A L I E N :
THEORIES OF ALIEN MORPHOLOGY
NOTE: These essays are not endorsed by all groups. For the actual endorsed science, refer to the next chapter.
From research currently underway at LaSalle Bionational
The creature that has commonly become known as 'the alien' – the xenomorph which was first encountered on LV-426 - has presented a great number of questions to the scientific community. The mystery surrounding these creatures has hardly been helped by the sole sources of data coming from unreliable and unscientific eye-witness reports.
That is, until now.
Lasalle Bionational has managed to secure a number of live specimens at
various stages of life cycle development. Controlled observation
and examination of these has expanded our knowledge of this remarkable
life form, despite a number of drawbacks inherent in any study thereof.
There have also been many queries raised as to the creatures' sensory apparatus.
As far as the
The ornate structures of the Alien's cranial exoskeleton appear to be designed to capture and amplify atmospheric vibrations: sound. The extended lateral rows of these structures along either side of the skull allow the Alien a wide field of "hearing" and acute sensitivity. This would, of course, be of no use to the creature in the context of a vacuum, and we were thus forced to consider further possibilities.
Spectroscopic analysis of the material composing the "blind" frontal plate of the skull has shown that it is composed of the unusual C60 carbon-lattice, which is known to demonstrate exceptional conductive properties. Behind the frontal plate, a series of highly sensitive thermoreactive organs are found. We can infer from this that the creatures are also able to register thermal signals and perceive radiated heat images, an ability which would be of obvious benefit in environments lacking atmosphere. These sensory facilities are obviously of great benefit to a creature as aggressive as the Alien.
Closer examination has also revealed vestigial photosensitive organs flanking the skull's frontal plate. With the range of sensory information available to the xenomorph, "eyes" that see in visible light wavelengths would seem surplus to requirements. However, the purpose of a rudimentary "sight" seems to be twofold: Firstly, the Aliens themselves have little or no body heat, other than that produced by their internal chemical reactions (which is almost non-existent when the creatures are inactive). The Aliens' "eyes" enable them to perceive each other. Secondly, in order for the Alien to operate effectively as a hostile organism, an accurate means of depth perception is required. Stereoscopic sight serves this function admirably. However, since the vast majority of these creatures are asexual and (as has already been noted) do not need to kill for food, there would appear to be no need for their remarkable killing ability unless expressly bred for that purpose.
Observation of the Aliens in a simulated hive environment has shown us that they operate in a manner not dissimilar to that of worker ants, with their belligerence limited only to organisms not native to the hive. Thus, the creatures generally operate in a manner benefitting the hive community, with any creature straying therein being met with swift and aggressive retaliation.
In short, this life form appears to be the ideal basis for a hive community,
demanding none of the
Ovomorph / Facehugger Dissection
The Lasalle Bionational research team's preliminary studies of the xenomorph popularly known as the 'Alien' have, by necessity, concentrated on the fully developed specimen, since this has offered the greatest potential for the Lasalle BioWeaponry division to make inroads into the established Weyland-Yutani market. However, in an effort to better understand the propagation of these creatures, we have lately turned our full attention to the first life cycle phase, the 'egg' and 'facehugger' manifestations.
For as long as the reproductive faculties of the Alien Queen remain unknown to us, there are a number of questions raised by this phase that we are unable to answer. Nonetheless, detailed and intensive research has given rise to some startling and unexpected conclusions.
At first, it appeared obvious that the facehugger was a semi-independent lifeform whose only purpose was to implant the embryonic Alien within its host organism. The facehugger's relation to the Alien was self-evident by the fact that it possessed acidic 'blood' and operated upon the same bioelectrical chemistry as the Alien itself. This gave rise to a serious problem: if dating attempts on the ancient starcraft (the 'derelict') discovered by the crew of the Nostromo on LV-426 were to be believed, the facehuggers could not possibly have survived the length of time between the original crash and the subsequent discovery. It was at this stage that we first began to look at the egg/facehugger as a single united organism and were presented with a scientific breakthrough.
