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Note: this question is not a duplicate. The accepted answer to the question "Anatomically correct Medusa" explains the petrifying vision via calcifying toxins spat from the snake hair. This a) wouldn't work with a cockatrice, and b) spitting venom does not achieve the desired effect of petrifying vision in my opinion. The external anatomy made up a big part of that question, so the petrifying part wasn't needed to be really believable.

Many of you will know about tales of of the basilisk, gorgon and cockatrice, who can turn attackers to stone merely by looking at them.

It seems absurd, and probably is, but is there any conceivable way that an animal could transform other animals to a stiff, rigid state without any visible physical connection?

One of the obvious implications of this is: How does it not petrify everything it sees? Well, I came up with two theories for this,

  1. They have retractable membranes over their eyes which shield the world from petrifying until the animal desires otherwise,

  2. The petrifying organs are not actually the eyes, but are located somewhere on the front of the head. This would convince people that it petrified things by looking at them, without the consequences of such an arrangement.

But the most absurd and puzzling thing about this topic is "How does it actually petrify?" I came up with a few ideas here too. The main one is that it sprays colourless gas which, upon reaching the target, dramatically lowers the body temperature and freezes the quarry.

Would that work? Or is there some other method that could give the effect that an animal could turn people "stiff" just by looking at them?

Note: And I mean physically, actually rigid/stiff, so please don't answer "They were rooted to the spot with fear."

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    $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre A few seconds would be ideal. $\endgroup$ – SealBoi May 30 '18 at 20:48
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    $\begingroup$ is there any conceivable way that an animal could transform other animals to a stiff, rigid state without any visible physical connection? Men are susceptible to being placed in such a state through visual stimuli, often involving women. $\endgroup$ – Renan May 30 '18 at 21:36
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    $\begingroup$ Not anything on the part of the predator, but many prey species do ‘freeze solid’ when in danger. A predator that could tap that primal instinct might work. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs May 31 '18 at 6:42
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    $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate of Anatomically Correct Medusa $\endgroup$ – Sec SE - clear Monica's name May 31 '18 at 10:53
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    $\begingroup$ @Secespitus That answer was thought-provoking, though the petrifying vision works by spitting venom - which, in the case of this question, is not a satisfactory answer. $\endgroup$ – SealBoi May 31 '18 at 12:35
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Yes! Albeit, probably not on our world.

Google photopolymer. You've seen it in late night ads pretending to be superglue, but it's just a polymer that hardens quickly under UV light. The stuff that we use is manmade, but polymers are all over the place in nature, like silk, wool and cellulose.

I don't think anything like that has been found on Earth, but it isn't too hard to imagine another world where a staple food source (all sorts of leafy greens, for instance) contains some sort of polymer that hardens in the right type of light. Environmentally, there isn't enough of this light to cause a problem, but then there's a beast like the basilisk or the cockatrice running around.

They've got a muscle in the back of their eye that activates when they get stressed. It flips down a membrane that concentrates and reflects only UV light, and just enough to pass over that threshold. They don't walk around like this all the time, because they can't see when the membrane is down.

No one knows that this polymer is in their lettuce, it's just normal food. And nobody knows that UV light is the culprit because it's invisible. But when a startled cockatrice or a hungry basilisk stares at you, your body quickly goes rigid, and you soon die.

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This might seem like a cheat, but if the animal is capable of electric discharges at a distance, such as a unicorn, and if their electric organs are close to their eyes... People will think that it's the stare that causes paralysis, until science explains it.

A shock might cause muscles to lock in place, at least for a few moments. People hit by tazers may fall to the ground as stiff as a mannequin, depending on the current.


Tonic immobility is a thing in the animal kingdom. Different animals have different stimulli triggers for this. Crossing stares with a dangerous animal might be one. Notice that tonic immobility may be a reflex action - your body will go stiff independently from your central nervous system. You will be paralyzed milliseconds before you become afraid. In fact, this could pin down a sleepwalker in place, without the victim ever being frightened by, or even aware of the cockatrice.

