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In some fantasy-themed games, feathers are sharp enough (I'm guessing through magic) to be used as daggers. This idea of using feathers as weapons inspired me to create a creature that would be able to use feathers as its defense mechanism. Except, the creature won't be using any magical solutions to achieve this.

The creature would be a wolf-sized animal somewhere between a dinosaur and a bird. Basically, a large bird with a long tail. It would have multiple large feathers attached to its tail that it could bristle up, kind of like how a porcupine raises its quills. I was thinking the feathers could be

  1. somehow sharp,
  2. or have small hooks inside,

so that when the animal swings its tail at its opponent (with feathers bristled up), it would cause some damage. However, I'm not sure if any of this is possible, or if it is, enough to be used as a defense mechanism.

So, can feathers be naturally structured in a way so that it would cause enough damage when swung around?

enter image description here This feather looks somewhat sharp, but it's not even close.

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    $\begingroup$ Do keep in mind, for the feather to act more like a blade, it'll also need to act less like a feather. $\endgroup$ Oct 24, 2021 at 1:26
  • $\begingroup$ @ProjectApex I was thinking only the large feathers on the tail would be this way, and all the other feathers would be regular feathers. $\endgroup$
    – Yellow
    Oct 24, 2021 at 1:29
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    $\begingroup$ Quite a few people have been killed by stabbing with a feather quill pen, although admittedly it was usually due to infection or the use of poisonous ink base. $\endgroup$
    – PcMan
    Oct 24, 2021 at 13:24
  • $\begingroup$ yes and it may already have existed see psitacosaur $\endgroup$
    – John
    Oct 24, 2021 at 21:00
  • $\begingroup$ Why ask how feathers can be naturally structured? Why not structure the feathers in your world in whatever way suits your purpose, then write that convincingly? $\endgroup$ Oct 24, 2021 at 21:26

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Have you looked at feathers? Do you see that quill-like spine running down the center of the feather. To me that looks very spiky. And these are the feathers that are just evolved for flight. Imagine what feathers evolved for discouraging curious predators from having a nibble could be. Additionally feathers, porcupine spines, and antlers are all made out of the same material keratin.

So could evolved feathers be used to spike predators? Sure, why not.

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    $\begingroup$ Better be one of those non flying birds - the spine of those feathers need to be a lot denser to produce a damage (now that I think about, I never saw a porcupine, hedgehog or echidna flying). But don't despair, the Aussies lost the Great Emu War, even if the emus don't throw feathery arrows at their attackers. $\endgroup$ Oct 24, 2021 at 3:25
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    $\begingroup$ Pocupine spines is what came to mind as I read the question, it's a small jump from porcupine spines to porcupine feathers - and they'd be nasty little honkers, too... all those soft-looking feathers.... $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Oct 24, 2021 at 18:47
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If you just keep the quill it would be nasty. Hollow as well so some poison in it would be extremely nasty and make them more brittle or easy to detach so they break off inside an animal.

I'm thinking of a prehensile tail covered in quills that it could push into a victim with or without some poison inside and barbs so it couldn't easily be withdrawn.

The African porcupine is dangerous to lions and hyenas and this is their defense.

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  • $\begingroup$ If fur/hair can do it (porcupines) then it seems reasonable that feathers could too, though there are no real world examples. Of course, with limitations to functionality as flight feathers. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Oct 24, 2021 at 4:23
  • $\begingroup$ @DKNguyen psitacosaurs have quills not sharp enough for this but close to the needed stiffness. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Oct 24, 2021 at 21:02
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It would take a bit of restructuring but if the feathers could be made less bristly and have the 'hairs' of the feather instead be fused into a thin but firm blade of sorts then you'd have something capable of cutting other things with about the same sharpness as a sheet of paper, or perhaps a razor blade. The spine of the feather would act as a nice enough central structure for the feather blade to have some stability and ability to keep itself straight enough to be used as a cutting device, while the spine's tip itself would converge into a sharp point for stabbing like an albeit relatively flimsy spear or arrow head.

I have to stress that due to the material of the sharp feathers they are not for whacking, only for cutting or maybe some light stabbing, so the birds or whoever would use them would need some sort of instinctual or trained knowledge on cutting mechanics. For how long this kind of structure would keep its edge I've no clue, but if the birds have a beak with a texture like a grindstone of sorts then perhaps they may be able to groom themselves and sharpen the blade feathers at the same time.

If you can still call this a feather and not a highly specialized scale I'll leave up to you, but then again feathers are basically highly specialized scales anyway so...

¯\ (ツ)

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  • $\begingroup$ hairs? Do you mean the ramus or barbules? See Wikipedia for the parts of a feather. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Oct 25, 2021 at 18:35
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I'd like to suggest an alternate mechanism — Well two, potential related ones. One would be a substance similar to powder down — a good hard wave would release a small cloud of disorienting/irritating dust. Alternatively Urticating hair as with spiders. Rather than stabby, they'd discourage predators by blinding them, or causing an allergic reaction

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