We knew that no life signs for the facehugger itself could be detected within the egg prior to release upon a victim. And through observation and deep scans of the facehugger's release upon a live subject, we further concluded that, whereas the egg had previously been considered only as a vessel for containing the embryo-delivering facehugger, dissection and deep level scans revealed it to be an organism in its own right.
This previously unknown organism - christened the ovomorph - proves to be exceptionally resilient. Although its carbon lattice based composition and life functions powered by process of acidic reaction are similar to the already known phases, the ovomorph locks its reactive acids into relatively stable salts or trace metals. These decay slowly, releasing the acids and generating the bio-electrical charge at a much reduced rate, in keeping with the ovomorph's sedentary and essentially passive nature.
At the base of the egg-structure, dissection revealed a cluster of conductive matrices similar to that which we believe to be the full-fledged alien's central nervous system. This rudimentary CNS is linked to thermo/pressure-sensitive veins running over the exterior of the ovomorph's 'shell,' enabling it to 'perceive' the proximity of a suitable host.
(It is worth observing at this point that the ovomorph's sensory apparatus are only likely to be triggered by the proximity of an organic and ambulatory life form and that the arrangement of the facehugger's gripping appendages and ovipositor are specifically tailored to a certain body mass range and configuration of respiratory and digestive organs. It is therefore our conjecture that implantation is unlikely to take place within an unsuitable host: an invertebrate, for example.)
Upon detection of a prospective host for the embryonic Alien, the ovomorph releases a catalyst that unlocks the acids bonded into the chemical salts. These are then transferred to the facehugger organism which becomes 'live' only at that point. Essentially, the ovomorph transfers its remaining bio-electrical potential to the facehugger, sacrificing itself so that the facehugger can then become sufficiently active to attack the host upon the opening of the ovomorph's casing. Once released, the facehugger uses a similar set of thermoauditory responses to those used by both the ovomorph and the adult Alien to attack its prey. Utilizing a secretion of its acidic compounds to penetrate exceptionally resilient hides (or armor), it then uses a DMSO-delivered cyanide based toxin in concentrations relative to the optimum size of the host in order to render a case of deep toxic shock. (Thus, should the facehugger be unfortunate enough to attach itself to a host that does not fall within the mass range of its prescribed target form, the cyanide dose is either ineffective or fatal.) This state reduces the victim's vital signs to an absolute minimum and thereby optimizes the chances of survival.
It's most remarkable feature, however, is the facehugger's ability to sample
the contents of the
We have also determined that even the most rudimentary fetal Alien implanted
within the host
Thus, the first stage of the life cycle is actually the ovomorph - a creature symbiotic with the facehugger, whose only function is to facilitate the implantation/impregnation within the host of the specific tumors that later form the Alien.
Appearance of the Adult Alien
Much has been made of the Alien's ability to determine their adult form based upon the host organism. We assume that the development of the chesburster and the subsequent adult is directed by the host in which it gestates. Presumably, it has to adapt to the environment in which it will be hunting, and the best way to do this is by learning things like the type of atmosphere, gravity and available nutrients from the host via metabolic contact. Therefore, the form of the chesburster and the adult will be determined in part by the host, but there can not be any genetic transfer. A queen will tend to lay eggs which are optimized for growing in a host like the type she was born from.
If an egg is laid in an optimal host, it is adapted to its environment
and takes a full term to develop. If it is in a non-optimal host, it risks
detection because of its alien metabolism and must therefore
This theory suggests that the embryo implanted in the crewman Kane aboard the Nostromo was a transitional form between Aliens optimized for humans and those optimized for the beings aboard the derelict spacecraft found on LV-426. The chestburster therefor emerged quickly and immature to avoid detection. Colonists on LV-426 were implanted by a human-born queen, allowing the gestation period to last full term. The creature encountered on Fury-161 was implanted in a dog by a human-born queen. This embryo was non-optimized, and hatched quickly. It was a transitional form between dogs and humans, just as the creature aboard the Nostromo was a transitional form. This theory could account for the varied appearance of the creatures encountered.
