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I have this idea for a world where the creatures, though they look organic externally, are actually mechanical in nature and when damaged reveal their mechanical innards, with pipes pumping coolant instead of veins pumping blood, the damage usually damaging the pipes and making them 'bleed' their coolant, and some sort of energy acquisition system as part of their bodies that necessitates the coolant being pumped.

They can reproduce by means of a small factory in 'female' units receiving slightly randomized transmitted blueprints of themselves from 'male' units that are compared with the female's blueprint and interlaced with the male's blueprints to allow evolution, and grow by means of structural/system stages that activate over time and extends limbs, decompacts/bulks-up the frame, dedicates more power to the limbs because their algorithm is obviously efficient in resource acquisition to have survived this long and make the 'adults' stronger than the 'young', etc, and eventually die on their own by means of the mechanical structures breaking down over time.

Due to these creatures being mechanical in nature, they can have abilities that are unlikely, if not impossible, for organic creatures to have, and is the primary reason for why the human-like machines in this world need to be rather clever in fighting things that can make electricity arc like a Tesla coil or can lift boulders and fling them like it's nothing. The female units can 'eat' mineral compounds and other resources, which is what they use as the resources for their factories.

The only organic lifeforms on this world are plants, who introduce energy to the 'ecosystem' by their usual means of growth and photosynthesis.

I already have 'herbivores' that eat the naturally growing plants and burn them in a furnace stomach and converts the heat energy to stored electrical energy via water that has been previously taken in being heated up and turning to steam to run turbines where a creature's lungs would be and vent any excess steam by 'breathing out' if they took in too much water earlier. As was discussed in comments: I am open to different herbivores performing different forms of resource processing and energy acquisition, like condensing plant matter into fuel and using combustion engines to make energy.

My problem comes with making predators in this world. Since they can't get energy from plants like the herbivores, how would they go about extracting the energy from the herbivores after killing/overpowering them?

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    $\begingroup$ Are you're herbivores burning the vegetation for direct mechanical energy like a steam engine (giving them a cyberpunk steam motive) or do they convert it to electricity first? if it's electricity then your predators can just drain their batteries & scavenge materials for spare parts // another option is rather than dry & burn the plants directly they convert it to ethanol, biodiesel or methane & burn that, your predators can then be designed to drain their fuel tanks rather than bothering to refine it themselves. $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Oct 3, 2021 at 12:06
  • $\begingroup$ @Pelinore The steam converts to electricity which is stored for general body/system use, though some are capable of temporarily using the steam for other uses like direct mechanical strength or perhaps as a smokescreen to aid in running away from predators. $\endgroup$
    – Hearsay
    Oct 3, 2021 at 12:06
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    $\begingroup$ It's another method of storing power besides batteries, converting the plants to a more energy dense fuel they can store in tanks & use to drive their steam turbines with when they need fast energy, steampunk batteries tend to be depicted as big, clunky, heavy & not very efficient so might even be something that helps the theme stay on point? / plus of course it gives you more interesting poop for your machines than a pile of ash :) for batteries predators can tear them out & install them in series with those they already have or drain them into their own / use it all is an option of course $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Oct 3, 2021 at 12:21
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    $\begingroup$ You may be interested in Philip Reeve's Mortal Engines Quartet (2001-2006). Peter Jackson, he of Lord of the Rings fame, made a film adaptation of the first book in 2018. It was not a success, although, IMHO, the cinematography was quite decent. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Oct 3, 2021 at 12:38
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    $\begingroup$ @ARogueAnt. I've boiled it down to a single question. $\endgroup$
    – Hearsay
    Oct 3, 2021 at 13:15

8 Answers 8

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converts the heat energy to stored electrical energy

The predators steal the electricity.

car steals electricity

https://www.ubergizmo.com/2013/12/nissan-leaf-owner-arrested-for-stealing-five-cents-worth-of-electricity/

Some predators would remove the "battery" or whatever the apparatus is by which lower trophic level creatures store electricity. Some predators tap into their prey and drain the battery but leave the organism intact. Of course there are trophic levels - perhaps the lowest level carnivores are mostly parasites on the herbivores that drain them but do not kill. Higher trophic level creatures might concentrate on these lower level predators and do not hesitate to kill and incorporate their battery materials.

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    $\begingroup$ Near perfect. I would add that carnivores can also steal parts and integrate it in themselves. Instead of manufacturing it yourself and implementing it, you rip it off a creature that put time and effort in some good motors and such. Graft it to yourself as addition or replace ageing parts and you're good to go. Possibly with some modifications to keep the edge. $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Oct 3, 2021 at 15:46
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    $\begingroup$ @Trioxidane - I am reminded of purine and pyrimidine salvage pathways. Also vitamins and essential amino acids - good stuff that you need that you cant make, so you get from something you eat. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Oct 3, 2021 at 17:23
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energy isn't what they hunt the herbivores for (or maybe not the only thing).

