I thought of a species that acts on a hive mind. They are about the size of a 5 year old. Whenever they see a threat to their brethren (or king and queen) they explode (not like a fiery explosion). When they explode, they release a gas that can either be toxic or flammable. Are any of these things possible?


Maybe you should take a look at the ant Camponotus saundersi .

It self-destructs to release the toxic substances:

When combat takes a turn for the worse, the worker ant violently contracts its abdominal muscles to rupture its gaster at the intersegmental fold, which also bursts the mandibular glands, thereby spraying a sticky secretion in all directions from the anterior region of its head. The glue, which also has corrosive properties and functions as a chemical irritant, can entangle and immobilize all nearby victims.

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    $\begingroup$ One of my favorite things on WorldBuilding is having people ask "Hey, I've got this absurd idea. Is it even possible?" and have someone answer "Of course! Here, take a look at nature, who has already done it!" I learn about more unique species on this site... $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Sep 11 '16 at 5:36

Sure. Modern honeybees seem like a proto-example of what you're talking about - stinging protects the colony, but sacrifices the individual. A true hive mind would be more difficult to arrange with known physics - unless we're okay with it being very slow, in which case the individuals composing the hive mind could effect mind-to-mind contact by a very complex system of pheromones. This seems like a natural outgrowth of the modern behaviour of a number of species of ant.

As for the explosion - nothing particularly difficult about that, in principle. For example, if the creature has a sac storing sulfuric acid and a source of fluorite internally, it could combine them to produce a large amount of hydrofluoric acid gas. A great deal of gas forming very rapidly inside a creature without particularly strong structural integrity would cause something like an explosion. Hydrofluoric gas is a toxic gas that is able to pass through skin relatively unhindered; walking through the area where such a creature exploded would not be a pleasant experience.

A similar sort of chemical reaction could produce a flammable gas instead, if you want.

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    $\begingroup$ Bees don't sacrifice the individual. Their stinger Is barbed to easily penetrate other insects quitinous carapaces, and as a consequence they usually get stuck in mammal skin. $\endgroup$ – Diego Sánchez Sep 11 '16 at 10:19
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    $\begingroup$ "in which case the individuals composing the hive mind could effect mind-to-mind contact by a very complex system of pheromones" - what about light signals? Those might propagate a bit faster than pheromones, while possibly also having some advantages when it comes to directionality. $\endgroup$ – O. R. Mapper Sep 11 '16 at 10:47
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    $\begingroup$ @Diego Sanchez: They may not intend to sacrifice the individual, but they do - and they haven't evolved any kind of instinct against it. $\endgroup$ – Reese Sep 11 '16 at 12:24
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    $\begingroup$ @O. R. Mapper But using light signals would involve some sort of biological transmitter and receiver, which to my knowledge doesn't exist yet... so yeah, that would be ideal, but I think less likely. $\endgroup$ – Reese Sep 11 '16 at 12:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Reese: A biological receiver would simply be eyes or something comparable; biological transmitters do exist to my knowledge, as bioluminscence does occur in species on our planet. $\endgroup$ – O. R. Mapper Sep 11 '16 at 12:46

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