Alien Genetic Makeup
The xenomorph's ability to alter its appearance based upon its host organism has raised questions about the genetic makeup of the creatures. Although evidence of the actual genetic code of the Alien species is sketchy at best, there are a number of theories on the subject.
If the Alien species uses DNA, it is not likely that their DNA looks anything
like ours. This is
It is also unlikely that the xenomorph would be able to make use of terrestrial DNA. The issue of randomness in evolution suggests that the species could not use the exact genetic code as humans.
Additionally, our DNA is used to encode the amino acid sequences of our protiens, most of which are designed to function around pH 7. The xenomorph protiens probably function somewhere below pH 0. Human protiens will fall apart and become degraded in that pH range. The Aliens have to be using an entirely different set of amino acids to make sure that their protiens are not destroyed by the internal pH (assuming they use amino acids at all). If, by some miracle, the Aliens do use DNA, it would have to be as different from human DNA as their amino acids and protiens would have to be from ours in order to survive their internal pH. This suggests that human DNA would be completely incomprehensible to them. If the number of amino acids they use is greater than 64 or less than 16, they would be using different sized codons than humans do, creating an additional barrier to compatability. The latter assumes that they only use four bases in their DNA as we do, which is unlikely, since they must be using modified bases to begin with.
Finally, there is also the possibility that they may be working with single
or triple stranded DNA
The characteristics discussed below are not the sole characteristics available for discussion, nor are the conclusions drawn the only conclusions possible. This is simply one possible picture based on the set of assumptions and the data available to date.
The following speculations are based on four primary assumptions:
1.That the alien evolved on a planet and was not created by another species
Important common features of the alien species include:
Host dependent reproduction
Some or all of these features may be due to the adaptation/modification of the organism to its current lifestyle as a space faring parasitic species. In the case of modification, it would be most parsimonious to assume that the aliens were intended for use as biological weapons. This theory assumes that the creatures found in space are adapted or modified to living in this habitat, and focuses on estimating their possible ancestral forms and the state of the ancestral homeworld. It assumes that any modifications and adaptations have been made using pre-existing characteristics, so that the ancestral creatures posses similar characteristics. The creatures found in space are referred to as "modern" in the following discussion.
Discussion of observed characteristics
The alien life cycle is divided into two distinct stages which are reminiscent of the alternating sporophyte and gametophyte generational stages of plants and fungi. Plants produce distinct types of reproductive cells (spores or gametes) which give rise to genetically distinct types of organisms. Spores grow into gametophytes, which produce gametes, while gametes fuse to form sporophytes which produce spores. In the alien species, the sporophyte stage could be represented by the juvenile stages. These would create the embryoembryo. The gametophyte stage could be represented by the adult stages. These would create eggs after gamete fusion. Such a strategy in might be indicative of an chaotic and dangerous natural environment (see discussion of hypothetical ancestors). We have zero knowledge of the genetics of these creatures, and further speculation on the existence or nature of alien reproductive cells would be unfounded.
The alien morphology seems to be a melange of arthropod and vertebrate characteristics. The segmented exoskeletal carapace and variable numbers of limbs are reminiscent of terrestrial arthropods (as well as armored fishes and reptiles to a lesser extent), while the adult body plan seems more vertebrate in nature; the presence of a jaw, spine terminating in a tail and limbs ending in grasping hands and feet as opposed to the mouthparts, legs and body plan of an arthropod suggest a vertebrate morphology. The larval legs are articulated via an endoskeleton, which appears to be covered in a sheath of muscle and a pliable external layer of protein and silicon. This seems to indicate that the oldest ancestors of these creatures possessed endoskeletons, and that exoskeletons evolved later. As is the case with vertebrate evolution in the Silurian and Devonian periods, the endoskeleton may have evolved first as a means to protect the CNS, and the exoskeleton could have evolved secondarily; in response to environmental challenges.
