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I'm in a bit of a pickle - I've designed a monster for a horror novel I'm working on, but I've added too many characteristics that I like for it to make logical sense. One of these features is that the creatures originate from a parallel universe that is completely pitch black, and yet when they enter ours they are able to change the pigmentation of their skin like an octopus to become functionally invisible to any onlookers as long as they remain still and whatever light source is shining on them is constant. This has lended itself to a lot of great scene ideas where the creature is seen only in brief glimpses and at first appears to be something totally supernatural like a ghost, so I'd hate to completely scrap the idea of the camouflage. Unfortunately, this doesn't make any evolutionary sense and I can't come up with an even somewhat logical explanation for how this ability could work. Any ideas?

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    $\begingroup$ It may come from a universe that's pitch black, but is it necessary that it evolved there? It's apparently ending up here somehow, after all. $\endgroup$ Mar 8 at 0:53
  • $\begingroup$ Just make them nocturnal and they hide while resting during the day using chameleon camouflage? if you want this camouflage ability then there has to be light were they evolved (be it sunlight, luminescence or other) and there has to be predators or prey that can see in that light across at least the full spectrum of human vision, there isn't an easy way around it .. $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Mar 8 at 1:36
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    $\begingroup$ another option is just to ignore how they evolved, have your protagonists (or NPCs?) express confusion about it and leave it unexplained until the 'sequel' (or the sequels sequel, etc) let the readers (or players?) do the work and come up with their own theories then pick and choose from those or just never explain it ;) $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Mar 8 at 2:05
  • $\begingroup$ cuttlefish's dna allows indominus rex to change color with chromatophores, tree frog's dna allows her to hide from thermal cameras. $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Mar 8 at 6:06
  • $\begingroup$ +1 for a question that explains the problem you're trying to solve! That's a rare thing here. $\endgroup$
    – N. Virgo
    Mar 10 at 21:09

9 Answers 9

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That this creature has skin that can change colour tells us something about the universe from which they come. Perhaps that 'pitch black' universe is pitch black in that it has no stellar light sources, but that doesn't necessarily mean that there is no light at all.

It may well be that some creatures in that universe are able to emit their own light, and use it as searchlights in order to see their prey and other obstacles. However, searchlights come with the disadvantage that they may alert their prey. The alpha predators would probably be nearly constantly searchlighting around, looking for their next meal. Lower predators would searchlight less, or would rely upon 'passive' searchlighting, dashing in to grab prey illuminated by greater predators that is beneath the greater predators' notice.

So this horror-novel predator would be a beta-predator, adapted to using ambient light from the alpha predators, but not necessarily producing its own light, at least not unless it was very confident. It would have good vision, and would have evolved to have camouflaged skin so as to be less likely to end up as food for something bigger. It would naturally freeze in - or avoid - torchlight and daylight, but might also consider a 'small' torch-holder to be 'prey with a bluff', since some creatures might searchlight around to pretend to be more dangerous than they really are to discourage predators.

This would lead to some ideal horror novel behaviour. This critter would tend to freeze in torchlight and camouflage itself. It would quietly follow people with torches in case they 'flushed out prey', or proved to be 'mimics' using searchlights to 'discourage predators'. When people with torches or people moving about in dim light ('the light of distant alpha predators' to this beta predator) prove to not be predators after some observation, this beta predator might become bolder and begin to prey upon them. If the would-be prey began to try to hunt this beta predator, it would likely flee and hide again, and wait for the heat to die down.

This beta predator would likely eat vermin and pets to start with, but eventually would become emboldened by its relative safety under artificial and astronomical light, and would investigate humans with their portable light sources. When 'near misses' with things like phones' and torches' light didn't result in pursuit of the beta predator, it would eventually conclude that the humans are bluffers, and might try to attack one. Since most humans are not terribly dangerous or well-armoured, especially when taken by surprise, the beta predator might well manage to kill and eat a few before the rest of the humans became aware that they were being hunted and began to try to hunt down the beta predator... which would be well-versed in avoiding hunters with torches.