All you need to have is your creatures evolve such a reflex in your fictional world. If the cockatrice will not cause (further) harm to immobile creatures, for example, such a reflex would be positively selected by nature. An animal that could easily kill a cockatrice might have this reflex as a vestige from an ancestors that would have been threatened by cockatrice-like creatures.

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You should narrow down what you want. The answer to "is there a way for a monster to turn any creature to stone/permanently petrified?" is probably "no" because the physics aren't very plausible, and if this creature is evolved, not magical, then other creatures will have evolved to counter any physics-based ability it has.

But if you narrow down what you want to happen in your story there are some options:

If you want there to be some kind of monster that is real, that inspired the legend of the basilisk, then you could go for temporary petrification. There could be a monster that kills things that don't hold still. Perhaps it doesn't want other animals on its territory, but doesn't recognize things as alive unless they move. The other animals that live near this monster have evolved to recognize it and feel an urgent visceral instinct to freeze perfectly still when the monster looks at them. So the petrification is actually an evolved behavior by the animals being petrified. They may stay holding still awhile after the monster looks away until they calm down and realize the threat has passed. A hunter who observes this interaction could re-tell the story without the benefit of evolutionary insight, and think the monster has the power to make things freeze. If he doesn't see the animal un-freeze (or takes the opportunity to kill it first) then he might think the freezing is permanent.

That could work as a 'real creature behind the legend' thing. If you want the power to work on humans, then perhaps humans have evolved the freezing instinct too?

If you don't want the freezing to be an evolved behavior, then another option is venom. Your monster could inject venom that causes all muscles to tense. This would cause something similar to the fencing response in its victims. If the effect lasted until rigor mortis set in, then the petrification would be permanent. How does the venom get injected by eye contact? I suggest that it doesn't. The creature injects the venom inconspicuously, like with tiny barbs that numb as they go in so you can't feel them. Why do people think the eye contact causes freezing? Because the monster stares into the victims eyes just as the poison is starting to work. To check the progress of the poison. Your eye muscles are the last to be affected by the venom. The monster looks into your eyes and waits until your eyes stop twitching and hold perfectly still. Then it knows you are totally immobilized and it is time to feed.

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It's a stretch, but it's not totally crazy to think that an animal could produce a light pattern of rapidly shifting colors that could trigger a very specific sort of seizure which presents as immobility. That could also be turned on and off at will, as the pattern of lights and colors would need to actually be happening to have any effect.

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    $\begingroup$ I've read somewhere that some deep sea bioluminescent creatures actually do that. $\endgroup$ – Renan May 31 '18 at 6:12
  • $\begingroup$ lots of animals use shifting color patterns to communicate (octopus are the obvious example), even humans have a blush response which is essentially the same thing only much more primitive so I think this idea is very valid. $\endgroup$ – Seserous Jun 9 '18 at 13:15
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You may be able to use a sort of epoxy spray. If the two part epoxy is contained within separate sacs within the cockatrice, it could be mixed within a third sac and sprayed onto a target. You may be able to keep it all in one sac if you can keep it from curing within the cockatrice. There are a few issues with this method. Epoxy can take quite a while to cure, depending on environmental conditions. Spraying in smaller drops may allow for curing faster, but then it is more subject to wind conditions. Additionally, you will need significant coverage to truly immobilize a creature. However, stiffening some limbs should be possible. If the target creature is a bird, a spray could greatly affect the usability of the feathered wings.

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Fossils

Fossils are petrified bones/tissues, sometimes even complete creatures. Your Gorgon shoots Tachions out of its eyes that concentrate the timespan of a few million years in an instant, causing the victim to be petrified on the spot (not sure where the mineral come from though)

metastable ice

I remember reading this in a sci-fi story. A metastable form of ice is found that solidifies at room temperature; it also has the ability to catalize its own formation from oher allotropes of ice or even water(much like a prion). So when the Gorgon sprays brine of this ice on the target, they quickly cristallize, frozen in place.

Bonus: The Gorgon shoots a mist with high concentration of THC on the target; "stoning" them right where they stand.

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