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A friend and I are creating a magical bird that eats gemstones then uses them to form a thin coat of crystal armor over its body. Is there any way for this bird (or any living thing) to actually have crystals growing on its body? I kind of want this ability to make scientific sense, but explanations that involve magic are okay too.

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    $\begingroup$ Technically I think chitin is crystalline in structure. Might not be exactly what you’re envisioning though. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Jan 14 at 21:29
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    $\begingroup$ @JoeBloggs I didn't think of that! Unfortunately, it's not really what I was looking for, but thank you anyways! $\endgroup$ – Muse Jan 14 at 21:36
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    $\begingroup$ Most organisms use composites because they are stronger and way way easier to make biologically than a pure crystal. $\endgroup$ – John Jan 14 at 22:08
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    $\begingroup$ Go with sexual selection, organisms do some truly absurd and self destructive things in the name of attracting a mate. $\endgroup$ – John Jan 14 at 22:31
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    $\begingroup$ This is pretty strange for a bird to do this, given the weight involved, and the question arises: does it need to eat the gems and secrete the crystals or is using gems to produce the armor enough? $\endgroup$ – The Nate Jan 15 at 3:38
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It's known as Biomineralization

Biomineralization is the formation of complexes containing inorganic materials by living organisms. This occurs in organs as diverse as bone, teeth, egg shells, and invertebrate exoskeletons. Calcium is a very “popular” biomineral, occurring for example, as phosphates in vertebrate skeletons and carbonates in mollusk shells. However, another important player is silicon. Silicon is the second most common element in the Earth’s crust after oxygen, and silica (silicon dioxide) is the most abundant compound in the earth’s crust. Biosilicification is the process by which inorganic silicon is incorporated into living organisms as silica, which occurs on the scale of gigatons. In practice this involves the condensation of orthosilicate Si(OH)4 into long polymers with the elimination of water.

In the case of stinging nettles, the stings are made of hollow silica spears containing formic acid:

enter image description here

Attribution Wikipedia CCL. 2019.

Diatoms (microscopic animals) make their own armour out of it:

enter image description here Attribution Unknown 2019

In principle if your organisms were to make their armour from - instead of silicon dioxide - say aluminium oxide, then they would have a Saphire or Ruby armour, or with Beryllium compounded, Emerald. The colour/shade and luster would vary perhaps depending on the particular minerals available in the diet of your creatures.

The Placoid scales of sharks (AKA dermal denticles) are made exactly like teeth, with a blood supply, dentene (hydroxylapetite), and hard enamel on the outside, acting to reduce drag, they're also very tough and have enabled shark species to survive for millions of years without changing:

enter image description here

Attribution Wikipedia CCL. 2019.

So, yes, it's possible, because it's already here. Adapt it to your needs as you see fit.

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    $\begingroup$ Note these examples are all composite glasses not crystals. Large pure crystals are really difficult and slow to make biologically. $\endgroup$ – John Jan 14 at 22:16
  • $\begingroup$ @John I was tempted to create a protein based crystaline armour, but we still haven't quite nailed the large-scale properties. $\endgroup$ – Hoyle's ghost Jan 14 at 22:25
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    $\begingroup$ You could expand this to include crustaceans and corals and I think it would add something. Oh, and then there are the species that glue crystals to their carapace rather than grow them to consider. $\endgroup$ – The Nate Jan 15 at 3:34
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    $\begingroup$ @The Nate I couldn't help myself, on reading "the species that glue crystals to their carapaces" I googled "kim kardashian's wedding ring" $\endgroup$ – Hoyle's ghost Jan 15 at 3:40
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    $\begingroup$ they could also eat butterflies $\endgroup$ – JGreenwell Jan 15 at 22:04
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Yes, but it would come with problems.

Disclaimer: I'm not a biologist.

There are a number of chemical solutions that can be used to "grow" crystals. It's even possible with nothing but salt and water, given good temperature control and environmental conditions. You could potentially accomplish that with something like sweat glands. Other types of crystal may require more exotic biological systems, but I don't see why they couldn't work in the right environment.

Problems:

Weight - crystal armor is going to be either fragile or heavy. On Earth, a bird would have a hard time flying with enough crystal of sufficient "toughness" to act as a good defense against predators.

Flexibility - Hard crystal is going to be solid, so it would have to either grow in many small pieces (more fragile, with more vulnerabilities) or in immobile "plates" that would make flexibility a challenge. (Like turtle shells)

Temperature control - sweat will be less effective at cooling the body, if it works at all. (depends on how much of the body is covered in crystal) The exact material of the crystal will determine how good of a conductor of heat it is, but it could either over-insulate the creature, or be overly-effective at dissipating it's body heat. The creature will need to account for that, one way or the other.

I'm sure there are other potential complications, but that's all that comes to mind for me.

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    $\begingroup$ In practical term, you've got a point, but maybe like sharksteeth it could re-grow. +1 $\endgroup$ – Hoyle's ghost Jan 14 at 22:12
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Crytals can grow on many things. you can do a crystal growing experiment and the crystals could grow on plants.im not sure if it's ever been tried before. you can try this with these links: https://kitchenpantryscientist.com/crystalline-entities-growing-alum-crystals/

for crystals to grow in general: Crystals often form in nature when liquids cool and start to harden. Certain molecules in the liquid gather together as they attempt to become stable. They do this in a uniform and repeating pattern that forms the crystal. In nature, crystals can form when liquid rock, called magma, cools.

It is possible for crystals to grow on living organisms in the right conditions

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You can even grow crystals yourself: When you sweat, your body basically releases salt water on your skin. Once the water dries off, you are left with salt crystals. They are of course rather tiny and not exactly like an armor.

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding, Matthias! 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 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 Jan 15 at 16:30
  • $\begingroup$ I think non-water-soluble crystals were intended. That's tricky, because basically everything is water-soluble, but it's kind of a necessity. $\endgroup$ – wizzwizz4 Jan 15 at 16:54
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Yes, and if you drink enough Port to give yourself Gout then you can try it for yourself.

The symptoms of gout are due to the formation of uric acid crystals in the joints and the body's response to them.

All you wanted to know about Gout.

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    $\begingroup$ Pseudogout's more relevant here imo. $\endgroup$ – wizzwizz4 Jan 15 at 16:55

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