I'm searching for a source of nutrients for a nomadic tribe that climbs a seemingly endless metal tower. They have been climbing for generations and are too high up to see any ground below. The structure they climb is only made of metal (so far).

Their water comes from rain, condensation and maybe body fluids (however less advanced than in "Dune"). Their main food source is birds and other flying creatures they catch, collect and breed while traveling.

I realize there is no source for carbohydrates, vitamins and fiber in this diet. I read Nomadic Tribe of Herders - Source of Carbs/Other Nutrients?, but it seems every answer includes "They have to eat plants or agricultural products somewhen in the year", but I wouldn't know how the people could get these things.

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    $\begingroup$ What's stopping them from eating some form of edible moss? $\endgroup$
    – AngelPray
    Sep 24, 2017 at 11:36
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    $\begingroup$ There are plenty of vitamins in meat. Fiber and carbohydrates are optional to some degree. What about the stuff the birds nest in? Maybe one can cook a soup with it if you absolutely have to use other stuff. $\endgroup$
    – Raditz_35
    Sep 24, 2017 at 12:08
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    $\begingroup$ They are climbing "for generations" and are still able to breathe? Climbing just 1 meter per day for 20 years would put them at an altitude of 7300 meters (assuming they started at sea level). As for the source of nutrients: eggs. Eggs must contain, obviously, everything that's needed to sustain life. (Because at the end of the day life emerges from eggs.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Sep 24, 2017 at 12:16
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    $\begingroup$ Despite that it is (physically) hardly feasible (if at all), I find this idea intriguing and interesting. The first question I ask myself is "why are they climbing the tower"? There must be some motivation why they started, so a pure metal structure seems infeasible for that, there must have been something on higher levels that they found interesting and that kept them motivated to move on. This could solve your problems, to a certain degree, for example they could have started out in a desert and there are lush gardens at some levels. So the tribe is moving from garden to garden upwards. $\endgroup$
    – Bobby
    Sep 24, 2017 at 16:40
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    $\begingroup$ Some of these answers assume human-size creatures. Now, if they were very tiny insect-sized beings, climbing say the Eiffel tower, and their lifespan were quite short? In which case, you can completely change (evolve) their metabolism such that they can survive on what is available in their environment, like every other living thing on earth. Do they NEED to be human-like? $\endgroup$ Sep 24, 2017 at 19:45

3 Answers 3


Dare I hope that this is some kind of absurdist scenario? It smells like that, and so I gave you a hopeful upvote. If you are unfamiliar, check the link. What you set out is the myth of Sisyphus, but in a scenario where you can riff on society and family, not just one lonely dude and his rock. That myth has deep roots and can serve you well. You do not need to worry so much about the fine points if that is the case. Eating birds will suffice.

But if this is not Kafkaesque fiction and you just want some roughage for your nomads (are they nomads if they only go in one direction? I am intrigued!) , here are bromeliads growing on a wire.

bromeliads on a wire

Bromeliads are also called "air plants" - many do not have roots as such, just structures to cling to their substrate. They get nutrition and water from the air. Pineapples are in this family, and so you can propose some sort of edible bromeliad, with flowers and fruit at certain times of the year.

  • $\begingroup$ Yes they are technically still nomads even if they only go one way, just as long as they don't settle. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Sep 25, 2017 at 9:32

Apparently, and I'm not 100% on this (it's something I always mean to look up and never get around to), you can survive, mineral and vitamin wise, on a pure meat diet provided that you eat the whole animal including the organs and some fraction of the bone; I'm not sure if this holds for avian food animals as well as herd beasts.

My thoughts in terms of non-animal foods on such a structure would be the look at climbers and natives. Pretty much any structure will accumulate soil pockets. There are many trees and vines that can thrive even in very small pockets of poor soil. So there may be climbers that have their ultimate source down below and there may be plants that are native to the structure and make a living in the tiny pockets of soil at joints, etc...

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    $\begingroup$ Depends on a bird. Non-migrating birds do not have much fat: Only 3-5 % of total weight. Long-distance migrants can have up to 50% of their weight in fat (in the beginning of a migration, of course). The problem with lean meat diet is lack of fat (that's why rabbit starvation happens). So, if those people have access to eggs and migrating birds they should be fine, at least, for half a year. But if the birds permanently live in the tower, their meat must be supplemented by fats from other sources. $\endgroup$
    – Olga
    Sep 24, 2017 at 13:03
  • $\begingroup$ Correct you can survive on a pure meat diet. For those wondering about vitamin C, you need vastly less vitamin C if you don't eat carbohydrates. There is no such thing as an essential carbohydrate. See www.jbc.org/content/87/3/651.full.pdf $\endgroup$
    – Slarty
    Sep 24, 2017 at 20:43
  • $\begingroup$ Life without fiber would be unbelievably miserable. They must be the crankiest group of people in the universe $\endgroup$
    – axsvl77
    Sep 25, 2017 at 1:31
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    $\begingroup$ There is some, not much, vitamin C in animal flesh and it is mostly destroyed upon cooking so some parts of the animal would have to be eaten raw. @axsvl77 Fibre is found in the skin, hair, hide and hooves and if the animal eaten isn't a herbivore or omnivore its gut may contain some partly digested plants that would also be eaten by the humans. $\endgroup$ Sep 25, 2017 at 7:13
  • $\begingroup$ @Smartybartfast How about feathers? That would be a nice way as they eat birds all the time. $\endgroup$
    – axsvl77
    Sep 25, 2017 at 7:34

It does depend in some way on what the structure actually is.. the original builders may have had gardens and green spaces at various intervals on the tower if it was intended for living on.

The other thing you might want to look it is what the birds they are catching eat... presumably their must be some kind of vegetation for them to consume.

As for what kind of vegetation, assuming there aren't gardens on the tower itself what about vines that have grown up the length of the tower? I'm assuming from your description the tower may have been built and abandoned a long time ago, more than enough time for vines to start growing up it. Both grapes and kiwifruits grow on vines and you could invent others to fit your world.


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