The eggs are complex organisms in and of themselves. They are responsible for maintaining life support for the larva for an indefinite amount of time, and must recognize a potential host and distinguish it from valid members of the nest. The eggs contain rudimentary moving parts. Once the egg has determined that a host is proximal, it releases the larva. In the modern species, the egg is flammable, translucent and unarmored. Their gracile nature in comparison to the adults may be in response to the security afforded by the nest strategy. Because of these unusual qualities in an egg, it might be that the egg and larva constitute a single organism up until the point where the larva is released. The size of an egg in comparison to the size of the contained larva indicates substantial internal morphology, consistent with requirements for life support and sensory systems.
Despite the obvious immediate differences, the organism's basic body plan may be conserved between the juvenile and adult forms. The larval form has 8 legs, and while imagoinstago forms only appear to have 4 limbs, queens appear to have 6. All forms have a single articulated tail, implying the presence of a spine and CNS. As the juveniles posses an endoskeleton it could be assumed that the adults do as well. The adult head morphology is quite distinctive. In the post-nymph forms, the mouth contains a secondary set of jaws on the end of the tongue, and the head is long and curved. In the modern species, it is probable that the larval form is derived to the point where a majority of the sensory portions of the larval body remain in the egg when the larva is released. Anatomy corresponding to the adult head may be contained within the egg. Accordingly, if the juvenile "air-sacs" are used for respiration, any adult breathing apparatus would be located posterior to the hindmost pair of adult legs. Four "vanes" are visible on the backs of most adults, and six are visible along the backs of queens. These may function in breathing. Additionally, the head configuration of the adult may be adaptive in that it would prevent accidental implantation of an embryo into an adult by a larva, or prevent intentional implantation by a larva of another species. The legs of the larva will not easily grasp the adult head, and the ventral "embryopositor" tube will be subject to attack by the mouthed tongue. This may suggest that there are competing species of these creatures on the homeworld.
While in the egg, the larva remains suspended in a fluid, suggesting aquatic
origins for this species. The emerging larva retains a thin coating
of the internal fluid, and this layer appears to be caustic,
It is likely that the caustic properties of the blood are not due to simple pH, but that other chemical and enzymatic factors are in effect. In addition to functioning as the medium for an internal transport system, the organism's "blood" might be its digestive system, which would suggest an extremely different internal structure than terrestrial standards. The caustic properties of the blood appear to be more effective on synthetic and organic materials than on metals, supporting the idea that other chemical and enzymatic factors are at work, which in turn supports the digestive theory.
Interior carapace pressure might indicate a higher average planetary pressure than 14 psi. This could be a defense mechanism, or it could simply be circulatory pressure. The internal physiology of the organism has yet to be revealed to any great extent, but pulsing "artery-like" structures have been observed in emergent nymphs, implying some sort of pumping "heart" organ. Possibly the homeworld is larger or the atmosphere is heavier than on earth. The larval air sacs/bellows might be a historical adaptation to living beyond the aqueous environment, but it is possible that these are a parasitic adaptation, and are not required by the organism. The degree to which they function is probably dictated by the atmospheric requirements of the host, but we have no knowledge of the organism's atmospheric requirements. If such sacs are required, the larva will not survive in vacuum. The adults appear to function as well underwater as out of it, implying that the do not use air sacs. It is possible that inert gasses irritate the adults. Possibly, they breathe using modified gill structures located in the dorsal vanes.
Body temperature is ambient, perhaps indicating a generally warm planetary surface temperature, or geothermal habitat requirement. It remains to be seen how long the imagoinstago can survive in a vacuum or sub-freezing temperatures. The low pH of the blood would seem to indicate a drastically reduced freezing point. Queens survive extended periods of transit through both of these environments, and it is possible that other instarinstago and imagoinstago forms may as well. The various adult forms demonstrate aversion to open flames, but unlike the eggs and nymphs, are not flammable. This suggests temperature boundaries within the upper limits of terrestrial environments.
