Can Werewolves Really Exist?
By Tony Tian Edited by Ivy Lo
Have you heard of werewolves? These mythical creatures are human during the day, just like you and me. However, on the night of a full moon, they morph into a scary wolf! In their nighttime forms, werewolves are still bipedal, meaning that they walk on two legs. Their typically dark gray mane glistens in the moonlight, and their other two legs, now powerful arms with sharp claws, allow them to hunt down their prey. What fearsome creatures!
But that’s not all – with the rise of the sun, the vicious werewolf instantly transforms right back into your average human being, just like nothing ever happened. Look to your left. Look to your right. Look all around. Is it possible for the people around you to secretly be werewolves? After all, during the day, werewolves look just like you and me!
“Of course not – werewolves are not real!” you might think. How can your skin instantly grow into dense fur? How can your face suddenly shift into the nose, jaw, and teeth of a wolf? Humans are not anything like wolves. The two simply look way too different for one to morph into the other. Plus, it's not like you suddenly drank a magical potion or chanted an ancient spell that gives you these powers: all it took was for a full moon to rise!
Don’t think you’ve solved the mystery just yet… consider the example of a butterfly! Do you know how butterflies came to be? Before they grew colorful wings, they were caterpillars – small, slow, green, and mushy. Nothing like the flying beauties we know as the butterfly.
Figure 1: Caterpillar to Butterfly!
To transform, caterpillars form a hard shell around themselves called a cocoon. Inside the cocoon, the magic of nature begins to happen: the protein (which is an important nutrient for many life forms, you included!) stored inside the body of the caterpillar rapidly forms the structure of antennae, eyes, and legs, and slowly a thin film stretches far and wide, completing their vibrant wings. Finally, the caterpillar —now butterfly— wrestles itself out of its cocoon, enjoying its newfound freedom of flight.
So if caterpillars look nothing like butterflies, but can transform into them, how can we know if someone is not secretly a werewolf? Why can the same processes that allow green wiggly worms to gloriously fly not change us into big fearsome furred beasts?
You may have heard the popular saying: don’t judge a book by its cover. To look at why butterflies are real but werewolves probably are not, we have to look at more than just the outside changes in appearance, but the shifts in what’s beneath. To begin, when we look at the inside of the caterpillar, we see all the materials required to create a butterfly. Most of this is protein, which is essential for the bodies of many forms of life – for example, you likely get your protein from fish, chicken, or eggs! However, hair or fur is mostly made of a very different material, keratin. This is a molecule that most humans do not have in great excess, and most of it is already in our hair. Therefore, it would be hard for us to suddenly grow out the fur of a wolf!
To add on, unlike caterpillars, we humans have a very rigid structure inside of us: our skeleton. Caterpillars are soft and deformable, like Play-Doh, whereas our bones are built to be strong and solid, like metal. You can probably play around with a cooked spaghetti noodle and make it any shape you like, but doing that with a pencil or spoon proves remarkably more challenging. Now imagine that on a way larger scale: how impossibly hard it would be for a human skull to transform into that of a wolf!
So, next time it's Halloween or you see a big round moon in the sky, don’t be scared of the fearsome werewolf! Know you can sleep safe and sound – if anything strange or magical were to disturb you, it's more than likely to be a caterpillar that recently morphed into a butterfly, exploring the wonderful world with its brand new wings.
1 Image taken from Fadel, Charles, Maya Bialik, Bernie Trilling, and Andreas Schleicher. Four-Dimensional Education: The Competencies Learners Need to Succeed. Boston, MA: Center for Curriculum Redesign, 2015.