The general idea I'm looking to support here is that of a bird that produces a natural grease/oil that covers its feathers, similar to real-world waterfowl. Assume the purpose of this oil is to be lit on fire.

Is there any material that could theoretically occur naturally, either produced by the bird or produced by another organism and ingested by the bird, that could be used to grow fireproof feathers? I'd like to be able to rationalize this creature beyond "it's just magic, ok?"

Edit: If it's relevant, the world does allow for "guided" evolution. Without getting too much into it, there is a consciousness that can affect how DNA changes over time. It's more a fantasy world than a science fiction world, anyways, but it's always nice to use as little "it's just magic" as possible.

Edit the Second: Feel free to answer/comment any other thoughts that occur, even if they’re relevant to the bird in some way but not exactly the material of the feathers.

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    $\begingroup$ Have you invented the Phoenix? $\endgroup$
    – pojo-guy
    Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 0:42
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    $\begingroup$ not organic materials, but asbestos is naturally occuring. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 0:58
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    $\begingroup$ Will the bird need to be on fire more than a few seconds? Even if the feathers are fire proof, the heat involved will cook the bird the same way you cook a meat with aluminum foil in the oven (the aluminum foil doesn´t burn, however the meat is cooked). $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 3:56
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    $\begingroup$ @Zenon FYI, it's normally considered polite to wait at least 24 hours before accepting, to give people in other time zones a chance to asnwer. $\endgroup$
    – walrus
    Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 10:49
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    $\begingroup$ @walrus Thank you for the reminder. I’ve un-accepted the answer and will wait 24 hours before re-accepting it. $\endgroup$
    – Zenon
    Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 17:45

4 Answers 4


Calcium pyrophosphate.


calcium pyrophosphate

It does not burn, as you might guess from its structure - it is already almost completely oxidized. Calcium pyrophosphate occurs in healthy organisms in small quantities as a byproduct of metabolic activities. calcium pyrophosphate deposition disease is a type of "crystal arthritis" - large quantities of insoluble crystals accumulate in joints and tissues, causing a disease like gout called "pseudogout".

If humans can make calcium pyrophosphate crystals in quantity (albeit in diseased states), other vertebrates should be able to as well. Your firebird sheaths its feathers with calcium pyrophosphate. As the feather grows, the insoluble crystals are deposited on the feather, acting like an asbestos coating.

Also it would look shimmery and translucent and cool as stink.


Theoretically naturally gives enough leeway to start considering high-temperature greases. You'd need some pretty solid chemistry and abundant natural sources of base chemicals (or some pretty expansive hand-waving) to explain how the animal would form the grease and then extrude it, but the right viscosity could well mimic the water-resistant versions seen in real-world ducks.

This does not solve every problem though. Even if the feathers themselves can stand up to the temperatures the bird's body may not. Having feathers that are relatively undamaged might be cool, but less so if the bird still comes out like a flash-fried chicken.

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    $\begingroup$ Flash-fried chicken is not out of the question. The current state of this world involves very few, if any, domesticated animals. Humans are going to have a difficult enough time finding meat. I know they could survive without it, but given that the presence of nutrient-rich meat in the diet of early humans likely caused the increase in brain size that lead to what we now know as intelligence, they need to get it somewhere. $\endgroup$
    – Zenon
    Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 0:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Zenon My broader concern would be with the plausibility of the naturally produced grease. If its purpose is to burn while maintaining the feathers, but the bird itself dies in the process of catching fire, it seems like an energetically expensive adaptation that doesn't do very much to keep the animal alive. But that's all outside the question as asked, I only included that point as some extra flavor. $\endgroup$
    – Upper_Case
    Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 0:12
  • $\begingroup$ Very true. Thank you for the additional perspective. $\endgroup$
    – Zenon
    Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 0:13
  • $\begingroup$ Actually meat is less nutritious than grains,beans,nuts and seeds at equal weight... this on all stands be it caloric wise or protein/fat and vitamins... meat is poor nutritional food. Humans evolved intellingence because social interractions. Once you have language intellingence develops quite easy. If you want primitive humans to get nutrient rich foods then teach them that hunting is a stupid waste of energy and that farming crops costs less energy while produces more nutrious food. Farming offers social interractions and easy food, the perfect mix to evolve intelligence. $\endgroup$
    – Koume
    Commented Sep 27, 2018 at 17:08

Dense greases would be an option; but it would make the bird rather heavy and probably not be good in the air... if it can even still get up in the air.

