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  • How could a creature explode itself?
  • Why would it?

We see example ideas of these all the time (Scourges, creepers, etc.) but nobody ever said how or why a creature would intentionally explode. I am not referring to intentional combustion, but explosion specifically. This would be an evolutionary process. Would the creature survive?

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  • $\begingroup$ Not an answer in itself, but Starcraft 2 has a unit that blows up, and they have a short story on it: us.battle.net/sc2/game/lore/short-stories/broken-wide/1 $\endgroup$ – csiz Nov 10 '15 at 13:37
  • $\begingroup$ blogs.discovermagazine.com/discoblog/2011/09/14/… $\endgroup$ – Adam Davis Nov 10 '15 at 14:04
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    $\begingroup$ The humble honeybee, in our own universe, dies after a single sting, because it's evolved a barbed stinger for maximum envenomation, and the bee's body too fragile to pull it back out. That one bee would only have a lifespan of 6-8 weeks anyway, and there are plenty more when it came from. It's not an explosion, but it's a similar form of suicide attack used as a defense mechanism for the greater good. $\endgroup$ – KeithS Nov 10 '15 at 22:54
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    $\begingroup$ Just to clarify for those who don't know Starcraft - csiz is referring to "Banelings" from Starcraft2 - which crawl (or roll) around and then explode in acid - but can only target ground units. "Scourge" are from the first Starcraft, but they fly and can only detonate on airborne targets. $\endgroup$ – DoubleDouble Nov 10 '15 at 23:10
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    $\begingroup$ It makes me think of Terry Pratchets Swamp Dragons. It is a defensive mechanism for the species rather than the individual. If you try to eat a one and your digestive system can best be described with "blast radius" then the remaining predators that chose not to eat the swamp dragons survive and procreate. This eventually means no more predators willing to eat the swamp dragon. $\endgroup$ – Demigan Jul 10 at 10:32
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Spreading your seed

For sessile life forms (plants, clams, etc), explosions could be an excellent method of seed/egg dispersion. Heck the organism could create a "mortar tube" and vastly improve the dispersion range of its young. Probably any woody or shell based tube would need to be a pretty low pressure affair, but it'd be an interesting way to spread one's seed.

Self Defense (As mentioned in other answers)

Over time this method of seed dispersion might evolve as a form of self-defense too. If attacked or nibbled on, it'd attempt to point its mortar tube toward the aggressor and fire it even if the eggs/seed weren't ready. Better to survive for another spawn then to lose the spawn and yourself.

Reload!

Also, depending upon the specifics of the configuration, the explosion need not kill the "exploding" organism. If the organism was protected from the worst of the explosion (ala the mortar tube described above), the organism might develop the means of rearming and reseeding the tube.

Arms Race

If the mechanism did evolve from seed dispersal to self-defense (which is a logic progression IMO), it would lead to an evolutionary arms race in which the nibbler would learn to only eat certain portions of the sessile creature which wouldn't trigger the self-defense mechanism. Alternatively, they would wait until after seed dispersal to eat the organism once it disarms itself.

It would also evolves to "reload" the tube with new explosives pretty quickly after use and slowly lay the seeds/eggs in the tube for dispersal later.

What explosives?

Organisms in our own "Real Life" biosphere use explosions. One such creature is the Bombardier Beetle. It uses a hydrogen peroxide + some other organic compounds to form a steam explosion.

This sort of reaction would work great for the mortar tube configuration mentioned above and a similar trigger system would work too. Basically store the liquid hydrogen peroxide in a gland with a one-way valve. When excited the organism squirts some hydrogen peroxide into the mortar tube - which already has the fuel and catalyst in it. The explosion shuts the valve to the peroxide gland and forces the projectiles down the tube.

The Bombardier Beetle stores enough for approximately 20 shots. The explosion alone (with no projectile) often kills the attacking critter. Our exploding critter might do even better if it could launch projectiles. Just remember though, our critter would probably not be able to reload the projectiles so quickly. So the first shot would include projectiles while subsequent shots would just be the Exploding noxious gas.

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This might be a valid evolutionary trait for several reasons. Some plants and animals already use combustion or other energetic chemical reactions for defence or to distribute their seeds.

Taking this to extremes, in a life form whose continued survival is not of evolutionary importance, for example a infertile soldier-caste member of a colony, or a life form which dies in the act of reproduction, an explosion might have evolutionary advantages.

In the example of an infertile soldier, if it contained a biological bomb, it could detonate this if it was killed or incapacitated in close-quarters combat, and the resultant explosion might well eliminate one or more enemies, thus benefiting the colony as a whole with its spectacular demise - much the way that a worker bee stinging an enemy benefits its hive - regardless of the fact that the action is fatal to the worker bee.