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    $\begingroup$ This is definitely my favorite solution! I love the idea that something so deadly to humans that it's the primary antagonist of this story and must be avoided at all costs could actually be small fry in its native ecosystem. $\endgroup$ Mar 8 at 5:19
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Simple, we have a similar situation on Earth in the deep ocean. It's pitch black and many creatures don't need sight.... but some do. They need the camouflage because like deep sea on Earth there are organisms which emit bioluminescent light.

So some time in their evolutionary history there was a nasty predator that could be avoided by camouflage in situations where there was bio-light.

Just because the natural state is pitch black doesn't mean light is impossible. I can be in a pitch black room, whack a couple of flints together and make sparks.

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  • $\begingroup$ en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bioluminescence ... NOVA: Creatures of Light $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Mar 10 at 19:30
  • $\begingroup$ I feel like this has a chicken and egg problem. Many creatures in the deep sea originated in a lit environment and evolved sight there. I would think you would need light to evolve sight, so there would have to be an a priori reason to develop bio-luminescence, and I'm not sure what that might be. $\endgroup$ Mar 11 at 5:21
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Perhaps it's home environment was "pitch black" only in the sense of light visible to humans. On either end of that visible light spectrum exists plenty of light that other creatures in our universe CAN see in when there is no visible light available. Infrared and Ultraviolet. Typically infrared is going to be body heat, and ultraviolet is used by insects and others most commonly (to my knowledge) to view additional details in plants that we can't see (usually to guide bees to pollination spots etc)

The otherworldly creature likely adapted the ability to change it's color in both of these ranges in order to better hide, or perhaps as a form of communication between members, and in doing so, just so happened to also be able to alter its appearance for the spectrum between. It may not have been aware that "human visible light" existed before coming to our world.

A question I would have though, how does it know what to change it's colors to in order to blend in? Did it's eyes or perceptive organs also evolve to focus on these outer light ranges but luckily was able to acclimate to it's arrival in our universe? It would need some way to see visible light or a way to measure it's ability to blend in, but perhaps it sees the world through the eyes of entities looking at it?

Typically, pitch black environments are not ideal for evolving eyes, unless there was actually some sort of light or electromagnetic radiation to which having vision would give you an advantage over those without. Biologically, eyes are quite complex and materially expensive, but the advantages it gives over being blind are grand.

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  • $\begingroup$ This probably the only logical answer. If the creatures natural environment is perfectly dark i.e there is a total absence of light in the visible spectrum then the only reason to need a camouflage ability of the type described woudl be if there was 'light' in other parts of the spectrum (probably the IR range). The issue though is that IF that is the case then there's no logical reason for the creature to evolve/be equipped with a pigmentation system that adjusts to changes in light in the visible spectrum. It would be like having a chameleon that could change colour under IR light only. $\endgroup$
    – Mon
    Mar 7 at 22:31
  • $\begingroup$ Hence the mention of having evolved to alter both above and below the visible light spectrum. That gives a bit of reason to have the spectrum between be bridged across, then again, there's plenty of unexplained things about many of our favorite monsters. Perhaps it spent some time in between universes and gained some abilities in the process? $\endgroup$ Mar 7 at 22:34
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    $\begingroup$ @ Danger Lake The problem remains if no other creature can see in the visible range (because there is no light within in those frequencies for some unexplained reason) then there's no reason for any creature tor develop optical camouflage abilities in that range. It's waste of resources, like a giving an marine animal that never comes near land or ever touches the sea floor (until it dies) a complete set of legs! $\endgroup$
    – Mon
    Mar 7 at 23:58
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    $\begingroup$ "Perhaps it's home environment was "pitch black" only in the sense of light visible to humans" that unfortunately doesn't help the OP, he wants it to be able to camouflage itself in light that can be seen by humans and wants a plausible explanation for the evolution of that ability in it's natural environment, and this doesn't do that. $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Mar 8 at 1:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Mon, It's a "spandrel" to having adaptations to both the infra-and-ultra frequencies, that it can also interact with the span between. For all we know the planet has an atmosphere blocking only visible light. It did need to develop "light" sight in these ranges and in turn lucked out when revealed that light between the two ranges exists as well. Lots of real world examples of spandrel evolution exist. AT pelinore If you read the answer, yes it does and directly addresses these concerns. A better answer exists now of course. Pitch black was stated by OP, see response to Mon on evolution path. $\endgroup$ Mar 8 at 20:27
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FRAME CHALLENGE: Change the creatures world to one where there is visible light BUT!!!

