In my fantasy world, wraiths are a species of shell-less, regressed crustaceans. They lay their eggs inside animal skulls, using them as shells. The wraiths' bodies are incredibly weak and they cannot move on their own. To be able to find food and defend themselves, they develop a vast number single-celled organisms. These cells are covered in a crystalline shell, with eight feather-like wings sprouting out of various holes. When simply flying around, they form a dense blue cloud around the wraith. However, when they join their wings together, they can form a solid body, expanding and contracting like a muscle. To receive nutrients, the cells are rhythmically vented through a special pouch in the wraith's body, which secretes sugars, fats, and proteins, filtered from the wraith's diet.

My question is, how can the wraith's main body control a swarm of completely disconnected cells? Since they are separate from the body, the wraith can't control them with nerve impulses. It needs a different method.

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    $\begingroup$ Would pheromones or an electromagnetic field fit your world? Because there are probably room to expand on those as a crowd controlling force. $\endgroup$
    – Dale Gusta
    Dec 17, 2019 at 17:20
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    $\begingroup$ Shell-less creatures with cells covered in crystalline shells. What does that mean? $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Dec 17, 2019 at 17:23
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    $\begingroup$ I believe it meant that the main body is a blob-creature, surrounded by a swarm of small organisms who are the ones with shells. $\endgroup$
    – Dale Gusta
    Dec 17, 2019 at 17:29

2 Answers 2


Sensors and Broadcasting

The gist of it is to design flyers to be both sensors and broadcasters, and the Wraith to act as the command center.

The flyers themselves would probably need an array of sensory organs, such as sight, smell, and hearing, which they could transmit back to the Wraith through the same broadcasting mechanisms. This broadcasting mechanism could act in one of two ways: by pheromone signals and 'sound packets'.


Wraiths could use pheromones to communicate with the tiny creatures by releasing certain pheromones for different commands; similar to how we can smell fear.

As mentioned by @awsirkis, if the flyers are truly single-celled organisms, this could be done through a process called Quorum Sensing instead, but I will continue to refer to it as pheromonal transmission.

As to how it does this, the Wraith can function like a command centre. The small flying creatures, upon entering the Wraith, can bring back valuable sensory information (eg sight, smell, sounds) as they recharge nutrients, as long as they are equipped with small sensory organs.

Relying on this sensory information, the Wraith can output detailed Pheromone instructions, which is carried by the returning flying creatures.

These creatures can then transmit the pheromones to nearby flying creatures, acting as broadcasters. The Wraith would thus be able to command the flyers to do complex tasks with different commands for flyers in different regions.

This would make make the Wraiths weak in an interesting area: smell. By making use of tactical stink bombs, and overloading the capability of the flyers to sense pheromone commands, the Wraith would become disoriented and unable to properly control the flyers. As mentioned by @zovits in the comments, this would also imply a weakness to windy areas, which could possibly limit the accuracy of the pheromonal transmission.

It might also have an issue of latency; commands may get disrupted due to smell itself lingering for far longer. This would mean that the Wraith would have slightly delayed reactions to circumstances.

Broadcasting with uniquely identifiable sounds

Another alternative is a similar system, but with 'sound packets'. The best parallel to our modern world is of the Wraith being like a wifi router, sending packets to the flyers, which are like phones/devices.

How the system would work: when each flyer is born, it gets a unique ‘sound id’, like a ‘name’. The 'sound packets' would consist of a front portion with the 'sound id', and the command itself. By receiving information like sensory info from sounds made by the flyers, and transmitting commands to the flyers as 'sound packets', the Wraith can command the legion of flyers either one by one, or as a region by grouping certain ‘names’ together.

The 'sound packets' will be heard and re-broadcasted by the flyers as needed, and the flyers can figure out if the 'sound packet' is for them by recognizing the 'sound id'. The sound waves themselves would probably be quite high-frequency, as this would allow for more waves in each sound packet, and being able to send out more commands in less time. It would also allow for an advantage of nearly-instant commands, as compared to pheromones.

This alternative also carries the weakness of being disrupted by sounds of similar frequencies, but a weakness can make the Wraith more interesting. The Wraith would have to spend extra effort to smother sound sources or knock away flashbangs, which could completely disorient their command structure.

Something interesting about using sounds to command a cluster of flyers means that the Wraith could potentially use the sound as a weapon; by inducing enough flyers to transmit sounds continuously, the target's inner organs can be damaged through the vibrations, or the target can be severely disoriented by thousands of ultrasonic signals sent through the flyers.

Once the target has been subdued, the Wraith can come close enough to the target to drain them of their essences, fitting with the image of the Wraith. (Due to the high-pitched sounds, you could even give the particularly powerful Wraiths the nickname of 'Banshee', as hearing their screams means the omen of death).

Both these ideas would make the Wraith like a murderous flying hive accompanied by either a unique orchestra of smells or a cacophony of buzzing.

Misc: the idea of unique 'sound ids' comes from the real-world communication protocol called Universal Datagram Protocol (UDP). This is used for connection over the internet, between devices. Essentially, packets consisting of an id and data contents are sent from one source to all connected devices, and they check the 'id' to see if it is for them before unwrapping it and using the contents.

  • $\begingroup$ that "sound id" is an eccelent idea. i'm accepting that as the answer. $\endgroup$
    – Cobbington
    Dec 17, 2019 at 21:26
  • $\begingroup$ @Cobbington yeah. It comes from the idea of UDP, or universal data protocol, where 'packets' are sent to all devices, with a unique "id", and the device listens in on the ID to see if it's a command for itself. This kind of protocol is considered very fast, and has relatively low overhead (waste of time sending information). I'll add this info to my answer as well. $\endgroup$
    – Enthu5ed
    Dec 17, 2019 at 21:29
  • $\begingroup$ What you're describing as "pheromones" sounds more like cell signaling to me biology.oer.hawaii.edu/biology171/chapter/… a signal is sent out to single-cell organisms (as in OPs question) to get them to do something $\endgroup$
    – awsirkis
    Dec 18, 2019 at 6:27
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    $\begingroup$ Note that the pheromone solution is weakened or completely disrupted by wind, which would mean the wraiths would prefer areas with as little wind as possible. $\endgroup$
    – zovits
    Dec 18, 2019 at 7:08
  • $\begingroup$ @awsirkis good point, I will revise my answer a little to match it. Thanks! $\endgroup$
    – Enthu5ed
    Dec 18, 2019 at 15:35

First of all, single celled organisms can't have working wings; the fluid dynamics of that scale won't allow it, besides the impossibility of directed flight without complex muscles and a skeleton. You can, however, have creatures too small to see. If this swarm has nervous systems, they can be controlled via pheromones, or react to danger on instinct. The Wraith would need to gestate thousands of drone eggs between laying a Wraith egg, but they would be easy to produce. From a hormonal perspective, the Wraith egg might start out as a drone egg and receive special nutrients, like a queen bee and her royal jelly.


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