeds up to the human mouth, and whether it's just an extension of the human trachea or if it splits off at the pharynx.

I don't really have a problem with the horse part of the centaur's digestion working from human poop. As long as they eat a very high amount of dietary fibre as far as the human part of their diet's concerned, that's probably not a bad input for a horse's digestive system. More worrying might be the bile salts that come from the human liver into the human bowel, so we'll assume that the equine liver does most of the work of red blood cell recycling.

But having a combination omnivore-herbivore digestive system means that the centaur eats food that's far too rich for a human, takes all the richness out of it, and then digests the more cellulosic residue. As a horse needs 15,000 kCal/day (about 10kg of hay) and a human 2,500 kCal (about 2kg of varied food), the mix is going to be a little tricky, and they'll be eating things in Olympic rower quantities. Probably the centaur would need to top up their diet with a soylent/silage hybrid.
posted by ambrosen at 4:48 PM on March 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

horses are already not strictly herbivorous (regularly observed swiping eggs from chickens, eating small rodents, etc.), so there is some precedent for the more omnivorous centaur.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 9:14 PM on March 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

This is slightly off topic, but on the topic of six limbed dragons, I always went for the Peter Dickinson model: four real limbs, a blimp like second stomach for storing hydrogen for lift (along with a diet high in limestone) and small wings for maneuvering adapted from things like the crest on the dimetrodon. (The other way is the GoT method where you have wyverns that breath fire and don't have poisonous tails.)

As for centaurs, you could have a pair of ribs grow in such a way that you get the additional limbs. This would give them a weird gate, but I'm picturing them evolving into the equivalent of a running blade and a mechanism for withdrawing and extending these midlimbs as necessary. The VA is working on kneeless prosthetics, which is where I'm coming up with this. It would give centaurs a very un-horselike gate.

So you can have endoskeletonized six limbed creatures, it just requires repurposing parts of them for new uses.
posted by Hactar at 12:30 PM on March 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Wouldn't it make more sense to pack all the internal organs into the horse bit and use the human body as a sort of primary stomach or crop to temporarily store food?

Furthermore, a nursing foal needs 14-20 liters of milk a day, so either centaurs also have a horse's mammary glands, or they invented nursing bras quite early in their development.

Unless the centaur males also help by regurgitating food from their crop.
posted by sebastienbailard at 6:52 PM on March 5, 2018

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