The lack of obvious eyes in any observed stages indicates that the aliens
either live entirely in
The aliens display significant ability to cling to and move on vertical and inverted surfaces, supporting the idea that a significant portion of time is spent underground or in enclosed spaces. Nests fit this description, and it may be that castes which venture outside of the nest posses eyes. In this case, these castes have not yet been observed. The nests might be constructed above or below ground or water, but seem to be designed so that the resinous construction material covers all surfaces near their cores. Partially submerged nests would require air chambers for hosts and larvae.
Copious amounts of a viscous substance are constantly being secreted from the mouthparts and neighboring regions. This substance appears to be used in constructing nests, hardening to form a resin. Thick strands may also be produced, although the mechanism for this is unclear. Prior to hardening, the resin does not display caustic properties, and may act to neutralize acids. This would be useful, both in offering protection from an acidic environment, and in protecting the nest from being accidentally dissolved.
The presence of an endoskeleton and an exoskeleton implies that conditions
changed during the
A low pH ocean could literally dissolve its inhabitants, forcing them to lower their pH to meet that of the environment, present a barrier against the caustic properties of their surroundings, leave the oceans or try these strategies in various combinations. Thick layers of continuously renewed armor would be constantly ablated by the acid, but could protect underlying tissues, and secretion of neutralizing substances could serve as similar a shield. A lowering of the blood pH might offer some protection, but might also begin to damage one's own tissues, and would probably be energetically expensive. Raising the pH of one's tissues would not be a successful strategy in an aquatic environment.
The aliens posses all of these characteristics to various degrees, suggesting that the aquatic environment is either extremely caustic, or became progressively more caustic in discrete degrees. The modern species appears only to produce secretions in and around the mouth region; possibly the protective substance has to be applied to exposed regions of the anatomy, or whole body coverage is not necessary beyond an aquatic environment. In the former case, hardening of the resin might serve to bolster the exoskeleton, or the exoskeleton might be formed of the same substance, secreted from the surface of the body. The endo- and exoskeletons would be made from different substances in this case. In either case, the secretions around the mouth are used for building the nest. Ancestral types might have been covered in an additional layer of secretions.
The larvae are known to have an external layer composed of some combination of protein-polysaccharides and polarized silicon. Larvae do not seem to produce secretions, and the external layer is not as hard in appearance as the adult carapace. In non-nymph adults, this carapace has a metallic appearance, and is probably composed of additional materials. The teeth of nymphs often have a metallic appearance. If the hardening of resinous secretions were the source of the exoskeleton, these secretions might contain different substances depending on their intended use. Secretions destined to become armor, structural material or strands and cables might have very different compositions.
Living in a variety of challenging and dangerous environments might favor the observed division of reproductive strategies. The organism might be able to adapt rapidly to changing environments by using varying morphologies and reproductive strategies as a means of "shifting gears". An organism that was unconcerned with finding a mate could focus on finding a carrier or host capable of moving its offspring to a potentially more hospitable area. Organisms in a hospitable area could focus on reproducing themselves as efficiently as possible. Primitive juveniles could create embryos to be carried away by mobile hosts, while successful adults could create multiple eggs which were suited to their environment. Thus selection operates one way on the juveniles, selecting for those able to find suitable hosts (including mobility when the environment is shifting), and another way on the adults, selecting for those best suited to their environment. This implies that primitive juvenile stages were capable of predicting environmental shifts and altering their host selection accordingly. That the modern species has an "atrophied" juvenile stage implies that a stable environment was located, or that a novel strategy for relocating was developed. The stable environment may have been space, or perhaps there are yet unobserved castes capable of carrying eggs long distances.
The ancestral organism's life cycle might have been similar to that of a caterpillar/butterfly. The organism searches for a host off of which an embryoembryo may feed after being produced by a larva, much like a caterpillar on a leaf. Possibly older pre-parasitic forms of this organism were like caterpillars; the implanted "embryos" may have been mobile, representing an intermediate life-stage (PRO-EMBRYO). It is possible that the nymphnymph stage may have occupied this position, having been produced from the larva in a more advanced form. It certainly seems to be the case that the juvenile and nymphnymph stages of the modern species are developmentally simplified. The modern larva is not capable of ingesting nutrients, being solely devoted to implanting one embryoembryo, and some modern nymphs emerge sans limbs or with "limbs buds".
