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I am working on an alien creature with a venomous stinger. Injecting its venom causes sodium chloride to rapidly crystallize throughout the victim’s body, swiftly dehydrating them and hardening their body into a salty husk, basically turning them into a statue or a “pillar of salt.” The process takes less than a minute from start to finish.

The victim is also an alien creature, and their natural environment contains a high frequency of salt. The creatures’ biology incorporates a larger amount of sodium chloride than their counterparts on Earth.

The creature’s venom contains a high concentration of sodium chloride, in addition to some kind of chemical that will cause the rapid crystallization of salt both from the sting and within the victim’s body.

For what it’s worth, the sting is solely a defense mechanism, so the victim does not need to be edible after injection.

From a chemical/mechanical perspective, does this venom make any sense?

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    $\begingroup$ I should note that you don't necessarily need to use literally NaCl for it to be "A Pillar of Salt" as there are tons of different "salts" in chemistry that you could use, from KCl to CuS04 and tons more. In case you wanted some flexibility. Salt (chemistry) $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 1, 2022 at 18:40

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No... and Yes

This can work, but not in the way you're imagining it.

The Problem

The victim's body has already absorbed the salt that the predator will use. It's already dissolved into the fluids and tissues of the body. The act of forcing it out of that dissolved state, only to have it re-absorbed into the very fluids it was drawn from won't do anything. You haven't dehydrated the body because the body has the fluids already.

The Solution

But that doesn't mean you don't have a whomping good premise. Let's just change the effect. From the Australian Government's Better Health Channel we learn:

The body loses salt through urine, perspiration, vomiting and diarrhoea. If too much salt is lost, the level of fluid in the blood will drop. Hyponatremia is a condition that occurs when the sodium in your blood falls below the normal range of 135–145 mEq/L. In severe cases, low sodium levels in the body can lead to muscle cramps, nausea, vomiting and dizziness. Eventually, lack of salt can lead to shock, coma and death. (Source)

In other words, you're paralyzing or killing your victim because you're drawing the salt out of the bodily processes needed to keep the body functioning. The fact that the salt hasn't left the body is irrelevant, it isn't where it's supposed to be. It's like setting an electrical breaker inside a breaker box but not actually plugging it in. Yup, the breaker's inside the box! But good luck turning on your computer.

In a phrase, what your predator is doing is causing shock via hyponatremia. What I like about this solution is that you have different effects depending on the size or type of your victim (I love that list of possible conditions due to salt loss).

You'll be handwaving the speed of the reaction because salt is, well... it's a rock. And moving rocks takes time no matter how small the amount. That's the nature of chemistry. But I'd ignore this little inconvenience. I like the idea.

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Dec 9, 2022 at 15:01
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If you put any water-based substance into a large amount of salt, the salt will absorb the water through osmosis and dry the substance up, this part is right. Injecting salt or a highly saline solution into one's body can create issues, true.

However, there are two main differences:

  1. it won't happen within a minute, unless the sample is really small. Diffusion and osmosis take time to act.
  2. by absorbing water the salt won't crystalize, on the contrary, it will turn into a mush/sludge, which is the very reason why we try to avoid moisture with salt.
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More Salt Please

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If your venom kills by oversalting the victim, you will need an awful lot of venom.

Salt poisoning occurs from about 1 gram of salt per kilo of bodyweight. So a 60kg victim can survive 30g of salt in the bloodstream without turning into a pillar of salt.

For comparison the amount of venom injected by poisonous snakes is measured in tenths of a gram. The active ingredient is powerful and highly concentrated. You cannot do this with Sodium Chloride, as common table salt is already 100% pure and cannot be concentrated further.

At least the good table salt is pure. The bad stuff has Hexacyanoferide II to prevent clumping and to poison you. In the States they put Iodine in there for some reason. Then it's only -- gasp! -- 99.99% pure.

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  • $\begingroup$ Yeah upvoted.. organisms like humans can absorb lots of salt already. The above plate of French fries is not healthy, and dangerous for heart patients, but a young person in good shape will survive above meal. The venom would need to be salt.. huge amounts of salt. You could say salt itself is NOT a venom, for that reason. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Commented Dec 2, 2022 at 13:39
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    $\begingroup$ @Goodies I don't think I've seen or heard the phrase "survive a meal" before. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Commented Dec 2, 2022 at 13:53
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Try chelation or chemisorption

This gets you as close as you can get.

Obstacle # 1: Solubility

Salt is soluble and is going to strongly resist crystallisation into NaCl crystals. That part won't happen. However, NaCl can be chemisorbed onto various materials. That is, Na+ and Cl- prefer to be attached to that material than dissolved. The liquid analogues of these are called chelating agents. There are various plausibly imaginable soluble 'chelating agents' which could strip the Na+ and Cl- out of the bloodstream and then precipitate.

Obstacle #2: Quantity Whatever chelating agent you use, you'll need a LOT. You have 92g of sodium in your body. Any chelating agent will weigh far more than that. You're probably looking at a kilogram or more. Obviously, that can't be injected in.

Solution #1: As per JBH's answer. Don't take all the sodium, just enough to upset biological functions. I studied inorganic chem, not biology; however, I'm sure you can look up what level of salt deficiency kills you. If losing 20% of your sodium kills you, then only as little as 200ish g is needed.

Solution #2: Have your poison transform proteins in the body into chemisorbing surfaces catalytically. The poison transforms various surfaces in the body into chemisorbing surfaces, causing salt to adsorb onto them. This either causes salt deficiency or the surfaces themselves cause problems.

Maybe they are fine blood vessels and they stiffen and block up as they adsorb salt? Maybe they are brain tissues? Whatever it is, it's fatal, and an autopsy reveals salty buildups.

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