How realistic are the Sandworms in Dune?

“How realistic are the sandworms in Dune?” I’ve heard lots of “why they couldn’t exist”, but half the fun of Sci-Fi is putting on our science hats and theorizing at least semi-plausible explanations for why we CAN have COOL THINGS.

First, size.

People keep saying “The Shai halud are around 40m wide and up to 400m long, or up to 4 godzillas?

But in the book, (page 292) Paul first spots a worm with a mouth 80m in diameter. Then, you know the scene where he RIDES a massive worm? It’s described as being “more than half a league long,” which would be over 2400 meters! Or 71 times the longest measured blue whale. TWENTY Godzillas. 190 tons. (pg. 342)

When you double the size of a creature, you multiply the weight by 8. But here it’s more like 4, because extra length is supported by the sand. Still, unlike our earthworms, these guys would need a real internal skeleton to support their weight- like a snake. But structural supports sag as they get longer, needing to be even thicker.

So, Biologist Sibylle Hechtel calculated that while humans are 18% bone, a small sandworm would need to be 40%. And the large ones would be totally unfeasible. But that’s only if their bones were made of mostly calcium, like ours!

What if the sand on Dune contained metals? And their bones were made of steel, or titanium? This paper says it’s biologically possible.

And Hechtel calculated that a sandworm would be able to exist with only 40% of its bodyweight as titanium bones. Maybe that would explain why they love eating those metal harvesters! But we’re not done!

What if, on Dune, the worms evolved to grow bones out of carbon nanotubes? These can be lighter, and have a tensile strength of up to 500 times that of bone! Which is why we’re researching using them in regenerative medicine. They would only make up 11% the total weight, and be 1/3d as thick!

Next up: how they eat and move, and how life even exists on Dune with no plants to produce oxygen.

Video 2


The problem with saying “these can’t exist” based on what we know about EARTH’s biology is that… Dune isn’t earth. Maybe there exists some form of silicon nanotube structure that we haven’t discovered yet that form most of the worm’s bones- more on why that would make sense in the next video!

Sources: The essay by Sibylle Hechtel was part of the fascinating book “The Science of Dune,” edited by Kevin R. Grazier, PhD (2007). I’d highly recommend it for all you true nerds!

Shoutout to @realscience on the tubes who’s got an amazing 10 minute video on this topic. (I modified a few of her images for use here) We have a few different conclusions, but she does an amazing job! Also, Ashley @modernday_eratosthenes is great! I just take a more optimistic view on thins 😉

#STEM #science #dune #dunemovie

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