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The well-known cartoon imagery of porcupines shooting their quills at opponents in a fight is just that: a silly cartoon concept that isn't real. But it makes me wonder, does that mechanism exist elsewhere in nature?

Are there any animals whose bodies produce solid projectiles that are used as launched/thrown weapons? (Not looking for liquid ranged weapons such as skunk spray, bombardier beetles, etc.)

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    $\begingroup$ Clarity please. Are you excluding humans? Does this "production" exclude use of tools? Would you include the poo projectiles produced by primates? $\endgroup$
    – tyersome
    Apr 18 at 6:06
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    $\begingroup$ @tyersome Yes, when I say "animals whose bodies produce solid projectiles," I mean produced biologically by the body, not produced externally by the use of tools. $\endgroup$ Apr 18 at 13:05
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    $\begingroup$ Tarantulas can eject lots of bristle at potential predators. They often kick the bristles off with their legs, and I was told that they can eject them by tensioning their skin, but that's probably false, so I won't write a reply, here's a pic: youtube.com/watch?v=1cPxqjSG6HU $\endgroup$ Apr 18 at 13:45
  • $\begingroup$ I don't know if it counts as shooting, horned lizard can "shoot jets of blood from their eyes for distances of up to five feet", according to an xkcd "what if" which points to Wikipedia page about horned lizard. $\endgroup$
    – Clockwork
    Apr 18 at 22:01
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    $\begingroup$ While not a solid produced by their body, pistol shrimp shoot "cavitation bubbles" to stun and even kill small fish! en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alpheidae $\endgroup$ Apr 19 at 0:31
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A good exemple should be the “harpoon” in cone snails (Conidae), which is created from a modified tooth inside their proboscis.

cone snail
(Cone snail with proboscis, from KQED.org)

The harpoon is launched at prey at close distance, and is used to poison and stun prey, and later to pull them in. According to high-speed camera capture the harpoon is launched in just 200 microseconds, with an acceleration similar to a gun. The “harpoon“ structure is also very similar to a human made harpoon (see picture below)

harpoon, from https://www.kqed.org/science/1923898/watch-these-snails-stab-fish-and-swallow-them-whole
(from KQED.org, Courtesy Manuel Jimenez Tenorio, Universidad de Cádiz)

harpoon firing, from https://www.kqed.org/science/1923898/watch-these-snails-stab-fish-and-swallow-them-whole
(from KQED.org, Courtesy Joseph Schulz, Occidental College)

These harpoons are not re-used, and a cone snail can have up to 20 harpoons at different stages of development (see Cone snail toxicity).

It is also worth noting that the harpoon and its venom is a potent defence weapon also against humans. One cone snail can contain poison to kill about 700 people, and people stung by cone snails can get severely injured or even die (fatality reported to 15-75% according to Kapil et al, see below).

If you would include use of tools, in projectile use/shooting animals, apes and elephants are known to use stones as throwing weapons (see wiki-page linked below).

Sources: https://www.kqed.org/science/1923898/watch-these-snails-stab-fish-and-swallow-them-whole

wikipedia: projectile use by non-human organisms (with other examples of projectile use)

Kapil S, Hendriksen S, Cooper JS. Cone Snail Toxicity. [Updated 2020 Sep 3]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

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An excellent example (unless you consider this a tool) of a weapon using animal would be the "web casting spiders" which are a diverse group of spiders known as the Deinopidae. These spiders create a special elastic web that they hold between their fore-feet, and then dangling down from a surface, they expand and push the web onto their prey.

There is an excellent video from the BBC of this happening here

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Although not a hard projectile the Archerfish shoots water

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archerfish

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  • $\begingroup$ Humans can also shoot water from their mouths, but not three metres $\endgroup$
    – user253751
    Apr 19 at 10:06
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    $\begingroup$ "Not looking for liquid ranged weapons" $\endgroup$
    – OrangeDog
    Apr 19 at 13:38
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    $\begingroup$ Can't find it at the moment, but I remember lizards shooting blood from their eyes, most likely from What if? blog by xkcd. $\endgroup$ Apr 19 at 16:48
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    $\begingroup$ @valisstillwithMonica Here ya go. It's a defense mechanism $\endgroup$ Apr 19 at 18:23
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    $\begingroup$ +1 because it's still the physical effects of the projectile that the fish is going for, not like skunk spray which is basically chemical (odour), not impact or making a bug's wings wet. $\endgroup$ Apr 20 at 2:39
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It is a common notion that porcupines can shoots spines but in reality, they can't. But there are some animals that can shoot/throw projectiles at the target as a result of either offensive or defensive mechanism. The projectile can be anything ranging from spikes or thorn to big objects like rocks, sticks, nuts or even faeces. You can find the details in the Wikipedia article.

