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I like to take inspiration for new fantasy creatures from my dreams, so I get some weird ideas sometimes. Last night I found this species. If milk gets on their skin, the creature looks as if it were burned or had acid put on it. Can an explanation be found in chemistry? Is there an element a creature could be made of that is highly reactive to a component of milk? This creature would not be carbon based. Is there any answer not involving food allergies?

"Milk is composed of approximately 87.3 percent water; 3.9 percent milk fats and fatty acids, such as butyric acid 4, caproic acid 6, caprylic acid 8, carpic acid 10 and myristic acid 14; and 8.8 percent nonfat solids, such as proteins, lactose and other immune factors. The minerals that make up 0.65 percent of milk are calcium, phophorus, magnesium, potassium, sodium, zinc, chlorine, iron and many others. Milk is also 0.18 percent acids, such as citric, formic, acetic, lactic and oxalic."

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    $\begingroup$ Water is a big component of milk, there are many things very reactive to water, it that within your remit? If not, I suggest that you be more specific about what you are looking for. Else, milk allergies might be worth thinking about. $\endgroup$ – Bitter dreggs. Sep 16 '19 at 22:02
  • $\begingroup$ You should look into milk and list all its components. Maybe your task will be easier once it's all laid out. $\endgroup$ – mike Sep 16 '19 at 22:21
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    $\begingroup$ @Measureofdespare. I urge you to write this up as an answer. Plenty of food allergies result in rashes or other skin issues when applied topically (or taken internally). Looking like you were burned with acid is something that happens in real life. Also check out Dermatitis herpetiformis. $\endgroup$ – Cyn says make Monica whole Sep 16 '19 at 23:16
  • $\begingroup$ @Cyn I'm about due for my sleep-cycle round about now, so since you get what I'm saying I leave it to you to write-up.. $\endgroup$ – Bitter dreggs. Sep 16 '19 at 23:33
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    $\begingroup$ We ask that people wait at least 1-2 full days before accepting an answer as best. This gives other people a chance to answer, which is of course what you want, several strong answers. Do upvote every answer you like. There's no time limit for accepting an answer and you'll always get your two points. Thanks! $\endgroup$ – Cyn says make Monica whole Sep 17 '19 at 1:34
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It's a food intolerance

Whether a true allergy (histamine mediated reaction using IgE, IgG, IgA, etc), a metabolic issue (lactose intolerance, celiac disease, etc), or a reaction without a known cause, food intolerance is fairly common in the modern world. Dairy is one of the Big 8 allergens in the US (with similar notations in other countries) and it's a common intolerance in nonallergic ways as well.

Skin issues are quite common with food intolerance. Usually they're from ingestion, but they can certainly come from topical exposures (called Contact Dermatitis). Skin reactions come in endless variety (it's not all hives) and some definitely look like acid burns.

enter image description here

Some allergies are extremely common. Take poison ivy (and oak and sumac). The skin reactions may look like a chemical burn but they're actually a true allergy. One that 80-90% of the human population has.

enter image description here
This is from contact with poison ivy.

Allergies and other intolerances can be genetic (to a degree...one generally doesn't inherit the individual allergy, just the propensity). And poison ivy shows us that some allergens can be almost universal.

Make your fantasy race near universally allergic to casein, or another component of dairy. Have it manifest like poison ivy.

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    $\begingroup$ That could work. Perhaps this species's homeworld has some harmful bacteria or something with casein in it and that's why their bodies react this way. $\endgroup$ – Chickenpeep Chickenpeep Sep 17 '19 at 1:20
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    $\begingroup$ @ChickenpeepChickenpeep Or it could be totally random like poison ivy is for humans (at least as far as I know). $\endgroup$ – Cyn says make Monica whole Sep 17 '19 at 1:23
  • $\begingroup$ How fast does this reaction happen? $\endgroup$ – Chickenpeep Chickenpeep Sep 17 '19 at 19:42
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    $\begingroup$ @ChickenpeepChickenpeep It can vary a lot. It also may start right away and get worse over time. IgE reactions start within 15-20 mins, sometimes quicker. But you don't always notice the symptoms that fast. Ignore stupid TV and movies that show characters eating something they're allergic to then feeling their throats swell in 60 seconds and are dead in another 60. Doesn't work that way. For contact dermatitis, you could indeed start to feel it right away and get a (faint) rash within a minute, worsening over the course of 10-20 mins. Or it could be delayed even a day or two. Dealer's choice. $\endgroup$ – Cyn says make Monica whole Sep 17 '19 at 23:39
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They might have an apoptotic reaction to myristic aldehyde, which is produced by reduction of myristic acid. The reaction would not be immediate except in the lungs.

However, this means that milk (and also several plants such as, obviously, nutmeg) are a (potentially lethal) vesicant to this creature. Inhaling a few drops of milk might be enough to kill in a particularly horrible way (you can google for "hyprite").

Basically, the creature's DNA-analog engine gets locked by tetradecanoic compounds, similar to what mustard gas and nitrated mustards do to humans. Cells stop reproducing and die.

Given the ubiquity of most milk components, though, I feel that you need some explanation as to how such a creature might have evolved with no defenses against such components. Also, the same components are produced normally by biological processes, so the creature ought to be somehow "alien" to the biology of the milk-producing creatures.

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For your non-carbon-based life, there might be a simple chemical reaction occurring. The largest fraction of milk is water, and there are a fairly large class of elements and compounds that react with water.

Alkali metals (lithium, potassium, sodium, etc.) are violently reactive with water, self-igniting from the released energy. Alkaline earth elements (calcium is the most common) will perform the same trick (separating water into oxygen and hydrogen) slowly enough not to ignite the hydrogen, never mind themselves, and unlike the lighter alkali metals, don't float in water. Most other metals to the left of iron in the periodic table are reactive enough to slowly form hydrogen bubbles when immersed in water, though it's far less noticeable with most of them than those in the first column to the right of the alkali metals -- but even these will often burn underwater if once ignited (yes, that includes aluminum, not just magnesium and titanium).

Beyond these highly reactive elements (which are mostly this way in pure form, rather than as common compounds), there are a number of compounds that are highly reactive with water. Calcium oxide, for instance, is commonly known as "quicklime" -- in contact with water, it release a large amount of heat as it reacts to form calcium hydroxide ("slaked lime"). Calcium carbide is even more "fun" -- it also reacts with water to form calcium hydroxide, but in the process releases acetylene gas (high flammable and very stinky). Most metal carbides actually have this reaction, but few of them do it fast enough to be useful (calcium carbide used to be used as fuel in carriage, locomotive, and automobile headlights before electric systems were common in transportation).

So in the end, there are a lot of chemicals of various kinds that can react, vigorously to violently, with a major component of milk. Not sure any of them are something that might occur in the skin of an alternative-chemistry life form, but it's your story...

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  • $\begingroup$ What would be a good replacement liquid for a creature made of one of these elements? $\endgroup$ – Chickenpeep Chickenpeep Sep 17 '19 at 18:12
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    $\begingroup$ @ChickenpeepChickenpeep That would be a good additional question for the Stack, but it's worth noting that they don't have to be "made of" one of these substances, just deposit a significant amount of it in their skin. $\endgroup$ – Zeiss Ikon Sep 17 '19 at 18:16

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