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This one’s a bit of a stretch, so bear with me. The classic monster in table top games and video games alike: a monster that can imitate the shape of things (mostly treasure chests) to lure in people to eat.

For those who are unfamiliar with mimics, their classic natural form is an opaque brown amoeba that secrets a super-glue like substance. In feet (hah), it's 5 by 5 by 6... which makes treasure chests convenient for them to imitate, since they're of similar dimensions. When adventurers approach the "treasure chest," the mimic reaches out with a gluey pseudopod and grapples the adventurer, eventually consuming their victim.

So, is it possible for these to exist?

enter image description here

https://roll20.net/compendium/dnd5e/Mimic#content

https://www.dandwiki.com/wiki/5e_SRD:Mimic

https://www.dandwiki.com/wiki/Mimic_(5e_Race)

There's and entire genre of monsters like this in D&D. The following video is a great intro to them.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yz4M3Vqbt7U

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  • $\begingroup$ I think this is too broad: please narrow this down to something a little more specific, i.e., perhaps one body system or how the mimickry works? $\endgroup$ – FoxElemental Jun 8 '18 at 0:53
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    $\begingroup$ the manga Delicious in Dungeon has a great spin on mimics they are giant terrestrial hermit crabs that switch to bigger and bigger objects as they grow. In dungeons they often use furniture like chests or cabinets they are ambush predators. $\endgroup$ – John Jun 8 '18 at 1:06
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for posting this question! If you have not already done so, please read about the Anatomically Correct series of questions and include this on the list of questions. Thanks! $\endgroup$ – JBH Jun 8 '18 at 1:44
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    $\begingroup$ @FoxElemental "anatomically correct" series is quite different. Community consensus is that it is OK to use it ask how to make specific creature happen, as long as creature is well defined. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Jun 8 '18 at 6:05
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    $\begingroup$ FoxElemental is correct: the original question was specifically about D&D-type mimics, but only mentioned them in passing. I edited the answer as per FoxElemental's request. $\endgroup$ – KernelOfChaos Jun 8 '18 at 23:14
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In theory it could evolve... however, it would take a long long time.

It's possible that a somewhat chest shaped (but not looking creature) hiding in a darkened room could be mistaken at first glance by a human, and this trait is what evolution picked to continue forward and over a few thousand years those traits continued to succeed. Thus it became more chest looking, but it would still probably only work in a darkish room, where the mistaken identity would be easier.

But there are a few other options:

Does it have to be natural?

If magic was the answer then this would be easy, but even without magic, selective breeding can yield the required results a lot lot faster than conventional evolution. Maybe some organisation wanted a treasure guard, and so over a hundred or few hundred years selectively bred a creature to look more and more like a treasure chest. This has been done with racing pigeons a long time ago I admit, but a pigeon breeder (can't find the article now) over a hundred years ago said he could give you a new breed of pigeons in 25 years.

Now these would still be pigeons, but they would look different enough to be classed as a new breed, same thing here. But it is only so quick with pigeons because they have such a fast reproductive cycle.

You need the organisation to want to create this crature and to spend the time selecting the correct traits to breed them and hope that those traits as passed down. And then once they look close enough, breed the aggression into them...

Does the chest have to be alive?

It's a stretch from you original concept but have you considered creatures such as hermit crabs? They find existing items and turn them into their homes, they'll find suitable sized shells that are naturally around the world and then get inside and walk around. It has been documented on a few occasions that they will climb inside empty food cans. It's possible that another creature could have evolved that needed the space of a treasure chest, i know this is not exactly the same thing as the chest itself actually being a live creature, but it's a possible workaround...

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for the interesting workaround take. That seems much more plausible than a true mimic, and mimic lore can be a result of panicked accounting from someone who escaped (until one is captured and studied). $\endgroup$ – GOATNine Jun 8 '18 at 18:32
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Octopuses shape shift, and could squeeze into a form resembling a chest. Chameleons and octopuses control their coloring. Make them intelligent enough to identify human-crafted objects and imitate them.

An issue you'll face is its hard to walk around without solid bones. So your creature doesn't move a lot. It evolved by imitating fruit trees that different animals were drawn too. It can also likely emit scents. It camouflages itself like a rock, and striking like an alligator when a foolish deer comes too close.

As a result of humans hunting to kill it and trying to in turn prey on humans, it grew intelligent enough to notice human-crafted items such as chests and imitate those. It grabs nearby sticks to prop itself up to a square-like shape. The idea that a competent adventurer knows these exist, sees one, and doesn't realize is a bit of a stretch, but should pass in a book as long as the creature doesn't use the same shape every time. In reality, it would probably imitate rocks, or cover itself in leaves and mud instead.

As for the glue, that's easy. Spiders create glue. Your beast could easily make a gluey saliva, or one with neuro-toxins as well, and spit it on its prey.

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Mimicking something harmless or even mimicking something desireable to the prey item, or even mimicking the prey item itself are all tactics used by various specialized predators in nature. Could an organism evolve to look like something we would be attracted to in order to eat humans? Its not impossible, just very very unlikley.

For a creature to evolve specifically to fool humans by disguising itself as furniture would imply that it had spent millions of years lurking within human settlements evolving along side us. It might make for a fantastical fantasy device, but I just cant see any plausible scientific explanations for a creature that looks like a manufactured human item. I can see stuff like an inviting pool that is really a colony of neurotoxic ameoba functioning like a super-organism or something. I just cant figure out how to explain something that looks enough like a wardrobe or a chest or something to fool a human.

The only semi-plausible way I could explain such a thing without a lot of hand waving and "magic" would be a nanite swarm, but now were talking robotics instead of anatomy.

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    $\begingroup$ TCAT117. Actually, humans can influence in the evolution of the shapes the animals have. For example, the Heike crabs. When the humans got these crabs, the more the crab resembled a human face, the more disgusting was for the fishers to eat it. So it was returned to the sea, and so it was an evolutive advantage for them to look more and more like a human face on each generation. Details here: youtube.com/watch?v=dIeYPHCJ1B8 $\endgroup$ – Carlos Zamora Jun 8 '18 at 17:46
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I don't see the amoeba part working in real life. I could see the mimic evolving out of an alligator snapping turtle or an oyster...

...or maybe a plant. It would use bark to imitate the wood of the chest, and could snap and secrete a gluey substance like a Venus flytrap.

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    $\begingroup$ This looks like a comment on TCAT answer more than a stand alone answer. I've read this first, just after reading the question, and it made no sense. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Jun 8 '18 at 6:09
  • $\begingroup$ That's because I spent most of my material editing the question. I was just left with random ideas from having found the links and picture. $\endgroup$ – KernelOfChaos Jun 8 '18 at 23:15
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They don't mimic, they appropriate.

the manga Delicious in Dungeon has a great take on mimics. They are basically giant terrestrial hermit crabs, they appropriate larger and larger objects to hide in as they age. in dungeons or cities large ones often use furniture like chests or cabinets. They are ambush predators waiting until darkness or something disturbs the to move. They always match the environment because they use things from the environment.

Honestly the series is a great take on how to make dungeons and monsters functional and plausible.

You don't have to use hermit crabs but a similar behavior where the creature uses existing furniture as a shell the same way hermit crabs do will be the most believable way to have them look like different man made objects. WHat the exact anatomy of the creature is is more open and depends on how you want them to attack, long tentacles and a sharp beak for biting could come from some kind of terrestrial mollusk a "hermit octopus", or something like an "Hermit Otyugh" might work even better.

enter image description here

more mimics

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