Have I ever mentioned that I really like detailed worlds, and more so those that manage to blend realism with fantasy? Well, here is something that becomes infinitely important in the the management of those two. It’s also a much easier way to do some world-building, once you have all the necessary knowledge to properly utilize.
Genetics… a fun subject, and for some, a hobby to study. For those of you who do not know, phylogeny is the historical tracing of physiological development for a species, as well as the explanation of biological functions, how they came to form in a species, and tracing the gradual extinction of traits or new mutations.
For animals, this means an explanation of why they have things like sharp teeth, thick or light fur, or other such things.
But, for humans, this means an explanation of traits like skin-color, facial structuring and shapes, and the likewise. These are almost always the effects of things like environment, diet, and except for a rare few, typically come as a result of changes to the surroundings.
Let’s take, for example, my favorite people. Semites — which refers distinctly to the Middle-Eastern ethical peoples; although in common days are more widely thought of as referring to the Jewish people (of whom there are many ethic lines, not simply one, and it is considered very disrespectful to refer to Jews as a singular and separate “race.”)
A few very common traits to the Semitic people, are: dark skin, pronounced nostrils, and very often bold lashes.
The dark skin is very easily traced to the very constant exposure to sunlight, the body absorbing the light and thus causing differences in the pigments in order to compensate for sunburns and ultraviolet-rays. It is also better suited to distribution of heat across the body, making it much easier for life in the desert and adaption to the extreme temperatures of day and night — the skin-color to actually retain heat better, allowing for compensation against the chills of the desert night-time.
Skin color is incredibly important in regards to the sunlight in an environment, darker skin-tones best for hot and very-sunny regions; while a more pallid tone pulls heat better and intensifies the rays of the sun. The body will always try to best prepare itself for reception of heat, although the human ability to craft clothing lessens the power of these traits. Thicker-haired skin aids in warmth, whilst thinner hair will actually serve the purpose of “heat-sinks.”
We move on to the trait of the wider nostrils, which is best noticed as a common feature of people living in hotter areas or at a higher altitude. The reason is as simple as breathing. Hot air is more difficult to breathe, and the wider nostrils also help regulate the ability to inhale and exhale; likewise permitting the body to better cool itself. Higher altitudes have lower levels of oxygen, thus permitting the nose to draw in greater volumes of air to compensate.
Finally, let’s take a look at eyelashes. Much like whiskers, eyelashes act to shut the eyes whenever they receive the slightest touch — thus warning the eyes that an object is near them. This is incredibly useful in regions where there are lots of sand, because in the slightest and weakest gust of wind — sand is going to be going everywhere; a palladium against something going into your eyes is irreplaceable in such situations.
Put these three traits together, and you can easily determine that this is the physiological strain of those best suited to living in the desert — hot, constant sunlight, and sediment rarely not whirling about in the air.
When creating a fantasy race, or even creatures, consider their environments and then research into the real-world equivalents of things best-suited to living in those kinds of environments. Remember though, the much more adapted to specific environments anything might be, the less adaptable they’ll be to opposite environments. Sentience and the ability to craft are the only things which permit a living creature to be exempt from such rules, as they can manufacture their own compensations. This will slow the process of evolution, however.
Simply something to consider when building your world straight from scratch, yet still yearning to leave it entirely believable. Well, maybe not entirely, but definitely a little bit more.