Could a creature use lightning (or any other source of electricity) as a sole energy source, and not need to eat? Would any additional organs be needed to store or use the electricity?

I have a race of animals, kind of like oarfish, although much bigger, capable of flight. I'm not sure how, but probably some lighter than air gas. If they chased thunderstorms, with the intention of getting struck by lightning, and were able to attract it, could they get usable energy from that?

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    $\begingroup$ Short answer (but not especially helpful, which is why I'm leaving a comment instead): no. Probably. Not as its sole energy source, although that might be nit-picking what you mean by "energy source". Gargoyles notwithstanding (they used solar, not electricity, but similar idea), if you're steering clear of outright magic, all biology needs various proteins, minerals, etc. to survive. Are your creatures allowed to get non-caloric sustenance via some other means? $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    May 27, 2020 at 19:24
  • $\begingroup$ electroactive bacteria? $\endgroup$
    – user69935
    May 27, 2020 at 19:51
  • $\begingroup$ Ultimately, ANY source of energy COULD be used by life as energy, but you'd have to work out the mechanism. How can you convert a stream of electrons, or a sudden burst of heat, or the presence of electrically-induced plasma into useable, harvestable chemical energy? Most lightning is too intense to be useful - like a plant that uses light being hit by a high-energy laser. I'm guessing you'd need a plant-like structure that underwent some sort of transformation due to lightning then harvested energy from the change. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    May 27, 2020 at 19:58
  • $\begingroup$ and having to wait for lightning unless it was in an area with constant storms would be an un reliable source of energy $\endgroup$
    – user69935
    May 27, 2020 at 20:02
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    $\begingroup$ Basically, why not? In my world, there are such living things. We'd need to know more about how your world works in order to give you a good quality answer! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    May 27, 2020 at 21:55

1 Answer 1


If we're going hard science, we would have to imagine some kind of biology which evolved from the beginning to use lightning energy. It's hard to imagine an animal acquiring that talent from a different evolutionary line without getting fried.

So let's imagine how a single-celled organism might use lightning.

On a planet with the right chemistry, and a lot of lightning, there would be ions in the atmosphere or in the ocean. These ions could be used as a kind of energy source. A multicellular organism might evolve a membrane to selectively acquire these ions and use them to build up more complex organic molecules.

Could we imagine this kind of organism making the leap to getting energy by being shocked? Maybe! If it already had efficient ways of moving ions around, maybe it would be somewhat more immune to a lightning strike. And that gives it an evolutionary path to being totally unharmed by one, and then perhaps seeking them out. Then your organism would be collecting raw elements from the environment and seeking lightning to convert them.

I'm not a chemist or biologist, but maybe looking at the biology of electric eels will be instructive.

The real problem is that a lightning strike is so unpredictable that your organisms aren't very likely to ever get hit, no matter what they do. Unless...

Maybe, they can float like balloons, and they can link themselves together in a long line, like an ant bridge. Then they can form a wire - connecting different layers of the atmosphere - with a much greater chance to have energy flow. Perhaps they really evolved to exploit energy differences between layers of the atmosphere, and the lightning is just a neat trick they do sometimes.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks. My plan is them floating. I had not considered the energy differences between layers of the atmosphere. I was planning on them actively trying to find storms, and attracting lightening with a kind of biological lightening rod, either iron or copper, cause there are creatures that gather iron for a shell. $\endgroup$
    – AlexT
    May 28, 2020 at 13:25
  • $\begingroup$ A lightning rod doesn't work unless it's attached to the ground. It's actually the same concept as connecting layers of the atmosphere, it's just a more extreme difference. $\endgroup$
    – NeilK
    May 30, 2020 at 0:49

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