You could utilize those proteins differently and have them form tiny crystals on the outer facing areas of the feathers/body. Using an efficient system of energy transduction via the crystalline geometry; you could slow the incoming energy (fire) down to a less agitated state, which would turn the fire into light/energy... this could then be dispersed throughout the crystalline network and put off a glow of some sort; if you cared about getting rid of the energy. -- the bird could also utilize the crystalline system to ingest the overly agitated energy (fire, or other energies)... slowing it down enough to direct it through the body.. similar to what trees do. (Rereading this, you could also utilize that same absorbed energy, or the birds own energy to constantly emit energy through the crystals at a frequency that made the air surrounding itself very cold (slow) [if using the birds own energy, you need no transduction and just emission].)

Remembering that heat is created by fast moving particles and cold is slow moving... playing with that basic rule, you could make for many variations in this.

You could also bring in trace minerals.. and the ability to utilize metals in the feathers/body.. creating conductivity and allowing for the energy to go places throughout the body.. or even projected outwards into the environment. This may cause a weight issue...but probably not.

---- It also depends on how long you want this creature to endure fire. A light grease could make it fireproof for flying/swooping through fire... but staying there too long will make it go up in flames.

If I were you I'd get into condensers and crystalline stuff... that'd make it quite easy to convey and be very magical while still believable. You could also work with skin and heat transfering, heart/heat pumps... lots of stuff possible when you think of the process as "heat exchange" instead of "fireproof".

-edit for specific phrasing to "answer" question- A naturally occurring substance would be a self produced cellular protein which can be utilized in the construction of the feathers, hairs or skin of the bird. This protein would be crystalline in nature. -- being that the question is looking for a natural substance that "could occur", this is perfectly possible. Probably similar to what Will mentioned with pyrophosphates.

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding, Yxel! If you have a moment, please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. You may also find Worldbuilding Meta and The Sandbox (both of which require 5 rep to post on) useful. Here is a meta post on the culture and style of Worldbuilding.SE, just to help you understand our scope and methods, and how we do things here. Have fun! $\endgroup$
    – Gryphon
    Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 2:14
  • $\begingroup$ Yxel, while this is an interesting answer, perhaps you could edit to add a section answering the actual question of "Is there any material that could theoretically occur naturally, either produced by the bird or produced by another organism and ingested by the bird, that could be used to grow fireproof feathers?" As of now, this does not seem to mention a specific substance that could achieve this result, and as such, it does not actually answer the question. $\endgroup$
    – Gryphon
    Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 2:16
  • $\begingroup$ I think your edit still misses the point. If the OP was asking "how can I reach the roof of a building?", you are vaguely answering "with something which can help you change your elevation", while a good answer would be "use a ladder". $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 5:28
  • $\begingroup$ I knew that was going to be a comment. I think both of you are conditioned to receive a "good answer" which is actually exactly the opposite. If I told you to use a ladder, you would have only one method of getting to the roof. If I told you titanium or calcium pyrophosphate; you would also have only one answer. If your mind isn't focused on expansive knowledge... you may get no further than that. By telling you to work with proteins and crystals, while explaining exactly how it would work.. gives you a whole world of possibilities; you just now have room to be much more creative as well. $\endgroup$
    – Yxel Yxel
    Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 18:49
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    $\begingroup$ @Yxel You're describing a very interesting concept in your answer, but I think that the other comments were trying to point out your lack of hard details/examples. Providing a concept is all well and good, but questions here are typically looking for a readily applicable answer. If you offered a specific example of a substance that would be suitable for your concept, with a little description of how and why it does the job, that would make this an excellent answer. $\endgroup$
    – Palarran
    Commented Aug 8, 2018 at 1:07

Titanium is a relatively lightweight metal which has a high melting point. If your feathers had very thin braided strands of it, they could still be light and feel soft like feathers, but they'd be able to handle the heat for a pretty long time.


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