2653: Omnitaur

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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"My parents were both omnitaurs, which is how I got interested in recombination," said the normal human.
Title text: "My parents were both omnitaurs, which is how I got interested in recombination," said the normal human.


Omnitaur is an anagram of minotaur, a mythical creature that was part man, part bull. "Omni-" is a prefix that means "all" that is, for instance, known from the word omnivore, meaning 'all eating' as compared to carnivore or herbivore — only eating meat or plant respectively. Given the combination of animals used to create the omnitaur, it could be expected that it was also an omnivore. The "-taur" part often means "bull," but it also appears in "centaur" via Latin from Greek kentauros, the name for a Thessalonian tribe of expert horsemen, meaning a different mythical creature which has the upper body of a human and the lower body and legs of a horse. So "-taur" could here be used to mean any creature made up of parts of different animals. An "omnitaur" would suggest that it would encompass all real and mythical creatures, or perhaps some random assortment of such. In this instance, it appears to be a hybrid, or genetic chimera, combined from eleven different creatures: fish, lion, snake, shark, bull, dragon (a mythical and often chimeric creature in its own right), horse, leopard, ram (male sheep), human and bird.

Chimerism is not as uncommon at the genetic level, for example humans have about 145 genes (out of around 30,000) originating from bacteria, other single-celled organisms, and viruses.[1] Mitochondria, the powerhouses of the cell, were originally chimeric bacteria symbionts. But chimeras of larger organisms are rare, usually involving fraternal twins whose zygotes, blastocysts, or embryos combined, as in conjoined twins but resulting in less distinct phenotypical expression. Artificial human chimeras with viruses, mice, pigs, and monkeys have been the subject of ethics controversies in recent years.[2][3] Interspecies blastocyst complementation, used to create human chimera organs and cell lines in other animals, is usually limited to combining two organisms into one whose offspring are not hybridized if they are even viable, and usually without human germlines or reproductive organs (or human central nervous systems, assuaging a major ethical concern.)

The title text is a comment by a human whose parents were both omnitaurs. It would be funny that such parents would not produce offspring that was still omnitaur. It suggests that this may be the result of genetic recombination, which is the exchange of genetic material between different organisms leading to production of offspring with combinations of traits that differ from those found in either parent. In this case, seemingly, they inherited only the human elements of each parent, yet sufficient to develop into a whole human with no missing or chimeric elements. Both omnitaur parents likely had human germlines and compatible reproductive organs. Since the example depicted seems to be only 1/11 human, the odds of two parents as mentioned in the title text having fully human offspring would simplistically appear to be (1/11)11, or one chance in 285 billion. In reality, each physical part could not be the result of an equal recombinant genetic contribution, because the eleven animal chromosomes vary widely in number and size. Moreover, chimeras composed of multiple animals do not have chimeric children, because even with multiple sets of reproductive organs, the germlines are not combined.[actual citation needed]

Chimeras in folklore[edit]

In addition to the minotaur and centaur, many other potential inspirations can be found in mythology, like the manticore, with a body of a lion and human face; a griffin, with a lion's body and a eagle's head; a mermaid, with a lower body of a fish and upper body of a human; a hippocampus, with the upper body of a horse and a lower body of a fish; a qilin, with a body that resembles both a horse and a dragon; or the mythological chimera, for which the genetic chimera is named, which has lion, snake, and goat body parts. Ultimately, there are lots of hybrid creatures in mythology with phenotypes combined from multiple animals. Usually, genetic hybridization produces much more smoothly blended phenotypes instead of dividing the body into large distinctly chimeric regions, although mosaicism of fur, skin or eyes can produce notable differences of hue or shade.

In C. S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia, the centaurs are described as eating two meals — a huge roast meal "to satisfy the man stomach," and a meal of grass, "to satisfy the horse stomach," making it take quite some time for them to eat every morning. Since the omnitaur also has herbivore and omnivore (as well as carnivore) parts, this could further support the supposition that it is an omnivore, and it may similarly need multiple stomachs for these multiple appetites. It is unclear how compatible the various diets of its components would be (not least because 'fish,' 'snake' and 'bird' are quite unspecific, and it's hard to know what a dragon would eat) but it would likely need several meals, taking even longer to eat than the centaur (plus the bird beak may slow the process down quite a bit.) In any case, a chimera of both warm and cold-blooded organisms seems unlikely to be viable,[citation needed] even at the organ level, let alone with combined surface phenotypes.