AS far as I understood, the herbivores use plant matter as fuel to power themselves, and much like the carnivores, they produce small versions of themselves inside the internal "factory organs". Here's my problem with the system you described: where's the matter for that coming from? The plant matter seem to be treated exclusively as fuel to be burned, so clearly they aren't using that, so the herbivores are getting the materials for self-repair and for producing more young from somewhere else (or magically producing more, which would still require absurd amounts of energy to produce tiny amounts of matter).

Therefore, given that many real herbivores actually lick salty rocks to get their dietary need of minerals and Based on the information you gave me, your herbivores have 2 forms of eating:

1-grazing protocol. They eat the normal plant life, grind it up, burn the whole thing, they do this until they've got enough to keep their batteries charged and function for a while.

2-feeding protocol. They graze again, this time at mineral deposits. Your herbivores need a lot of energy because their "digestive" system also processes both the organic and inorganic materials they eat to synthesize the materials and components they need to repair themselves and fabricate more young. This "grazing" can happen at mountain regions or something similar, but you'd probably need some way to recycle the metal and other components or just introduce more into the system (be it through meteorites that fall often, sci-fi magic or other mechanism).

Now here's the thing: the carnivores eat the herbivores as you'd see in earth, but not because of some pointless instinct or necessarily because of energy. Rather it's because, unlike the herbivores, they can't process the raw materials. They need to have access to previously refined components to recycle into themselves and their young. So they eat the herbivores to get these refined materials.

For all intents and purposes, apart from this limitation in material processing, your Predators could have their own ways of producing energy independently from the herbivores (example: Predators that rely on solar energy to power themselves, which could work nicely as mechanical counterparts for carnivorous reptiles, or simply things like predators that run on fission reactors and munch down on uranium reserves when they're not hunting. They can't process the raw metals into usable alloys, but refining uranium and other radioactive components isn't a problem to them [these couple be your mammals, since they'll need much better cooling mechanisms, but also be much more active than solar-powered reptile-bots]).

Alternatively, they could simply gather specific components of the herbivores to burn in addition to the material recycling process. Maybe the herbivore's coolant is useless for the carnivore in his own cooling system, but works as a great source of fuel.

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  • $\begingroup$ Very interesting take on it. Would you suggest that carnivore stomachs are salvagers instead of burners/refiners, to make use of the materials and parts ingested from the herbivores? I think I will have reptile analogues be solar powered, their scales being the panels, the only problem I have with the uranium thing is that planets tend to not have a lot of it so I can't have a mechanical animal 'class' like mammal analouges reliably survive on being powered by it. Could be solved by higher amount of uranium having fallen to the planet via a large meteorite but that feels a little hand-wavy. $\endgroup$
    – Hearsay
    Oct 4, 2021 at 8:02
  • $\begingroup$ @Hearsay I'd agree with you on terms of animals powering themselves on nuclear fission, but yes, my main concept is that the predators are actually just as capable of producing energy for themselves as the herbivores, but without eating them and recycling the materials, the predators will not be able to repair or reproduce. As for alternatives for nuclear power, I'd suggest you play around depending on where the creature lives (example: creatures living near rivers or windy regions may rely on things like water or wind currents to produce their share of energy). $\endgroup$ Oct 4, 2021 at 13:44
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Carnivores burn their food just like anything else

If we're looking at evolved predation, it's probably going to based on the previously existing herbivorous digestion system that extracts energy by oxidizing it for heat. Organic components like polymers or lubricants can obviously be burned as normal, but it's worth noting that refined metals are also capable of being oxidized in a way that provides useful heat. Alkali metals like magnesium and lithium (the latter is also a main component of batteries) are particularly flammable if crushed to a smaller particle size (i.e. chewed), as are most lanthanides and Aluminum.

Making pure carnivores is slightly more complex since they need to be unable to effectively eat plant matter and so can't just burn their prey with regular oxygen. In this case, I would have these creatures use thermite reactions (using an oxide of a less reactive metal instead of atmospheric oxygen as the oxidizing agent) to generate heat from metals instead. This has a useful side effect of making refined metal from whichever oxide was input. So for example, an iron-based predator could use this reaction to get both energy and usable iron out of aluminum-based prey (provided they have some other method of collecting iron oxide to use in digestion).