The Wikipedia article mentions tarantulas that have a dense covering of hairs called urticating hairs on the abdomen that they sometimes use as protection against enemies. They can kick these hairs off by flicking them into the air at a target using their back pairs of legs. These fine hairs are barbed and designed to irritate and can be lethal to small animals such as rodents as well as humans.

Sea cucumber can expel its internal organs through its anus which can be sticky and sometimes contain a toxic chemical that can kill predators.

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    $\begingroup$ Pufferfish throwing their spines is another one of those images that shows up in cartoons, but not reality. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Apr 18 at 19:07
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Spitting spiders will shoot their strands of web (extremely quickly) toward prey: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DFozCr_tj8I

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There is a plant called Sphagnum that disperses its seeds through an explosion that functions similar to that of a cap gun. It's pretty sick.

here it is in action

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    $\begingroup$ OP wants to know shooting "animals" not plants. $\endgroup$ Apr 19 at 3:37
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    $\begingroup$ @NilayGhosh the question text wonders "does that mechanism exist elsewhere in nature?" so plants would be included there. Possibly the title only mentions "animals" as the questioner hadn't considered plants as a possibility - however this appears to be a seed dispersal tactic rather than a weapon $\endgroup$ Apr 19 at 10:35
  • $\begingroup$ @MartinSmith I would think so but again in 2nd para, it is written "Are there any animals whose bodies ...". If OP were to consider both animals and plants, then the question would be too broad. Also, the other answers involved animals. So, this is an odd-one out. $\endgroup$ Apr 19 at 10:48
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Fieldfares guard their nests by attacking predators with their poop. Arguably feces is undigested material, but it does contain some secretions made in the body. Admittedly, fieldfare poop is more of a paste than a solid.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fdrl__ggV9k

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  • $\begingroup$ I think it would be well argued that bird poop is a liquid generally - there are seabirds that projectile vomit to protect chicks, which would be also considered a liquid. I think the main criterion to the question is created and solid. $\endgroup$
    – bob1
    Apr 21 at 4:15
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No, there are not animals which produce solid projectiles to shoot/launch/throw for defence or hunting. I think these criteria mean "aimed and detached".

There are tethered projectiles like cnidocyst in Cnidaria, but they don't detach (Wikipedia/cnidocyte). Harpoon-like organ in cone snails which is mentioned by @fileunderwater doesn't detach from the body (albeit detaches internally) and it must work in this way in order for the snail to hold and draw its prey (Wikipedia/cone snail). Spitting spider which is mentioned by @JimN doesn't store solid silk to shoot, it sprays the materials (Wikipedia/spider silk). It seems that the nearest thing is the urticating hairs in tarantula which is mentioned by @NilayGhosh; but tarantula doesn't shoot, it detaches hairs to make them airborne (Wikipedia/urticating hair). As the question has those criteria, these don't count.

There is a similar question on the possibility of that ability in worldbuilding.stackexchange (link) which you can review.

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    $\begingroup$ You should remove the first line of your post, as other posts have proved it false. "Never say never." $\endgroup$ Apr 20 at 22:43
  • $\begingroup$ @LevelRiverSt What other answers prove this one false? serekani already specifically mentions some of them and says why they don't meet the criteria in the question (a solid projectile shot by an animal). The question doesn't disallow tethered projectiles, so you could argue that's an unnecessary limitation, but I think it's an interesting point to bring up. $\endgroup$
    – kwc
    Apr 20 at 23:52
  • $\begingroup$ @kwc 1. sea snail harpoon - complies with question, shoots, does not detach in use, but "is not re-used" so it must detach afterwards. 2. Of the spider answers, the spitting spider web is clearly projected & detaches in use (at least some parts) and works because it is toxic and sticky. (Watch the video.) It may not be hard, but it's not a liquid or a gas, most definitely a solid. This post then almost contradicts itself because it mentions urticating hairs, which are clearly produced by the animal's body and are solid (though having watched a video they are perhaps not really a projectile.) $\endgroup$ Apr 21 at 0:47
  • $\begingroup$ @kwc the sea cucumber internal organs and pufferfish look like examples that fit the criteria, but following your comment I haven't been able to substantiate that they actually detach (all I've seen shows them remaining attached.) Equally, its pretty much impossible to substantiate a claim that there is no animal in existence that produces solid projectiles that shoot and detach, which is why I think it is unwise to say it. Consider how many species there are out there still to be discovered. $\endgroup$ Apr 21 at 0:56
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    $\begingroup$ @LevelRiverSt I understand the point:"Never say never." But it isn't necessary or customary to add "as long as we know" to every statement. If one asks if there are any fish species which lay egg on ice, the answer is no. Of course the question can be edited numerous times to try to fit the question to an answer, but this can make asking a question meaningless from the very beginning most of the time. $\endgroup$
    – serekani
    Apr 21 at 9:54

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