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Suppose that due to some kind of magical force I'll leave handwaved, (non-sapient) organisms are able to practice necromancy, reanimating their fallen peers as undead bodyguards.

However, the magic lasts only a limited amount of time, let's say a few hours, so they have to perform the resurrection only in the hour of need. The reanimated organism has full sentience and capacity for movement; however, they will be in whatever condition the cadaver was at the time of the necromancy.

This might eventually lead for a selection pressure for organisms which were in better condition well after death; an organism which was somehow adapted to decompose less (As for why this would benefit their genes, assume the organisms who resurrect them are close relatives and thus they still protect their own genes, like eusociality).

What evolutionary changes might occur which would make a species' dead body more resistant to decomposition?

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  • $\begingroup$ programmed-aging.org/theories/medawar_hypothesis.html $\endgroup$ – Giu Piete Mar 15 at 18:21
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    $\begingroup$ That is to say that you can't count on evolutionary selection pressures to provide what you want based on ..what you want, there would need to be another causal relation at play. What are the basic requirements for mobility/utility of a cadaver with your magic system? Does everything need to be intact, the whole metabolic system? That would seem kinda impossible, chemical changes are fast. like. you get an impact from every breath within a minute. But that isn't to say some other(as I say) causal relationship couldn't result in a species very unlike humans..umm.. $\endgroup$ – Giu Piete Mar 15 at 18:27
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    $\begingroup$ Whenever it comes to an evolutionary change question, the first thing that should pop into your mind is, "what's the ancient advantage to the species?" Not an advantage to us today (and certainly not the use you're planning in your story), but 200,000+ years ago, what would be the advantage? Off hand, I can't think of one. If we knew a legitimate advantage, we could work out a mechanism. $\endgroup$ – JBH Mar 15 at 18:28
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    $\begingroup$ Must we use an evolutionary solution? Why don't the techniques for embalming solve your problem? $\endgroup$ – JBH Mar 15 at 18:30
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH - nonsentients probably don't embalm their dead. But they could. $\endgroup$ – Willk Mar 15 at 21:38
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Nest defense.

Organisms living in a nest are usually related. It makes it easier to have this happen in a nest scenario.

I once watched a solitary bee travel back and forth from a rue plant*, cutting away pieces of leaf which it carried off, presumably for a nest. Rue would be great for discouraging nest parasites. In this similar nest scenario, cadavers are piled with aromatic herb and tree leaves as well as mineral bits, discouraging decomposers and dessicating the body. Cadavers are accumulated and kept handy at the nest entrance to be reanimated and used as disposable shock troops.

Additionally, cadaver storage can be at sites set away from the main living area and not frequented by live individuals. Things sometimes die for a reason and the reason might be infectious.


side note - the rue plant had gone to seed and was senescing, so the leaves had started to dry out. The bee only visited this dying plant. I suspect the dry leaves have all the active chemicals but do not bring excess moisture into the nest. So too the creatures here - leaves will be dried to some extent first.

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    $\begingroup$ JBH in a comment above asked about ancient advantage, I could see delayed decomposition as useful in your nest scenario, to minimize/avoid scents from the corpse that draw attention to the nest (if for some reason it can't be dragged off immediately and other adaptions or disposals can't work). In that case, the earliest use of decomposition resistance would only be to delay as much as possible until the body can be carried far enough away from the nest, only later would the reanimating thing come into play and then behavioral preservation like herbs, etc become really advantageous. $\endgroup$ – Megha Mar 17 at 6:19
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What evolutionary changes might occur which would make a species' dead body more resistant to decomposition?

None.

A body that does not decompose is a block of material that does not make it back into the cycle of life. For all practical purposes, they've become inert rock. That is not good to the ecossystem as a whole as is also the reason why every lifeform decays relatively fast after croaking.

In any case your necrocreatures will benefit from lower temperatures and environments with low umidity and/or high salinity. These conditions cause microbe-driven decomposition to happen slower. If they can live on the Antarctic like some penguins do, their corpses may stay in good shape for a really long time.

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  • $\begingroup$ why would its effects on the ecosystem matter? $\endgroup$ – John Mar 15 at 22:58
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    $\begingroup$ @John because harming the ecossystem you live in is usually a deletary trait. $\endgroup$ – Renan Mar 16 at 0:35
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You want super skeletons

As the comments have mentioned there is always a lack of logic to real anatomically logical zombies. A body is either alive, able to move, or a body is dead, and at a microscopic level very quickly becomes useless.

This means magic is involved. Now that we have magic we don't need much else. We can just take the soul of the fallen ancestor, bind it to a body and it will move in whatever state it may be in, as the force that moves it is magic, not biology. The brain becomes useless the fastest, so the soul driving it has to exist outside the brain.

This means that we only need to preserve the part of the body that is useful to us. Muscle is long gone, it's useless without a metabolic system, so we just need bone and maybe tendons. So I would imagine that these creatures would have huge body bodies. The descendants would collect these bones upon death keeping them safe from scavengers, and bury them shallow underground. When the time is right the soul would be returned to the bones, animating these ancient defenders. They are tough, they are hard to hurt, they don't feel pain, and even breaking some bones does not slow them down. Sound like the perfect defenders.

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  • $\begingroup$ 'solid state' skeletons are mechanically feasible, there's no innate requirements for active chemistry, so to speak. That goes both for removing hematopoeisis to another organ & to the fusion of skeletal components with flexible material as a prime case, as opposed to only in the case of 'disease' conditions in humans.. Still leaves the issue of kinesis, but..magic =) $\endgroup$ – Giu Piete Mar 15 at 20:45
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It doesn't matter. rot is nothing compared to wear and tear

decomposition is nothing compared to the damage organisms will do just by moving around, muscles will disintegrate in weeks and bones will wear down to nubs in months and shatter in years. Your creatures will slowly disintegrate just through wear and tear. Any resistance to rot they have only buys them days at most.

Worse if they need muscles to move they will become useless in days, muscles tear constantly, so keeping them from rotting is more or less pointless.

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