In the case of a life form using a chemical reaction to disperse the next generation, if it dies afterwards (as do many species of plant and animal), then if by having a more violent chemical reaction the offspring are distributed more widely and have a better chance of survival and growth away from competition, then such a life form may well evolve to disperse its offspring via an explosion.

It is a short step from there to suppose that such a being may evolve to explode in order to drive sarcophagic offspring into the bodies of nearby creatures of other species at high velocities, at once killing its enemies and providing its offspring with a source of nutrients.

An independent creature could only evolve to explode as a matter of survival if by exploding it distributed fragments of itself sufficiently widely that one or more would escape a predator and survive to grow into new creature(s). This necessitates that at least some of the fragments of the creature survive the explosion. The threat posed by predation would have to be such that succumbing to the predator would result in a total failure to reproduce - probably because the entire creature is destroyed by the predator's digestive system. An explosion in such circumstances could also have an altruistic benefit that it injures or kills the predator, thus preventing it from harming other members of the exploding species.

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    $\begingroup$ This actually exists. If combat turns worse, these ants combust to immobilize their enemies: en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camponotus_saundersi $\endgroup$ – Marcus Bitzl Nov 10 '15 at 1:04
  • $\begingroup$ @MarcusBitzl, very interesting, but not particularly surprising. $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Nov 10 '15 at 1:22
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    $\begingroup$ It doesn't even need to be limited to the infirm or infertile for evolution to favor this trait, so long as the threats against which it is deployed are rare enough that the species is not likely to be destroyed by its own self-defense mechanism. The suicidal sting of the honeybee is an obvious example. $\endgroup$ – Kevin Krumwiede Nov 10 '15 at 6:07
  • $\begingroup$ This. Game Theory explains that creepers do exactly this and that they've probably evolved from peat. youtube.com/watch?v=wqKT5R2PXlw $\endgroup$ – John Dvorak Nov 10 '15 at 12:34
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    $\begingroup$ A good point, but I'd also love to see an evolutionarily independent creature that would have a reason to, and a means of surviving, exploding itself. $\endgroup$ – Caleb Woodman Nov 10 '15 at 18:04
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A new twist on procreation! Fertilized eggs are produced asexually and stored in a specialized gas-filled organ called the blast bladder. Each egg is a tiny parasitic creature, ready to infest any host which has compatable biology. When enough of the eggs have collected along the inner lining of this bladder, the creature is primed. It then waits until it is in the company of potential victims, to ignites its belly using some internally generated combustable gas.

After the blast, the now belly-less beast crawls away to heal, and begins producing more eggs.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for being really disturbing. Especially, because of the belly-less beast thing limping homing. That is gross. $\endgroup$ – HSchmale Nov 10 '15 at 4:43
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  • How could a creature explode itself?

Use Hexamethylene triperoxide diamine (or another organic peroxide)!

Hexamethylene triperoxide diamine is an organic peroxide, which can be formed when hydrogen peroxide and hexamine (obtainable via the combination of formaldehyde and ammonia). Certain catalysts must be used, but they are obtainable by organisms. Hydrogen peroxide itself is explosive, but is inorganic. You would need a source of it for the creatures to use. Acetone peroxide could be used instead of hexamethylene triperoxide diamine, but it, too, needs to be made using hydrogen peroxide, and it is more unstable.

Other organic chemicals that can apparently explode/ignite/cause something fiery:

  • Why would it?

I can think of a number of ways:

  • Self-sacrifice to save the herd (or younger animals)
  • Self-sacrifice to hunt (if they're carnivores)
  • Self-sacrifice to get rid of diseased animals without spreading the disease via rotting carcasses.
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    $\begingroup$ "Self-sacrifice to hunt (if they're carnivores)" - I can't imagine that working. If the biggest thing you can kill by exploding provides enough energy to keep you going for a year, a breeding pair of you still needs to raise two new offspring each year (from the get go - no time for childhood) to just break even. That also assumes "provides enough energy to keep you going for a year" is a reliable figure rather than the best case scenario, that every blow is a kill and that you aren't getting killed off-hunt too often. Cannibalism might cover you materially but it won't help much with energy. $\endgroup$ – John Dvorak Nov 10 '15 at 12:26
  • $\begingroup$ Hydrogen peroxide is produced biologically all the time. Acquiring it from the environment is not a problem. $\endgroup$ – Logan R. Kearsley Sep 13 at 2:51
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I have a mobile plant thing I've come up with. It is not mobile enough to go far distances however. It has this fruity sack on its belly area. When ripe and when a large animal is in range, it inflates it's fruit sack with liquid and launches itself onto the animal, and the fruit sack bursts like a water balloon filled with goo. The goo makes the seeds stick to the animal and the surprise and the horrid smell of it compels the animal to go somewhere else where the seeds fall off. The plant dies, since it's job is done. Though I suppose that isn't exactly an explosion.

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protected by L.Dutch Jul 10 at 9:48

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