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On my conworld, I am developing a creature that is covered externally in taste buds. What would be the evolutionary advantages and disadvantages of having this adaptation?

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  • $\begingroup$ This isn't an answer but the key challenge I see with such a creature is over-stimulation. For one thing, do you really want to be covered in tastebuds when defecating? In a world where organics lead to a plethora of interesting (and unfortunate) smells, being able to cross-reference olfactory stimuli with vision and hearing seems like the right way to go. If evolution has proven anything it's that survival is normally the domain of the generalist, with multiple strategies for a given task, including sensing the environment. $\endgroup$ – Tim B II May 7 at 23:05
  • $\begingroup$ @TimBII The defacating part is ok... its not like they're eating it. also, they are an animal structured similarly to a wolf, so feces wouldn't make contact with skin otherwise inside the body anyway $\endgroup$ – Greenie E. - Reinstate Monica May 7 at 23:58
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    $\begingroup$ Your last comment seems to indicate using very human standards regarding defecation and disgust at it. Rabbits routinely eat their own feces for further digestion, as do wolves and dogs. I voted to close this as too broad. I'd like to keep this open if there's a way to constrain the question to make it answerable, however - considerable narrowing is required. $\endgroup$ – We are Monica. May 8 at 0:09
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    $\begingroup$ Disadvantage: sensory overload leading to a substantial reduction in individual taste bud sensitivity. $\endgroup$ – JBH May 8 at 15:52
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Taste buds and olfaction are essentially the same: detection of environmental chemicals at concentrations unlikely to be toxic.

Advantage 1: Directionality. It would be easy to determine a concentration gradient across your body and so identify the source of a chemical.

Advantage 2: Opportunity. This is a large sensory apparatus and so this redundancy improves the odds of detecting a very weak signal or one present only at one area of the body.

Advantage 3: Redundancy. If you are in a situation where you are likely to lose a body part or have it taken out of commission somehow, you will not lose the ability to smell / taste.

Disadvantage: Cost. This is usually the answer to "why not have more of X?". Sensory apparatus and the neural capacity to support it are energetically costly. I found this analysis for the energetic cost of vision for a fish (which has eyeless and eyed varieties).

The energetic cost of vision and the evolution of eyeless Mexican cavefish.

We show that the eyes and optic tectum represent significant metabolic costs in the eyed phenotype. The cost of vision was calculated to be 15% of resting metabolism for a 1-g fish, decreasing to 5% in an 8.5-g fish as relative eye and brain size declined during growth

You would want full body tastebuds in some environmental situation where one of the advantages gave you a caloric payoff at least enough to compensate for the energetic cost. Or a fitness payoff - energetically costly is fine if it gives you an edge at finding a mate.

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Chemosensing? Every advantage. Early warning predator system, find prey easily, signal and receive status of fellow organisms. It'd be like a dog's nose on steroids.

The real question is "Where would this likely evolve?"

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Advantages

Tracking - Just by touching the ground, you could follow someone.

Disadvantages

Walking into a public restroom

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  • $\begingroup$ The advantages make perfect sense, the disadvantages make none whatever. There is a wealth of information for the "Chemo-receptor detective" to Analise. $\endgroup$ – We are Monica. May 8 at 0:46
  • $\begingroup$ Well go lick the floor of a public restroom and get back to me on that..... $\endgroup$ – Thorne May 8 at 0:48
  • $\begingroup$ As a human - yuk, as an organism proposed by the OP, well, who knows frankly. BTW, you first. $\endgroup$ – We are Monica. May 8 at 0:50
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    $\begingroup$ My nose is six foot away from the floor and doesn't like it hence why I'm not licking it and thus it's a disadvantage.... $\endgroup$ – Thorne May 8 at 0:52
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    $\begingroup$ Y'ever seen Benton Frazer, the Canadian cop from "Due South", bizarre habit of licking things from the sidewalk. I'm not saying anyone else is a wimp, but. $\endgroup$ – We are Monica. May 8 at 0:56

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