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    $\begingroup$ Those powerful reducers in the composition of thermites, the ones that take the oxygen from the oxides... where do they come from? Because sure as death and taxes such substances won't exist in nature as such, they'll be in an oxidated state. $\endgroup$ Oct 3, 2021 at 14:37
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    $\begingroup$ The reduced form of the reactive metals would come from the prey being eaten, which reduced them for some reason relating to their own biology. $\endgroup$ Oct 3, 2021 at 15:11
  • $\begingroup$ A bit of handwaving, asking the prey to carry their own destruction means, eh? Not a great evolutionary trait though, is it? $\endgroup$ Oct 3, 2021 at 15:35
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    $\begingroup$ @AdrianColomitchi Do you also consider it handwavy that Earthling herbivores are so conveniently made out of edible meat? $\endgroup$ Oct 3, 2021 at 15:52
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    $\begingroup$ @AdrianColomitchi The thermite reaction specifically is not required (although aluminum and iron oxide both have very practical uses--perhaps some herbivores have ferrite core memory, for example). If a herbivore is made of reduced iron and copper, a predator can burn that with atmospheric oxygen just like meat. $\endgroup$ Oct 3, 2021 at 20:16
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The predation involves taking the "vital energy" of the prey and storing it for the use of the predator.

Have the predators equipped with an energy storage (flywheel, dynamo and battery, pump and high pressure tank, heat reservoir, whatevs) and make the act of predation as coupling the engine of the prey to the energy conversion unit of the predator and driving the prey until it's exhausted.

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We do not eat just for the calories in the food. The calcium in your bones and iron in your blood come from what you eat.

The female units can 'eat' mineral compounds and other resources, which is what they use as the resources for their factories.

Males do it too. That's how machines overcome wear and tear. It just happens that the source of minerals for carnivores is herbivores.

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Survival The attacked machines share a common trait that they emit something which causes discomfort, pain, or death: sound, EM radiation, heat, light; something.

Omnivores Perhaps they gain sustenance from eating like flies: they secrete an acid which dissolves their food source — plant or robot — and slurp up the soup.

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Hug of death

a world where the creatures, though they look organic externally, are actually mechanical in nature and when damaged reveal their mechanical innards, with pipes pumping coolant instead of veins pumping blood, the damage usually damaging the pipes and making them 'bleed' their coolant, and some sort of energy acquisition system as part of their bodies that necessitates the coolant being pumped.

I already have 'herbivores' that eat the naturally growing plants and burn them in a furnace stomach and converts the heat energy to stored electrical energy via water that has been previously taken in being heated up and turning to steam to run turbines where a creature's lungs would be and vent any excess steam by 'breathing out' if they took in too much water earlier.

These facts in mind, I'm going to assume that predators have coolant and pipes for their systems as well, which suggests they have an "energy acquisition system" that they need the coolant for as well, which suggests they do have a power generation method of their own but can't do so through the burning of plants because being a predator in this world means you don't have the bulky furnace stomach or something along that line, but you presumably still have the steam power generation in your chest or whatever and do still take in water for that purpose as well. I'm also going to assume that the furnace stomach doesn't magically shut off just because the herbivore is in a state of dying.

Let's have predators do what they tend to do best... Deal Damage.

The damage dealt would make the herbivore bleed its coolant while still burning whatever the contents are of their stomach. This heat combined with the gradual loss of ability to cool off its systems will make the herbivore's systems fail eventually due to overheating. They basically bleed out and collapse, the difference being that they're now an extremely hot mass. Predators could use the extreme heat given off by a dying herbivore in a hug-like embrace and siphon it off to power their own steam generators, only stepping away once the herbivore is truly dead and not generating heat anymore, essentially leaving a cold and lifeless corpse.

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Nanobots

This is what you need. To fully model biological systems, you need components that mimic biology.

You have mentioned the following:

a) plants are biological in nature

b) mechanical herbivores eat plants

c) mechanical predators eat herbivores

Therefore the trophic cycle is: a -> b -> (c -> c)

I would also like to highlight the following birth and growth:

  1. mechanical creatures reproduce by the means of a small factory inside the female unit

  2. the child unit is originally smaller than the parent unit, but grows in time

  3. presumably, individual units can do some small damage repairs.

Growth means that somehow, new compounds and parts are created inside a unit. This means that some basic semi-intelligent building blocks exist and they circulate around the body as to get distributed where needed. This means that a factory for creating these building blocks needs to exist.

This doesn't mean that movement units, power units and battery/digestion units do not need to exist, although the animals might have to grow in some sort of moulding, where these units are turned off and extended. However, this means that you need some basic building blocks. In biology, these basic building blocks are cells, they can have various forms and functions. Some cells might do active digestion of materials, others will build tissues (your pneumatic system for movement), yet others will be used to quickly repair (or patch) damage. Once you mimic biology as closely as this, there is no requirement for any special way in which mechanical animal digestion differ from biological one. Herbivores can be just a complex fermentation machine that in their big fermentation vats (bellies) ferment biological matter and transform it into energy, but they also need to graze on inorganic matter. Maybe introduce mechanical plants instead? Predators are then essentially complex recycling units that recycle bodies of herbivores in some complex oxidative processes.

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