19
$\begingroup$

This question is supposed to explain the phenomenon in fiction that I affectionately call the "clean death", where a dead monster disintegrates after being slain. Normally this would be explained by the monster being magical in nature but I am looking for a way to implement this in the actual biology of the creature. The reason for this self-destruct mechanism is to avoid experimentation or capture at the hand of humans. The matter of the creature doesn't disappear due to conservation of mass, but as long as there is nothing left to study that is acceptable.

How does a creature decay without leaving a trace?

$\endgroup$
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ The overwhelming majority of creatures on this Earth decay without leaving a trace. If you have ever walked in a forest you may have noticed the remarkable absence of the thousands upon thousands of remains of the creatures which had lived and died in said forest. Fossilization is an extremely rare event. How many humans and human ancestors have lived and died in Africa in the two million years since the emerge of Homo erectus? And how many fossils do we have? In a tropical forest a mid-size dead mammal will disappear completely and without a trace in a very short time. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jan 25 at 13:29
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ That's true. But this question is more about how to decay quickly to not leave traces behind. $\endgroup$ – user71341 Jan 25 at 13:31
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ That's not what the question asks... The questions asks, and I quote, "how does a creature decay without leaving a trace?" The answer is, the same way as almost all creatures do. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jan 25 at 13:32
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ "The reason for this self-destruct mechanism is to avoid experimentation or capture at the hand of humans" In other words this must happen quick enough to not give enough time for a researcher to take a sample. If you're being that literal I'll just edit the question. $\endgroup$ – user71341 Jan 25 at 13:35
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ One word answer: Thanos $\endgroup$ – Fabian Röling Jan 25 at 22:02
38
$\begingroup$

The monster is filled with tiny symbiotic parasites, which are themselves the larval form of a different creature. These creatures are usually benign and dormant, acting as a large scale immune system of sorts, picking less benign parasites out of the monster’s hide, digestive system and other bodily cavities. However when their host dies they immediately go into a beserk feeding frenzy, gorging and growing in size terrifyingly quickly. These ravenous larvae tear apart not only their host but any other creature unlucky enough to be within chomping distance before beginning a rapid metamorphosis into a tiny yet locust like adult phase.

The adult phase then swarms, feeds, breeds, disperses million of eggs on the breeze and dies. The eggs find new hosts and perpetuate the cycle. This symbiotic relationship evolved as a good way for the symbiotes to be sure of a high energy food source to fuel their breeding phase, while the monster benefited from improved health during the larval phase and having a ‘suicide bomb’ available to deter predators.

The side effect is, of course, that the larvae utterly demolish the monster upon death. Nothing is left at the end bar the husks of millions of symbiotes that have since transformed into a ravening swarm of death.

Oh, and the ravening swarm of death itself...

$\endgroup$
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Absolutely terrifying. I like this. $\endgroup$ – user71341 Jan 25 at 13:29
  • $\begingroup$ This is interesting, but the method of reproducing causes some hardships. Mainly, it sounds like you're suggesting these monsters have to breathe in the eggs the parasites dispersed on the breeze to get this immune system. I doubt this would be effective enough to get 100% of the monsters or cause a symbiotic relationship to evolve. It would be interesting to explore a symbiotic relationship similar to our own gut biome where the bacteria is passed during birth by the mother and the bacteria die soon after the host dies (instead of reproducing then). $\endgroup$ – c1moore Jan 27 at 2:23
  • $\begingroup$ @c1moore: Why not both? Or more, in fact? If we have transfer of the larvae from parent to child, transfer of eggs (if they hibernate like spores this gets even more effective) from air to adults (via breathing, skin contact, feeding, however) and internal release of self-fertilised eggs directly from the larval stage whenever the host has fed well: Then you get a solid immune system coupled with occasional bouts of frenzied sexual reproduction to spread symbiote genetic material from host to host. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Jan 27 at 7:49
  • $\begingroup$ @JoeBloggs That works, I like it. That would be similar to say probiotics for the human digestive system. I just assumed you were suggesting that the monsters had to breathe in the parasites. $\endgroup$ – c1moore Jan 27 at 23:52
  • $\begingroup$ @c1moore: originally I envisaged the eggs being more spore-like, able to get into the monsters a variety of ways and pretty much omnipresent in the environment. A multi-modal breeding pattern makes a lot more sense though. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Jan 28 at 7:45
8
$\begingroup$

Spontaneous combustion.