The Primitive Life Cycle
This primitive life cycle might have proceeded as follows:
1.Egg is created - matures - hatches
This life cycle is only "mildly" parasitic; the pro-embryo does not necessarily harm the host during its grazing/feeding activity, but remains in jeopardy of discovery and extermination in this vulnerable state. If the pro-embryo were implanted internally to the host and absorbed nutrients directly from the host, it could be less vulnerable. The first parasitic ancestors may have placed their pro-embryos internal to the host, where nutrients could be obtained partially digested food in the host's "stomach" or digestive system. If the host digestive system bore similarity to vertebrate systems, there may have been compartments of extreme pH, which may have contributed to the acidophilic nature of the modern species. More advanced parasites might have done away with their pro- embryo forms, simply implanting embryos within their hosts and which would grow to nymphnymph form by stealing nutrients directly from the host. These parasites would not have been social organisms.
Hypothetical ancestors and habitats:
1.unarmored aquatic vertebrate in a mildly acidic ocean
The Development of Sociality
In descending order, the "weak" points in the life cycle of the pre-social organisms appear to be the dormant phase, the gestation phase and the travel time of the larva from egg to host. These risks could be minimized by securing the eggs "underground" (away from host/egg predation), and by immobilizing hosts near to the eggs. The eggs might remain susceptible to predation by small egg eating creatures or larger creatures capable of entering an active nest, requiring cooperative measures on the part of adults in protecting them. Sociality might develop naturally from such a system. Initially, a division of labor between hunter-foragers to locate and retrieve fresh hosts and warrior-scavenger-nurses to protect the eggs and gestating hosts from predators might suffice. The subsequent evolution of the queen dominated caste system may have been a way to diminish competition for hosts between partially related organisms, by establishing genetically homogenous nests. The large numbers of eggs produced by modern queens seem to indicate a strategy involving overproduction of eggs. The persistence of this strategy in the modern species might be due to co-evolution of egg predators, or to environmental conditions where the risk of destruction of significant portions of the nest was high.
Host Mediated Adaptation
A further means to adapt to an environment is by adopting strategies developed earlier by another species. The embryoembryo is in a prime position to learn about the metabolic and environmental conditions of its host. Knowledge of local environmental conditions such as the pH, atmospheric content and energy generation schemes would be important for post emergence survival. Varying energy generation schemes may result in differing metabolisms. Knowledge of the metabolic level and requirements of the host gives an advantage to be used in hunting such hosts. The development of the nymph might mimic other physical attributes of the host as well. For example, if the host spent much time hanging upside down, the nymph could develop that way as well, making it a competent predator in an "upside down" environment.
Adult organisms are presumably adapted to their environment via some combination
of this host
If a larva chooses a mobile host, its embryo may posses different metabolic requirements or a generally different metabolism, which may result in the death of the embryoembryo after prolonged exposure. The nymphnymph must remain capable of aborting its development at the minimum possible stage and emerging from the host, developing a new adaptive strategy from the information gathered from the host, and surviving to reproduce and create eggs adapted to the new environment. This minimum stage is limbless, displaying only the buds of limbs, and uses the segmented tail for propulsion.
If the larva chooses a host to which it is adapted, there will be much less danger to the embryo from the host's metabolism, and the nymph will be able to develop to its full form prior to emergence. This full form possesses two sets of limbs in addition to the tail. It is possible that a host chosen by a larva that detects no impending environmental shift might be immobile or vegetative in nature.
Once a relatively stable environment has been located (in which several rounds of reproduction were possible), a varying progression of emergent nymph and adult forms might be observed, as pressures of selection and host mediated adaptation refine the organism's strategy for survival in the environment.
