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Being eaten is obviously not a process most organisms can survive. But assuming one is swallowed whole, and isn't injured before reaching the stomach, what actually ends up killing them? Acid? Heat? Pressure? Lack of oxygen? Would it necessarily be painful, or could you peacefully fade away into soup?

Edit: If it makes the question less off-topic, I'm particularly interested in fictional carnivorous humanoid mammals somewhat resembling anthropomorphic wolverines swallowing rat or weasel sized mammals. They digest the creatures they ingest wholesale, bones included.

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closed as off-topic by Xandar The Zenon, cobaltduck, Aify, SRM, Mołot Dec 23 '16 at 11:19

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "This question does not appear to be about worldbuilding, within the scope defined in the help center." – Xandar The Zenon, cobaltduck, Aify, Mołot
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ Some animals, especially omnivorous birds like chickens and ducks, have a very muscular pre-stomach (gizzard) specifically designed for crushing and grinding. They keep grit and small stones there to help. So if you're swallowed by a 40-foot duck... $\endgroup$ – John Feltz Dec 22 '16 at 18:31
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    $\begingroup$ This seems to me to be more on topic on biology stack exchange than here, I think this is probably off topic for this site. $\endgroup$ – Xandar The Zenon Dec 22 '16 at 18:50
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    $\begingroup$ To the close voters: I've read the help center and I don't understand why this question would be considered off-topic. Can someone refer me a specific policy that applies in this case? $\endgroup$ – ApproachingDarknessFish Dec 23 '16 at 2:37
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    $\begingroup$ This is off topic because it isn't asking anything hypothetical. It is asking about real world biology, not about construction of any sort of new world. Asking about real world is just as "in world" as any fantasy realm unless you're changing it somehow. @ApproachingDarknessFish $\endgroup$ – SRM Dec 23 '16 at 4:16
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    $\begingroup$ @SRM how is it about real world biology? All species involved are fictional. If it makes a difference I'll edit in the full fictional context that I'm curious about, although I don't think any of the details would be helpful is answering the question. $\endgroup$ – ApproachingDarknessFish Dec 23 '16 at 8:16
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In-ability to breathe.

I put it that way because it's going to be a mixture of lack of oxygen and excess of CO$_2$. If it's a human getting swallowed by a large creature with a similar digestive system you'll also be burned by acid, but it won't kill you faster than suffocation. So, you'll die gasping in the dark while being burned by acid. The heat and pressure will likely be the least of your worries, but they're certainly not going to increase your comfort.

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    $\begingroup$ If the stomach acid isn't considerably more potent than the dilute HCl in humans stomach, you could bathe in it for hours, possibly days before your skin takes serious damage. The fumes might make it hard to breathe and in the long run damage your lungs, so suffocation for whichever reason, sounds pretty much right. The acid burn would be so weak you suffocate before you feel it (eyes and muccous membranes excluded). $\endgroup$ – Durandal Dec 22 '16 at 19:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Durandal Agreed. I suppose it would make sense for something that swallows humans whole to have a bit more dissolving power, but human equivalent stomach acid won't do much to the skin (after all, we don't melt from the inside). $\endgroup$ – Samuel Dec 22 '16 at 19:13
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    $\begingroup$ If you have ever vomited and inhaled even the tiniest trace, you'll have no difficulty imagining the horror of being alive in some thing's stomach. Much better to be fatally mauled and eaten in pieces. $\endgroup$ – nigel222 Dec 22 '16 at 20:21
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    $\begingroup$ @Samuel In fact we do melt from the inside--there's a mucus lining to the stomach specifically to counteract this, and ulcers result when it's not continually renewed. $\endgroup$ – chrylis Dec 22 '16 at 21:18
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    $\begingroup$ @Innovine Drowning applies specifically to suffocation in water. We really do have an amazing number of words to describe how people die... $\endgroup$ – Samuel Dec 23 '16 at 16:08
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Assuming a humanoid could swallow a rat alive and it gets to the stomach without being asphyxiated by being compressed by the peristaltic action of the esophagus, it will die from lack of O2 in the stomach. The stomach has gastric fluid that is mildly acidic, but mostly it lacks air. Gas in the stomach is usually released via burping and this is often a by product of carbonated fluid or air whipped into foods, very little oxygenated outside air is ingested under normal circumstances. So the rat will find itself in a gently squeezing sac mostly filled with liquid. Even if it could push out it's legs to make space, there won't be much, if any, oxygenated air for it to breathe, so it would asphyxiate quickly.

Of course if it was conscious on the way down it could have torn the crap out of the esophageal lining, and could possibly bite its way through the stomach lining if swallowed fast enough. Escaping into the peritoneal cavity won't really help as there is no breathable gas there either, but if sufficiently motivated and good at holding it's breath it might be able to dig through the abdominal wall to reach the outside, especially if a bright light is transilluminating the way. So the eater is gonna have a rough time of it if he didn't stun the rat first...

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    $\begingroup$ Now I'm picturing a human being swallowed whole by.... something big enough to swallow a human whole. If said human had a pocket knife handy, would he have a fighting chance? $\endgroup$ – Charles Burge Dec 22 '16 at 21:06
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    $\begingroup$ @CharlesBurge If it helps, picture a hypothetical human tiny enough to be swallowed by a normal human. Even if he did have outrageous relative strength to cut tissue quickly, his tiny little pocket knife isn't going to get him anywhere fast. Maybe if he got swallowed holding an electric chainsaw and could hold his breath for record-long periods, but even then it's very doubtful -- though no less fun to picture. $\endgroup$ – Dan Dec 22 '16 at 23:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Dan I've found scuba gear to be very helpful in that situation. (Don't forget to bring your dive knife also!) $\endgroup$ – Jeremy Friesner Dec 23 '16 at 3:02
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    $\begingroup$ He still might get his revenge. A few holes in a stomach would be very bad for any carnivore. $\endgroup$ – Joshua Dec 23 '16 at 5:00
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    $\begingroup$ Imagine trying to cut through a couple of feet of steak with a pocketknife, without anything but slick, smooth steak to hold onto, while treading water and suffocating. You can mess 'em up pretty good before you go, but you're probably not getting out. $\endgroup$ – Phasma Felis Dec 23 '16 at 8:09
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It depends a lot on the animal doing the swallowing and the thing being swallowed.

some like whales and crocodiles have so very destructive digestive systems, things like crushing crops, extreme pressures and very aggressive acids.

And different animals are resistant to different things, some animals like turtles are resistant to both suffocation and crushing, or like some worms are resistant to acids.

Usually it is either suffocation or crushing The size difference is important. If there is a big difference in size it is usually crushing forces that kills. For smaller differences it is usually suffocation.

As for you question at the end, mammals (like most heterodonts) don't do a lot of swallowing whole, your rat will be chopped into several pieces by the teeth or chewed into a pulp before swallowing.

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