I was wondering if a creature could use natural armor plating to protect itself from radiation. For some numbers, I would like the creature to survive normally very lethal radiation, 30 Grays, for up to a week. They should be comfortable with this kind of exposure for about 10 minutes to an hour.

If this is not possible, try and get as close to this target as possible.

  • $\begingroup$ It depends on type of radiation. You can fairly easily get shielded from alpha and beta radiation, but for gamma radiation the shield would become too heavy to wear. Maybe it's better to make your creatures have high tolerance to radiation? $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Nov 2, 2017 at 18:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexander Any idea what that might look like biologically? I know little about radiation. $\endgroup$ Nov 2, 2017 at 18:18
  • $\begingroup$ Alpha and beta shielding? I'm not sure, but suppose that crustacean' shell might do, or thick layer of hair covering entire body. For radiation tolerance, non-mammals can sustain higher dosages. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Nov 2, 2017 at 18:26
  • $\begingroup$ @OneSurvivor: Look at cockroaches. The current theory is that our body's cells are only sensitive to radiation when they are dividing. Since cockroach cells divide at an incredibly low rate, that means the cockroach has less cells mid-division at any given time. Therefore, an exposure to radiation will contaminate less cells and therefore give the cockroach a much better survival chance. $\endgroup$
    – Flater
    Nov 3, 2017 at 15:14
  • $\begingroup$ Take a look at tardigrades (the most radiation-resistant animal), Thermococcus gammatolerans (radiation resistance champion among all known organisms), and Deinococcus radiodurans (the toughest bacteria). All three can withstand over 1000 higher doses of radiation than humans. However, none of them uses armour. They employ different mechanisms. $\endgroup$
    – Olga
    Nov 3, 2017 at 17:15

3 Answers 3


It isn't likely if it comes to gamma radiation. Alpha and Beta are trivial to deal with.

To reduce typical gamma rays by a factor of a billion, thicknesses of shield need to be about 13.8 feet of water, about 6.6 feet of concrete, or about 1.3 feet of lead. Thick, dense shielding is necessary to protect against gamma rays. The higher the energy of the gamma ray, the thicker the shield must be. X-rays pose a similar challenge. This is why x-ray technicians often give patients receiving medical or dental X-rays a lead apron to cover other parts of their body.

You could combine shielding with the ability to repair DNA, regenerate quickly to help and maybe keep something alive for a longer time, but it wouldn't be pretty. The creature would still likely die a painful and horrible death.

  • $\begingroup$ So, pretty much like these bacteria from "The Turing Test" game? $\endgroup$ Nov 3, 2017 at 8:07
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Since Alpha and Beta radiation is electrically charged, one could even stop/divert it's course using electro-magnetic fields before it even touches the target. If a creature developed somewhat of a strong static around its shell/skin, the radiation wouldn't even touch it. Since gamma radiation is electrically "neutral", this will only work for alpha and beta radiation. $\endgroup$
    – BenSower
    Nov 3, 2017 at 9:32

You need dense armor to protect against ionizing radiation. There is no way around this: the only way to stop gamma rays and xrays is mass. Mass means weight. Massive substances like metal take less volume than less massive substances like bone or chitin. I suspect the radiation protection / unit weight will be comparable regardless of the substance but less massive substances will be very bulky.

Calcium is about the densest stuff one usually encounters as structures in biology. But my search turned up that bees deposit granules of magnetite in their bodies. Maybe for magnetoreception? http://jeb.biologists.org/content/jexbio/180/1/1.full.pdf Iron is good and dense and biological systems are good at handling iron. Your creature could accumulate iron in its shell which would add mass with less volume. Iodine is twice as dense than iron and biological systems (including ours!) are good at accumulating that too. An iodine fortified shell would be doable.

If the radiation is from one direction only that is easier, because you do not need a circumferential shield. For example if radiation is only from above a creature could have a tortoise-like shield of armor and stay completely below it.

The needed mass to protect will of course increase with the size of the animal you wish to shield. It will be easier to shield a small animal than a large animal. Small to medium tortoises, for example, carry relatively heavy shells compared to giant tortoises, which have porous, lightweight shells. An snail or abalone can easily tote around a shell several times heavier than the entire live creature.

If you want a big creature with a very massive shell / armor a way to still have it be able to move is to have it swim underwater, and have the shell be buoyant. A nautilus is an example of this.


The shell / armor would be just as massive but by enclosing large enough air chambers it becomes weightless. The only remaining problem is inertia, and so you cannot be in a hurry. I could imagine a nautilus shell type arrangement configured so the animal stays completely inside, propelling itself via the siphon.


More than could there be a creature capable of handling that kind of radiation, there IS a creature capable of handling that kind of radiation.These little guys should more than cover you.

Specifically, there is a black fungus feeding on the remains of the Chernobyl Reactor. A level of radiation so high that not even remote drones can survive in it for long.

It's not exactly armor, but it is a shield they use to harvest the radiation, and it's made of melanin (like what makes freckles or dark skin). Why block yourself from it when you can thrive off of it?

Melanin shielded fungal spores


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