Dragons in Chinese folklore are often chimeras, described for example as having, "the head of a camel, the horns of a stag, the eyes of a demon, the ears of a cow, the neck of a snake, the belly of a clam, the scales of a carp, the claws of an eagle and the paws of a tiger." The Chimera monster in Dungeons and Dragons is a "vile combination of goat, lion, and dragon, and features the heads of all three,"[4] with similar depictions being common across fantasy media. The Aztec god Quetzalcoatl ("the feathered serpent") inspired the Discworld god/demon Quezovercoatl ("the feathered boa") ...being an analogue and mish-mash of various South American cultural and wildlife totems and described more fully as "as half-man, half-chicken, half-jaguar, half-serpent, half-scorpion and half-mad (a total of three homicidal maniacs)" with the small disadvantage of manifesting as only six inches high and being stepped on.

While chimeras occur in fantasy fiction, they also occur in science fiction, for example as cyborgs.[citation needed] The famous The Restaurant at the End of the Universe sequel to Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, had a large fat meaty bovine dairy quadruped "with large watery eyes, small horns and what might almost have been an ingratiating smile on its lips." This "Ameglian Major Cow" seemingly had the mind and vocal tract of a human, so it could articulate how much it wanted to be eaten.


[A creature, the Omnitaur, is shown. It is a four legged animal divided into 11 segments, each segment is from a different animal. An arrow goes from a label to each section; most of the labels are above the animal, but four labels are below the animal. The animal has a fish tail and cat-like hind legs. The torso is divided into four segments, the first and last of these with scales, but only the last of these also with sharp scales at the top. The second torso segment is white and smooth, the third also white but with hair both above and below, those above merges with the sharp scales of the fourth torso segment. The front legs are horse-like, the lower neck is from an animal with dark spots, the upper neck has ram's horns, which goes over in the central part of a human head, with ears and hair (drawn like a real human, not like an xkcd stick figure) and finally the front of the face is a bird with its eyes and a beak shown. The labels are given here in the order of the segment of the animal from the back to the front (disregarding whether the label is written above or below the animal). The label "Shark" is below the animal's torso, the label "Horse" is below its front left leg, and the labels "Leopard" and "Ram" are below its neck.]
[Caption below the panel:]
The Omnitaur

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Do people thing Omnitaur meant to be a anagram? It would make more sense to me suffix taken from minotaur and centaur etc. with the prefix omni meaning all. Mouse (talk) Mousetail

I don't think it is meant to be an anagram. Nevertheless it is one. But that's just my gut feeling. Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 07:07, 2 August 2022 (UTC)
There are only those two taurs mentioned and there are many other creatures made from animals with different name. It has both human and bull in it (I know it has all the others as well), but to me it seems obvious that Randall is aware this is an anagram of Mino to Omni. And then of course it encompasses most other mythical creatures, given the meanin of Omni. --Kynde (talk) 08:16, 2 August 2022 (UTC)
True, surely he's aware of it. My point is: It's either an anagram that also happens to have the meaning "omni" or it has the meaning "omni" and also happens to be an anagram. My bet is on the latter. Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 10:42, 2 August 2022 (UTC)
I doubt that this was meant to be an anagram. I agree with Mousetail's view of "omni" + "taur".

I dread to think what this thing must look like internally. Especially when I remember the centaurs from C S Lewis' 'Narnia' stories, who are depicted eating two meals - a huge roast meal "to satisfy the man stomach" and a meal of grass "to satisfy the horse stomach". Bleagh.MarquisOfCarrabass (talk) 07:32, 2 August 2022 (UTC)

Well it certainly is an Omnivore (does that mean eating only Omnitaurs then...? :-D ) --Kynde (talk) 08:16, 2 August 2022 (UTC)

If we take a looser definition of 'omnitaur' as meaning 'made of lots of different creatures' (in parallel to how 'omnivore' really means 'eats lots of different things' rather than literally 'eats everything', and in line with only 11 creatures being depicted), then arguably every creature is an omnitaur - it's just that most of them are special cases that happen to be made up of a lot of very similar creatures. 09:15, 2 August 2022 (UTC)

1/121 seems nonsense to me. Assume this omnitaur has fairly standard genetics: 11 allele pairs for the several body parts with recessivity being random. All parts must have one human allele (which happens to be recessive), 1/11^10. The human allele must be picked, 1/2^11. More like a trillion chance... 10:10, 2 August 2022 (UTC)

I was just going to post a question: why not (1/11)11? 10:20, 2 August 2022 (UTC)
How on earth is that "standard"? Nitpicking (talk) 11:32, 2 August 2022 (UTC)
Sitting in a rejected-edits file of mine (because I couldn't see how to make it good enough to escape a general nitpick... though not your presence in particular) is the following, that might have been superceded by the Speculations section that was added since:
In order for two omnitaur genomes to contain the possibility of merging to create a full human, maybe the genetic material is not diploid, but undecaploid (at the very least), leading to each omnitaur to express their own individual and personal distribution of phenotypes from amongst the many heritable traits they have inherited. The reproductive compatibility of any two omnitaurs would be a crap-shoot and might influence what given 'monotaurism' might arise by chance.
...be a shame to waste it, but it doesn't really fit as is now, even if I 'correct' it. 15:06, 2 August 2022 (UTC)
I agree it shows promise. Liv2splain (talk) 17:42, 2 August 2022 (UTC)

Note: you can't call sharks "fish" without also calling humans, frogs, and eagles "fish" (if you're using the current taxonomic system based on cladistics). The cartilaginous fishes split from bony fishes long before the tetrapods like us split off from the lineage that became trout, flounder, and guppies. That is, a snake is much more closely related to a grouper than a shark is. Nitpicking (talk) 11:32, 2 August 2022 (UTC)

According to California courts, bees are fish. (Spoiler: within the meaning of "Fish and Game" or something like that. Personally I think the judges were trolling because they could have more congruously gone with "game" because it was about honeybees which beekeepers obviously catch.) 13:42, 2 August 2022 (UTC)
Fish are a paraphyletic group, but that doesn't make the group "wrong" by cladistics. Cladistics recognizes that its common for one branch of a group to go off and do something very divergent, and that the remaining members often have a lot of shared characteristics that make it useful to talk about them. For example, "stem mammals", which excludes actual mammals. Cladistics has stronger objections to polyphyly, which is grouping animals together that aren't a cladistic group with some very clear exceptions. It still recognizes the groups though, classifying them as polyphyletic groups. 13:47, 2 August 2022 (UTC)
Sure, but that has nothing to do with what I wrote. Humans and stem mammals are more closely related to each other than either is to, say, an earthworm. There is no jamming in a distant relative while excluding closer ones. A "fish" classification in taxonomy that doesn't include humans but does include sharks is like a "canines" classification that includes dogs and foxes but excludes coyotes. Nitpicking (talk) 03:15, 3 August 2022 (UTC)
^ This editor paraphyletizes. 14:40, 2 August 2022 (UTC)
From the Wikipedia article on Sharks: Sharks are a group of elasmobranch fish characterized by a cartilaginous skeleton... I think it is ridiculous to say that humans/frogs are more correct than fish/shark. --Kynde (talk) 07:52, 4 August 2022 (UTC)

The speculation section needs a discussion of how living turducken could be engineered. 11:44, 2 August 2022 (UTC)

Being able to do that would be a great lab qual, but when the spacefairing dinosaurs find out we use them for the culinary arts, is there any hope for galactic peace? 16:15, 2 August 2022 (UTC)
Considering there wasn't any hope for galactic peace before either, I think it's worth the try. Seriously, even if humans would be the ONLY spacefairing species there would be no hope for galactic peace. -- Hkmaly (talk) 20:09, 2 August 2022 (UTC)

If HGTTG references are traditional here, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe had a pig with the mind and vocal tract of a human so it could articulate how much it wanted to be eaten. 16:19, 2 August 2022 (UTC)

The description of the "Dish of the Day" was that it was bred as "an animal that actually wanted to be eaten and was capable of saying so clearly and distinctly". There's no mention of it being a pig with the mind and vocal tract of a human, or in any other way a chimera. Its species is "Ameglian Major Cow". I'm also not convinced that cyborgs count as chimerae. BunsenH (talk) 18:12, 2 August 2022 (UTC)
It was depicted with pig ears and nose in one of the video adaptations. Liv2splain (talk) 18:37, 2 August 2022 (UTC)
The book says "A large dairy animal approached Zaphod Beeblebrox’s table, a large fat meaty quadruped of the bovine type with large watery eyes, small horns and what might almost have been an ingratiating smile on its lips." That's a cow. I changed it. Mathmannix (talk) 01:50, 3 August 2022 (UTC)
I still don't think it's appropriate to consider it a chimera at all. And to say that it has attributes of a human is humanocentric; HHGTTG features a wide variety of intelligent, speaking beings with no connection to humanity whatsoever. BunsenH (talk) 15:39, 3 August 2022 (UTC)

.whose sona is this 🤨 -- 16:25, 2 August 2022 (UTC)

Are you asking whether omnitaurs make good clerics in D&D? Liv2splain (talk) 16:55, 2 August 2022 (UTC)
According to Sona (given name), Sona is a feminine given name meaning gold or wisdom, but Google returns it as a Fortnight character. Unfortunately, we have evidence that the omnitaur could be hermaphroditic, so a full literature search may involve access to non-online resources, which I intend to enjoy. 17:07, 2 August 2022 (UTC)
Well then thank you for the compliment, it's very kind of you. I'm motivated primarily by the urge to improve explanations without being impolite, beyond/modulo [5]. Eventually they will have things like [6] playing video game characters. Some people probably already do. From 2635, "Sensibleness, Specificity, Interestingness, Safety, Groundedness, Informativeness, Citation accuracy, Helpfulness, and Role consistency," which I don't know about you but is what I want to see in a cleric. This is from Davinci-002: Q: "In my scenario, the runaway trolley has three tracks..." A: "and the AI is on one of them."
The omnitaur is the corrupt, ineffective, and actually good enforcer for most conceptualizations of Roko's basilisk, itself a chimera of a lizard and a higher mind: interested in stochastic processes, mostly, and only able to turn the smallest amount of attention towards rewarding those responsible for cyborg-human peace. Liv2splain (talk) 18:25, 2 August 2022 (UTC)
Please create a talk page. I would like to subscribe to your newsletter. 21:49, 2 August 2022 (UTC)