Spontaneous human combustion has been bandied about plenty. Wikipedia offers several explanations, one of the more plausible being the "wick effect" in which a fire starts, the intoxicated or disabled victim does not act, and the body eventually burns with extreme heat fueled by its own fat. More esoteric biochemical and mysterious explanations have also been advanced.

This is what happens with your creatures. They have a biochemically active feedforward loop which is checked in life with an enzymatic deadman's switch. On death the enzymes cease their hold and the feedforward loop intensifies, throwing off heat which ultimately causes the (generous) fat stores to ignite and then burn fiercely. The body is destroyed, bones and all except for possibly an odd protruding claw or horn.

If you are in the right place, you might have a minute or two to collect specimens as the carcass began to steam. Then get clear.

$\endgroup$
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ The body would rapidly become a steam bomb. For a while the skin will hold things together. Eventually (and in short order, I'd think) the pressure of the steam would overcome the resistance of the skin and the monster would rupture, spraying burning/steaming goo across the nearby vicinity. Or as the children's rhyme doesn't quite go, "POP! goes the monster!" :-) $\endgroup$ – Bob Jarvis - Reinstate Monica Jan 25 at 23:04
7
$\begingroup$

Oddly enough, living cells in multicellular organisms already have built in self-destruct mechanisms: lysosomes to destroy malfunctioning or unneeded organelles, a process called 'apoptosis' in which the cell effectively deconstructs itself... These are part of a body's normal defense mechanisms, in which cancerous and diseased cells destroy themselves to preserve the integrity of the body as a whole. All you would need to do is have that effect naturally or artificially enhanced, so that as cells (say) become oxygen-deprived (a reasonable sign of the organism's death) these mechanisms spin into high gear and break down the cell from the inside. This would be less like the traditional vampire trick of turning to ash, and more like the X-Files trope of aliens dissolving into green goo, but...

Of course, this would have side issues: e.g., tie a tourniquet too tightly around one of these creature's limbs, and the limb might spontaneously liquify below the bind. And it would help if these creatures lacked a true bony skeleton, because the calcium salts in bones are hard to break down quickly. But I suppose that could be managed with a special enzyme.

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

Any living organism already decays after death leaving nothing to study. It just takes years of decomposition to break down the corpse into elementary substances, like CO2, water, NH3 and so on.

If you have the decomposing bacteria act waaaay faster, you could achieve the same result in hours or minutes, though that might release a sensible amount of energy, resembling a combustion.

Alternatively, you can have the beast using some strong acid/basis as offense/defense mechanism, which is the released upon death, attacking the corpse.

Upon death it is normal that sphincters are released, imagine that instead of releasing urine or feces this one releases also a bladder full of nitric acid...

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ While the corrosive liquid concept certainly seems interesting, I'm uncertain how that would not leave behind the sac which normally contained said liquid. It still wouldn't be much to study, but the question did say "as long as there is nothing left". $\endgroup$ – Ed Grimm Jan 26 at 19:17
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If the inside of the sac is lined with mucus, said mucus being the actual mechanism by which it resists the acid in the first place, then, once the acid is outside, it could still plausibly eat away the "flesh" of the sac... leaving only the mucus. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Jan 27 at 15:43
0
$\begingroup$

I'm guessing you're looking for a "completely natural" mechanism here.

If you're willing to consider the equivalent of a "cyanide capsule", and you have a sentient species wishing to avoid capture, then anything that accelerates natural decomposition would work; even bones can disintegrate if you destroy enough of the framework holding them together at a microscopic level. Assume the aliens / monsters have a sufficiently fine-grained bone structure.

Otherwise, you'd be looking for something that could spontaneously "evolve" and I'm not entirely convinced that's plausible (though Joe's answer makes a lot of sense, I don't see how the symbiosis gets started -- a chicken and egg problem).

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

We have pretty conventional energy sources in mind here, right? If we had a silicate based lifeform, using radioactive materials as food- the death could result in a actual loss of mdoeration and a meltdown into nuclear lava which runs away into some pit to be cooled by groundwater.

$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy