Stunners

Are there creatures who can use their beauty to devastate, or to defeat a threat?

Well, what is “beauty”? If it has any aesthetic sense at all, a male blobfish probably thinks a female blobfish is the prettiest thing in the sea. But I’d like to think that a doomed fawn can find an approaching tiger beautiful, and terrifyingly so. And perhaps a stag is beautiful to other stags, if mostly because it makes a fearsome impression. So you could say that beauty is an outward expression of health and strength, to attract mates or intimidate rivals. If it has components, you could say that size, color, grace, and symmetry all play a part. But in the end, it does live in the eye of the beholder.

Evolutionary psychologists who study the concept of beauty think it originated as a sense of utility. Take flowers, for example. They developed color and symmetry, nectar and aroma to lure insects. Humans almost universally find them beautiful, although they serve no immediate practical purpose to us. However, far back in our genetic memory, we might recall an artistic, sensitive caveman ancestor who fancied flowers more than the rest of his tribe, remembered where those flowers were, and was able to come back later and find the fruit those flowers became. It is my belief that the ability to appreciate beauty is a survival instinct.

Is there anything that creates beauty to survive? One example would be the cuttlefish, which can actually hypnotize prey. By flickering between different colors rapidly, or pointing their tentacles at their target and creating concentric rings of color moving up their arms, they stun their prey like an old-school mesmerist with a spiraling wheel:

But my favorite example, once again, comes from the deep sea. It’s a bioluminescent jellyfish. In the video below, you can see what it looks like with the lights on, and off.

Here’s a superpower closer to Dazzler’s, or Jubilee’s. When it bumps into something and perceives that it’s being attacked, this Alarm Jelly, Atolla wyvillei, creates a pyrotechnic light display that does two things:

1) Stuns its potential predator. Remember, to these creatures any light at all is a source of curiosity, so this must look like a visual hallelujah, stopping an animal in its tracks.

2) Illuminates the predator, while advertising that predator’s presence to bigger predators. The “alarm” jelly could also be called a “distress call” jelly. Touch it, and you’re not only no longer invisible, but everything in visual range that could eat you knows where you are. So the jelly’s beauty may not be deadly in itself, but it might just get you killed.

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About quantumbiologist

Christian Drake, AKA The Quantum Biologist, is a naturalist and poet formerly of Albuquerque, NM and currently living deep in the backwoods of the Connecticut Berkshires. He has worked in aquariums and planetariums, national parks and urban forests. When not birding or turning over rocks to find weird bugs, he enjoys rockabilly music, gourmet cooking, playing harmonica and writing dirty haiku. View all posts by quantumbiologist

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