I'd like to create a land-based mammal that uses its electricity NOT for navigation or hunting, but only as a defense (enough to stun creatures approximately its own size or marginally larger, without killing them).

The proposed characteristics of my creature:

  • it is 2 feet in height (at the shoulder) and a faculative scavenger and small-creature predator (though it doesn't use its electrical discharge when hunting)
  • it discharges electricity with modified muscle tissue surrounding ONLY its back (similar to that of an electric catfish)
  • it directs the electricity to its hair which scrapes a bit of charge into static electricity: some of it sticks to the hair, some of it could shed into ionized air. When it discharges electricity, sparks and a crackling sound are produced.

Are there other important characteristics? Is there anything contradictory in what I've already proposed?

  • $\begingroup$ The some of it could shed into ionized air is impossible without a insulator skin or exoskeleton. The moment the air is ionized, it will go to discharge in whichever provider of the opposite charge. Even with an insulator skin, ionizing air is simply a loss of energy - at the best, a transient episode like that may be used as a warning. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 9:03
  • $\begingroup$ See also corona discharge - nothing to do with COVID-19. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 9:09
  • $\begingroup$ your big problem is unlike water air is a really good insulator so it will have to make contact with something to shock it. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 9:47
  • $\begingroup$ @John water is a very good insulator, too. It's the impurities in it (like salt) that conduct electricity. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 12:56

1 Answer 1


A bite is probably the best bet for a delivery system. Biting is close contact with a moist (possibly salty) conductor. It probably would be opportunistically an attack if the creature is a scavenger (few defences aren't also attacks and vice versa). A tail with a conductive boney spike could work as well. A scavenger would probably eat anything it disabled if it could, so not killing could be a problem. If there had to be a discharge, then a squirt of salt water might work - I've seen suggestions for stun-gun squirt guns. Most terrestrial animals hoard salt, so it would need a source to justify this (near the ocean, etc.)

  • $\begingroup$ Another possibility is the hair is really tiny sets of conductive (?)spikes and fibers that somehow launch from the skin like a real-world stun gun, or that are barbed and stick in an attacking animal and discharges through a tiny wire-like setup.Geobacter sulfurreducens has tiny versions of conductors, you'd need to scale up somehow. A laser can generate a conductive stream of ionized plasma in the air, but this seems a little improbable biologically. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Commented Apr 4, 2020 at 15:01

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