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In my book series, there are basilisks that can kill people with their gaze.

However, I want this to be explained scientifically instead of having to use a "because magic" cop-out.

What kind of at least pseudo-scientific excuse could I use to justify people being killed just because they looked a basilisk in the eye?

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    $\begingroup$ Photosensitive epilepsy could work if you're fine with the basilisk gaze only working on a fraction of people. $\endgroup$
    – Halfthawed
    Mar 15, 2020 at 2:22
  • $\begingroup$ Also, possibly a duplicate: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/113648/… $\endgroup$
    – Halfthawed
    Mar 15, 2020 at 2:23
  • $\begingroup$ That one seems to be more about petrification than death, though. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Mar 15, 2020 at 2:48
  • $\begingroup$ maybe the basilisk can spew laser through their eyes ? at least biologically that possible base of the answer i get. $\endgroup$
    – Li Jun
    Mar 15, 2020 at 6:39
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    $\begingroup$ Does this answer your question? Is petrifying vision plausible in an animal? $\endgroup$
    – The Daleks
    Apr 11, 2020 at 19:15

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Basilisks have irises in their eyes covered in camouflage cells like the ones in octopuses. Basilisks can make their eyes change colour in patterns that provoke nervous system overload to those who stare into eyes of the basilisk. So, basilisk victims have epileptic-like seizures, but instead of shaking, it induces Tonic immobility like L.Dutch said, and victims are perceived paralysed, even becoming petrified and breathless with all muscles blocked.

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Following from the Basilisk petrification query, perhaps it's not actually the eyes per se that do the killing? Maybe your basilisks have some other kind of terminal mechanism in their arsenal?

Pliny says that basilisks are small and can kill shrubberies and split rocks and that only the weasel is impervious to their venom. (Smithsonian) Others have depicted the creature as being rather larger; some are serpentine, some are birdlike, one depiction looks like a ten legged chicken-snake. But anyway...on to death!

Perhaps the basilisks in your world can sing a deadly song of infrasound. According to that article, infrasound can cause, among several cacatorially amusing symptoms, rather more severe symptoms such as organ rupture and death.

I'd suggest your basilisks, apart from being immune to their own infrasound capabilities, are able to home in on the resonant frequency at which its victim will react, and then ramp up the wattage until the power of the sound itself causes its victim to collapse into a heap of disintegral ooze. The powerful infrasound of the basilisk simply shakes them to pieces, in a sense. Because the sound must be focused, it simply appears to onlookers & survivors that the basilisk is staring them to death.

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    $\begingroup$ Cacatorial. I am stealing that word. $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Mar 15, 2020 at 10:20
  • $\begingroup$ a deadly song of infrasound. ... and then ramp up the wattage Pseudo-science all right. To ramp up the power, one requires a resonant frequency. The best use of space to make one is a tube closed to one end and open to the other - this way the length of the resonant tube is lambda/4. With a speed of sound in air of 343m/s, at a 12Hz (say, bang in the middle of infrasound range), you organ producing sound which can ramp up the wattage would need to be a wee over 7m. $\endgroup$ Mar 15, 2020 at 10:40
  • $\begingroup$ @AdrianColomitchi Helmholtz resonator can just be a cavity with tuned port. $\endgroup$ Mar 15, 2020 at 15:04
  • $\begingroup$ @BLT-Bub you suggesting that looking into the eyes of basilisks put helmholtz resonators atuned for infrasound into the ears of the watcher? Or that somehow spherical resonators are immune to the speed of sound or wavelength considerations? (hint: the last formula in here gives for the diameter of a sphere with a 0.01diameter opening tuned for 12Hz a value of about 15m) $\endgroup$ Mar 16, 2020 at 1:21
  • $\begingroup$ No. Yes, because it's about air density and elasticity in the resonator cavity and the mass of air in the throat of the resonator (speed of sound also depends on this though) (Hint: see the last formula on the page I linked). Large crocodillians manage 10Hz with a combined throat and lung length of less than 2 meters. I would never suggest you stick one in your ear. @AdrianColomitchi $\endgroup$ Mar 16, 2020 at 13:56
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The basilisk might induce a sort of unconscious tonic immobility

Tonic immobility (TI) is a behaviour in which some animals become apparently temporarily paralysed and unresponsive to external stimuli. In most cases this occurs in response to an extreme threat such as being captured by a (perceived) predator. However, in sharks exhibiting the behaviour, some scientists relate it to mating, arguing that biting by the male immobilizes the female and thus facilitates mating.

Real TI is somehow conscious, in the case of the basilisk, being unconsciously triggered results in a deep paralysis, involving also involuntary muscles like those involved in breathing, leading thus to death by suffocation.

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Charles Stross described one possible scientific explanation in his short story The Concrete Jungle, and various of his Laundry Files novels after that.

Actually, it'd be worth reading it just to appreciate the way he pointedly glosses over the exact mechanism with (paraphrased) "we've learned the circumstances required to produce this effect, we can reproduce it at will, and we know that it involves some interesting goings-on at the quantum level. However, we still haven't figured out exactly what goes on at the quantum level."

This is a perfectly valid scientific take on something, it fits in the context of the story (and the wider set of stories) and ultimately, it doesn't really matter that the underlying mechanism isn't (yet) understood.

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Your basilisk would need to be able to spit poison like this: when the basilisk contracts it's venom gland, it squeezes a small amount out at high pressure. The venom hits the floor of the fang hole, bounces upward and out. So when the basilisk stares straight at the victim, to calculate were to aim, it spits its poison at the eyes, killing the victim. I would suggest your basilisk be immune to their own venom, and make the best way to kill it is to smack it's head with a thick mirror, because it's head is fragile like a snake.

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  • $\begingroup$ This response is something of a what the basilisk could do. There's no explanation here: you need to address the how. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Dec 14, 2020 at 20:56
  • $\begingroup$ @elemtilas not only that but this makes practically no sense $\endgroup$
    – Topcode
    Dec 14, 2020 at 21:25

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