So I was asked recently if I could do a werewolf fact on “werewolf biology,” so here we go.
Where to start? Firstly, let’s try to define what exactly I’m going to talk about when I say werewolf “biology.” I’m going to refer to things like what their biology is in werewolf form and if that differs while they’re in human form, and how it might change between the two.
Is there any folkloric basis for an exploration of this content?
Why? No one cared or thought about it. They’re people who turn into wolves or human-wolf hybrids. It’s magic.
But in this day and age, we live in a world where everyone wants to try to rationalize everything, even people turning into monsters. So let’s have a go at it.
Let’s touch upon the most important part: the transformation itself.
So this ties closely into the post I already wrote on werewolf transformation, in which I touch upon a lot of ideas behind certain transformation sequences and how they don’t make sense.
However, how does the actual biology work?
Well, if we get into it, humans and wolves have at least relatively similar anatomical makeup: firstly, we’re both mammals. Secondly, in terms of a humanoid werewolf (or even a transformation into full wolf), the organs don’t have to rearrange that dramatically – or, in some cases, at all. If you have a humanoid-ish werewolf walking upright, do the organs have to rearrange at all? Would they? Not really, no. The werewolf still has a torso that looks like a human’s. What’s the big deal?
And if werewolf transformations didn’t already require you to believe a human can turn into a wolf or a human-wolf hybrid, I also feel the need to mention that the biology itself wouldn’t change that too terribly much between forms. It wouldn’t MURDER someone to transform into a werewolf.
And if it did, wow, what a werewolf story. The werewolf transforms, the drama is finally here!… Oh wait, they died during the transformation. Jeez.
Pet peeve. Sorry.
Anyway, getting back on track, werewolf biology isn’t that different from a human’s. And when they turn into a wolf, it isn’t all that different from a wolf. Why? Because they’re a werewolf. The term literally means “man-wolf.” So… that’s what they are, and that’s what their biology is.
Now there are little specifics you can get into if you want. Like, does a werewolf who turns into a wolf become susceptible to the same things as a wolf, like certain poisons (most of which, I might add, ordinary humans are also susceptible to)?
This would alter their biology, potentially. How can we rationalize it? Faster metabolism, because they need more energy all the time for these transformations? Makes sense. Also goes with werewolves being hungry 90% of the time.
So are werewolves are basically wolves (or domesticated dogs, depending on what story you’re looking at…) in a human shape? Absolutely not.
This brings me to the point where I have to say that I know of certain things – namely a certain book, which I won’t name – that try to rationalize werewolf biology to the point of driving itself into absolute ridiculousness. The werewolves can’t transform without almost dying, and they often do die. Why? How? What about turning into an animal is so traumatic that it’d cause this? A few shifting organs and bones? Nothing has to break and be completely reassembled to turn into any variation of werewolf. You aren’t turning into an insect and undergoing some hyper-dramatic change into another completely different form of life. Things only have to shift and, often, grow.
At this point, I’m mostly just rambling. I think you get the idea.
Werewolf biology is up to the creator of the werewolf lore. In folklore, it is all very simple: werewolves are magical and magic – be it a curse or a blessing – allows them to assume the form of a wolf or a human-wolf hybrid. It wasn’t any more complicated than that (and honestly it doesn’t really need to be).
I always just hope that the creator of a werewolf in whatever setting would use some logic about deciding things, like the traditional werewolf hunger being rationalized as their bodies require more fuel to undergo these transformations, all that regenerating they can do, etc. But werewolves usually dying whenever they transform? That doesn’t even… it doesn’t even. And some settings have a werewolf actually get weaker when they transform or are even infected at all, which doesn’t fly with me, either.
Ultimately, no matter whose newfangled werewolf biology lore you’re going by, the bottom line to remember is this: werewolves are human-wolf hybrids, but they are not completely human and they are not completely wolf, because their unique abilities separate them from either.