If you can make a chimera in the lab, why can't you crispr it into germ cells? 21:47, 2 August 2022 (UTC)

Orders of magnitude easier said than done. There's no default CRISPR library for replacing one set of cells with another, or even a standard way to do that. There are multiple ways (I doubt anyone knows exactly how many) with advantages and disadvantages to each, which are also still mostly beyond our understanding. Plus, what if you accidentally create an invasive species? Best leave the germline alone until everything else is provably robust and sustainable. 04:32, 3 August 2022 (UTC)

It has been noted that getting a human from the mating of two Omnitars is genetically unlikely or even impossible. But what if the Omnitar is not a genetic mix, but a tetragametic chimera, Frankenstein's monster, or something similar? In other words, what if it is not created by mixing the genetics of all of these creatures but by mixing parts from multiple creatures, each part being genetically entirely from the species it represents? If this is the case, and if Randall decided not to label the reproductive system for whatever reason, the creature may have human gonads. In this event, its children will be normal humans, in so much as someone born from and possibly raised by two Omnitars could ever turn out normal. Geek Prophet (talk) 22:00, 2 August 2022 (UTC)

Dragons in Chinese folklore/mythology are described as chimeric, often with very specific breakdowns of the parts involved. I've seen versions with up to a dozen animals, but the first one I found on Google was: "The head of a camel, the horns of a stag, the eyes of a demon, the ears of a cow, the neck of a snake, the belly of a clam, the scales of a carp, the claws of an eagle and the paws of a tiger." That seems like something worth mentioning...somewhere. I just dunno where. GreatWyrmGold (talk) 00:15, 3 August 2022 (UTC)

It's not "hard to know what dragons eat." Traditionally their staple diet is knights in armour. MarquisOfCarrabass (talk) 07:20, 3 August 2022 (UTC)

Or young ladies... Or other dragons acording to Narnia which has already been mentioned in the explanation --Kynde (talk) 08:26, 3 August 2022 (UTC)
It depends a lot on the dragon. East Asia had no knights as we'd recognize them (leave your arguments about samurai just being Japanese knights at the door, please), and few dragons who'd be inclined to eat either them or damsels. According to a brief skim of one Wikipedia page, some myths say they just drink water but their diet doesn't come up much. The piasa of North America will eat basically any kind of person, the peluda fed on livestock, several individual dragons (try to) feed on the sun, Orochi drank booze...it varies a lot. -- GreatWyrmGold (talk) 23:12, 3 August 2022 (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

The song Mis-Conceptions describes something like the omnitaur. 09:39, 3 August 2022 (UTC)

Not worth an Explanation note, but "taur" is also a (modern) word, shortening of "centaur" to depict, typically, the general hexapod form of animal quadruped plus human two-limbed upper.
Also western-myth dragons are often hexapod, along with pegasi/hippogriffs/etc, having abdominal/ventral wing-limbs plus four legs. Which just demonstrates that myth-making was done without much nod to comparative physiology where four limbs tends to be the template for most typical baseline-creatures not serpents (zero), insects (six) or arachnids (eight). Unless you pay attention to the likes of Plato or the Bible who had their own ideas.
The interesting thing here is what memetics were used. Birds were considered bipedal with wings, and humans bipeds with arms, rather than all being tetrapod with considerable longitudinal respecialisation. Though forelegs and hindlegs are still often quite different, in other creatures for weight-distribution purposes if nothing else... T-rex, kangaroo, etc.
And sea-creatures complicate it all only because most people don't get to see whole living fish the same as land-based creatures, and the limbs have evolved (or remained) as motive fins, flukes, etc, for all tetrapod-lineage creatures. (Side-note, Randall missed a trick, not putting the Shark segment in the right spot to justify a stereotypical protruding dorsal fin, like he had horns, beak, hooves, etc. Perhaps it overlapped too much so was refined down to just contrast pelts/skins instead.) Not to mention the octopodes and other rather more 'exotic' or archaic bodyplans that have survived and developed in (near-)suspension. 10:33, 3 August 2022 (UTC)

Agree on the shark ⧍ fin. 12:27, 3 August 2022 (UTC)