Biologically speaking, what would be the best real world explanation for a pyro, torch, fire-starter type mutation. Leeching heat energy from the environment might freeze dry your surroundings. Generating energy from internal reactor not only may cook your insides but could be more difficult to push externally.

Story would be in the context of science fiction so no high magic explanations, but the characteristics of the planet could work in conjunction with the mutation of the character. Ex: charged particles native to the planet that an individual is sensitive to or able to manipulate.


6 Answers 6


The simplest way for an organism to start a fire is with a pyrophoric chemical. This is a chemical that will ignite spontaneously when exposed to the oxygen in air. All your fire-starter would need to do is produce the chemical in a special anaerobic organ that would keep it away from oxygen. Then the organism could spray the pyrophoric liquid as a flamethrower.

Life is very good at chemistry so there is a practically endless number of possible pyrophoric chemicals that could be used for this purpose. Two that come to mind would be triethylborane or diethylzinc. These are simple organometallic compounds that will be easy for an organism to produce, never fail to ignite, and will burn very hot. They have been used to spontaneously ignite rocket fuel.


Bioelectric charge is probably the best route for ignition. Basically your firestarter produces electrical charge internally and the plasma from the discharge heats and ignites material in its environment. This method relies on the availability of inflammable material, methane or hydrogen gas from metabolic processes are probably the best route for ready flame. So a person who's had gas ducts and storage bladders and an electric organ either genetically added to their make-up or surgically implanted could make a realistic firestarter for a Sci-fi setting.


In order to start a fire remotely, one would need to emit some form of EM radiation, in sufficient concentrations, to make the target hot enough to spontaneously combust.

The radiation needs to be concentrated both spatially, and temporally.

Spatially, meaning a beam (mono-directionally), rather than a lightbulb (omnidirectionally), so that only the target is heated, not everything.

Temporally, so that the object can be heated faster than it can cool down towards "room temperature", otherwise it will never reach the spontaneous combustion temperature.

All warm blooded creatures generate infrared EM-radiation, but none we know of can fullfil the spatial and temporal constraints needed to start a fire. They also dont have the ability to turn this radiation on and off at will.

However, there are also bioluminescent creatures that are able to use particular chemical reactions to generate EM-radiation in the visible light spectrum. These reactions can be activated and deactivated at will. However none of these creatures, that we know of, have the ability to concentrate the output.

Lucky, there is a very effective, biological, way to concentrate EM radiation spatially: the eye.

So: I would recommend some kind of reverse-eye, where the "retina" would be a bioluminescent patch, and the eye lens would concentrate the EMITTED light, onto a particular focal point.

Obviously, this patch would need to generate FAR more EM radiation than familiar earth creatures do, to start a fire, which would imply the need to store a large supply of the chemicals needed to generate the biolumiecent reaction, and pumping them through the "retina" on demand.
Tweaking these chemicals might allow infrared EM radiation to be generated, rather than visible-light to be generated instead. (advantageous because this form of radiation tends to be more readily absorbed and converted into heat, than visible light)

By making the chemical reaction occur in a small area, the "eye" can be surrounded by insulation: e.g. like a spongy bone, or a circulating coolant fluid sac.

The chemicals used to create the reaction would, since they store a lot of potential energy, be very expensive metabolically. This could be useful if you want to build in some limitations.


Channeling energy from another dimension or from the heart of a nearby star using the psychic ability known as teleportation. Perhaps the firestarter's talent is limited such that she can only teleport things in from a single location and that location happens to be incendiary hot.

Teleportation is really just a science-fiction friendly version of high magic, so I'll offer an alternative...

Perhaps the firestarter is host to an obedient swarm of nano-disassemblers whose primary function appear fire-like at a macro scale. These nanites are under her control via a cybernetic implant.

No wait, cybernetics aren't biologic. Gimme a minute...

She's a cute little blond and the lead programmer, who created the matrix where she lives, was a Stephen King fan...

Missed on "biological" again!

Long range aim-able flatulence!

Ash already offered that one!

I give up!


Dragons in The Flight of Dragons eat materials high in calcium such as limestone. By swallowing limestone and gemstones together, the limestone can be grinded into calcium to make hydrogen when contact is made with acid in their stomach chambers. This hydrogen expands and is what enables dragons to fly, sort of like a living balloon or airship.

To return to the ground, dragons release the hydrogen. They have an organ in their mouths (Thor's thimble) that creates an electric spark. This spark ignites the hydrogen upon leaving the body, thus creating fiery breath.

Your firestarters need not produce as much hydrogen as is need to float in the air, of course, maybe just enough for the purposes of your story.


I always like to answer questions by asking "what similar real-world behaviors do we have that fit the bill?"

I can think of a few.

1) The Bombardier beetle.

This is a series of internal explosions, causing a pulsed jet of boiling spray to be fired as a defense mechanism.

Now, the pulsed jet is not fire. It is merely boiling, so is at a temperature of about 100C (boiling water).

Even so, this is sufficient to deter most predators, and there is video of frogs regurgitating the beetles rather than suffer their attacks internally, so the defense will work even inside a predator.

And they're a good example of an animal which uses chemical reactions, showing that fire-starting chemical reaction is not out of the question.

Would fire be better? You betcha! But... fire also kills. You'd need to be an animal that, if the fire gets out of hand, will not be harmed by it. Flying might help. And beetles can fly. Yay!

Which brings us to the far better example:

2) Australian Black kites have been observed to start fires, which flushes out a buffet of prey, kills it, cooks it, kills dangerous predators, destroys undergrowth that predators and pray might be concealed by, and generally makes life really nice for these predators.

Fire might be a somewhat overpowered defense mechanism, but as a hunting behavior, it kicks ass. Note that the whole ecology will have to be based around regular burns within the area that a burning creature inhabits.

3) Humans.

Humans make fire, and use it for basically the same reasons as the predators, as well as for heat, light, tool use, tool creation, play, sexual display, and more.

Humans initially probably got their fire from the same places the birds above did, and learned to preserve it and keep it burning.

Later humans learned to make it by friction, which is another valid mechanism that animals could use.

Other humans learned to make it with sparks from metallic rocks, and tinder. Again, this is a mechanism that animals could use.

4) Dragons

OK, dragons aren't quite real-world, but consider these dragon-like behaviors we do have:

  • Cows make a lot of methane, a flammable gas.
  • Birds keep stones in their crops to grind food.
  • Some fish-eating birds can regurgitate oily black vomit as a defense mechanism.
  • Cobras and tigers can spray liquids considerable distances.

And by now, I'm sure you are thinking "flint stones for ignition, pressurized methane propulsion, and fish oil or other fats for sticky napalm spray".

Add in the flight that we've already established is kinda necessary to take good advantage of fire without getting killed, and that's a dragon.


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