I recently posted a brief rant about Gulliver's Travels on my other blog, and it reminded me of an unpublished nonfiction piece I wrote about the biomechanics of Lilliput. Here are a few things Dr. Lemuel Gulliver failed to notice while in that kingdom (or maybe he just forgot to put them in his book):
The Absence of Stairs
Lilliputians don't need staircases. They can simply jump from one floor to the next. Here's how: muscular strength is proportional to the cross-sectional area of the muscles, as is bone strength. Weight is proportional to the volume of the body. So strength is in the proportion of 1/N2, where N is the scaling factor, while weight is in the proportion of 1/N3. Divide strength by weight and you get a jumping height of N.
According to Gulliver the Lilliputians were 1/12 the height of Englishmen, so N=12. That means a Lilliputian is 1/144 as strong as Gulliver, but weighs 1/1728 as much. The Lilliputian can jump proportionately 12 times longer, but since he's 1/12 Gulliver's size it cancels out. Gulliver and the Lilliputian can jump the same height in actual inches. If we assume Gulliver can manage a 1-foot standing jump with little effort, then so can the Lilliputians -- and that means they can easily jump up to the second story of their homes!
Getting down is even easier -- just step out of a window. Terminal velocity for a Lilliputian is proportional to the square root of mass over area, which means a Lilliputian's maximum falling speed is about 56 miles per hour in air. However, a Lilliputian's greater strength-to-mass ratio should mean they can handle high-speed landings more easily. If the factor of 12 holds for landing speed, then for a Lilliputian, a fall of any height is roughly the equivalent of Gulliver dropping about a foot.
Of course, Lilliputians can also carry immense-looking burdens. A fairly burly adult Lilliputian weighs about 2 ounces. He can comfortably carry four times that!
The Immense And Frequent Meals
The Lilliputians need to be able to carry big loads because they're going to be moving a lot of supplies to feed themselves. If we assume their body temperature is comparable to Gulliver's, they've got only 1/1728 as much heat-producing body mass and 1/144 as much surface area -- in other words they're losing heat 12 times as fast! It's a good thing Lilliput is in a fairly warm part of the world. Still, the inhabitants probably dress warmly at all times, and keep fires burning even in summer.
Even so, they're going to need a lot of food. A Lilliputian needs about 13 food calories (kCal) per day. Even if they stick to high-energy foods they're going to need about six meals a day just to get around the limits of their tiny stomachs. No wonder the twin kingdoms of Lilliput and Blefuscu are constantly at war -- they're both desperate for enough food to support their people!
Lilliputian agriculture must focus on high-energy foods -- lots of nuts, lots of sugar, lots of meat and dairy products. I doubt Lilliputians consider leafy vegetables to be food at all, and would only eat grains and starches in the direst conditions. It also seems likely that Lilliput and Blefuscu rely heavily on seafood, especially if they can land "giant" normal-sized fish. A single mackerel would feed 150 Lilliputians!
This also means that feeding Gulliver wasn't quite as tremendous a task for the Lilliputians as it might seem. Sure, he's a giant, but he only eats as much as a hundred Lilliputians -- and he's happy with barely-edible stuff like bread and potatoes.
The Short Lives
There's a rule of thumb in biology that most creatures get about a billion heartbeats, and that an organism's heart rate scales with its linear dimensions. So unfortunately the Lilliputians can expect a lifespan of no more than eight years, with the average closer to five or six. Gulliver noticed that the Lilliputians used months as their standard measurement of time, but evidently he got confused about that when recording how long the Emperor of Lilliput had been on the throne.
Lilliputians are probably mature adults at the age of 1 year. They undoubtedly have a lot of children, especially since gestation is likely only 23 days (which is comparable to that of rats). Because of their sensitivity to cold, I expect most young Lilliputians are born in the warmer months of the year, and the adults use contraception or practice rigid abstinence during the winter. Gulliver doesn't mention it, but there may be a drop-off in sexual activity during cold weather.
Their short lives and large appetites may also explain some of the social phenomena described by Gulliver. To Lilliputians, short-term gain is all that matters. There really isn't much point in planning beyond the next winter. Their quarrelsomeness and pettiness are a rational response to their biology.