Make it a world with a much more hostile environment than Earth. In particular? Make it's home world one with a much, much longer day/night cycle than Earths 24 hour one. Imagine a world where several (Earth) days or even longer are spent in the dark and and an equal number are spent in daylight. Such an environment would be very hostile to humans BTW with incredibly high winds and extreme changes in day/night temperature i.e. perhaps down to below or near freezing after midnight and up to near boiling after midday. Your creature is a nocturnal predator so IR vision during the night is an advantage. On the other hand UV vision and visual range camo become useful adaptations to avoiding other dangerous predators during daylight hours when your beast is not hunting and instead is usually just trying to avoid becoming lunch for something else. Think lions and leopards for instance (with your beast being the leopard.)

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The pigments and structure of the skin dampens sounds, and emits sounds, the ultimate chameleon in a sunless place. And it can hear very sharp with this skin, hearing light as it hits surfaces. Its not a loud sound, but it makes metal expand, stone expand, dust flakes hover, and if you emit the exact same sound back, pretending to be a lit surface, it goes away.

Not proud of this one. To hear such minuscule vibrations, one would go totally deaf with other sounds in the world. A ant moving, would be like a heavy metal percussion on drum step dance festival. Good luck with this one. I would find another explanation.

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  • $\begingroup$ PS: The texture and color mimicry working out is purely coincidental $\endgroup$
    – Pica
    Mar 8 at 8:15
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Yours is the male of the creature.

The female has a different set of abilities which mesh with those of the male so:

  • It uses bioluminescence to see which it can switch on and off at will.

  • It seeks its mates mainly by sight.

  • After mating, it eats the male to supply energy for pregnancy. (Alternatively, it impregnates the male, and the developing young eat the male from the inside as they grow. This would allow for multiple matings and impregnations of the male during a short mating period.)

This gives the male a kind of perverse incentive to escape from the female - whom it can smell and hear coming. When the male is young, its fear and caution dominates and it hides/camouflages itself. When its more mature, it gets bold and full of hormones - too intoxicated by its desires to resist its fate.

This has the advantage of giving you the potential for young and more horror, but also the potential that the male has a nemesis in the glowing-enticing female (or its pheromones) - all depending on its age.

If you wanted to, you can swap to more traditional sex-roles with yours being the female and camouflaged, averted to pregnancy, with the more predatory male having a built-in torch.

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I've added too many characteristics that I like for it to make logical sense

Frame challenge: it literally doesn't matter. A horror story doesn't need to be logically consistent, just horrifying.

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By parallel universe, do you mean another universe that is fundamentally similar to this one?? Or a completely different and foreign universe?

Because a truly pitch black universe implies no electromagnetic radiation which wouldn't qualify as a universe remotely similar to this one unless it's a universe like this one in heat death. Probably not the same laws of physics either which would make it more like another universe that is neither parallel nor alternate. Could even be higher dimensional universe.

In which case, just make the monster not interact properly, traditionally, or reliably with light. No need to explain why because you literally can't explain why using the laws of this universe. It would probably be easier to explain what is happening if it was a higher dimensional universe than if it were another 3 dimensional universe since that could be attributed with parts of the creature poking in and out of our space and those parts interact with light.

Works for Lovecraft.

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Instead of the active camouflage of the octopus, you may find it more plausible to go for the transparency (i.e. passive camouflage) of a glass squid. You can of course adjust quite how transparent it is to fit your narrative. One obvious option would be that it distorts light like a lens and so becomes most visible when moving.

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