Since the creatures do not posses any eyes by terrestrial standards, they must have some other means of sensing their environment. If the body plan is conserved between juvenile and adult stages, it is reasonable to assume that the same types of sensors are used in each case. The eggs appear to be able to detect motion and proximity, and to be able to distinguish between hosts and nestmates. The sensation of heat may not be important to this process, as the natural host may have had a similar ambient body temperature. The larvae are capable of locating and determining the distance to the host implantation orifice, and of leaping through space to that orifice. The adults are capable of distinguishing between nestmates and potential hosts, and are capable of detecting movement. They are probably also possessed of pattern recognition systems, and spatial arrangement recognition systems. Adults have been observed to fixate on objects using their heads, suggesting that their primary sensory organs are located in the anterior portions of their heads.
All adult stages are capable of producing a variety of sounds, and it is probably the case that they can hear and communicate via sound. Communication with "stripped down" eggs is probably better facilitated via chemical means than sound. It is likely that recognition of nestmates is achieved via a combination of chemical and sonic communication. Eggs might communicate with each other via chemical signals. Some degree of communication between eggs is likely, as only one egg ever responds when presented with a viable host, even if there are numerous eggs in proximity to the host.
The detection of motion and proximity may be facilitated via sonic systems. In terrestrial nocturnal, subterranean and aquatic environments, these have proven quite successful, and accordingly, the shape of the head is reminiscent of cetacean crania. However, the large curving structure of the head might serve as some other sort of sensor as well. It could be used to detect EM wavelengths other than visible light, although it is not obvious how useful such a structure would be in detecting longer or shorter wavelengths. Possibly, the creatures posses a sensory system similar to the "motion tracking" technology developed by humans.
Variation in the surface morphology of the head seems to indicate a sensory function. Lone adults have uniform smooth reflective heads, while adults functioning in a nest have distinct anterior and posterior head sections; the posterior region being covered in a ribbed pattern with a sagittal crest, and the anterior region being characteristically smooth with a pair of pits on either side of the head. This morphology in social organisms may be used in sonic and chemical communication. That this ribbed pattern is visible in the neck regions of the lone adult may indicate that the smooth reflective surface of the heads serves as a canopy covering more complex structures.
This smooth canopy is reminiscent of the smooth surfaces of the queen's headpiece sheath. This sheath is comprised of at least three independent pieces, the largest of which possesses several overlapping flanges. Various sized holes are visible between these flanges, and the entire sheath may serve as a production organ for chemical signals. In the transformation from imagoinstago to queen-imago (see the discussion of ancestral types below), the adult canopy may develop into the sheath. Once this transformation has been accomplished, the new queen would issue chemical signals destroying the canopies of any nearby adults.
If the ribbed structures beneath the canopy corresponded to modest versions of the signal production organs beneath the queen's sheath, and were used for communication between nestmates, the canopy might serve to isolate a lone adult from foreign signals. Canopied adults would in effect be "deaf" to most nest signals. If all nestmates are progeny of the same queen, then the canopy destroying signal produced by a particular queen might be genetically specified. A canopied adult which found itself near a foreign nest or a foreign queen would not be susceptible to that queen's signals, and would develop into a queen. An adult which found itself near a related nest or queen would lose its canopy and join the nest. A dead queen would be replaced by a young canopied adult. It could be assumed that an uncanopied adult would be utterly subservient to the commands of a queen, in which case it might be possible for one queen to kill another and steal the uncanopied members of the nest. The canopy must allow limited communication, as a valid queen must be able to order its destruction. Possibly, canopied adults would be capable of identifying hosts harboring embryos as well, and could act to protect related embryos and possibly destroy unrelated ones.
Modern and Ancestral Natural Hosts
The modern species' reproductive cycle is problematic because it displays a dependence upon the death of a host for the reproduction of a each organism. A host which survived nymph emergence might favor the development of this lifestyle.
Such a host would have to withstand the damage incurred in emergence, and be able to survive further rounds of implantation, gestation and emergence. Alternatively, ancestral forms of the organism might have used a less injurious host-emergence strategy. If instead of creating new exits, the nymphs emerged via the orifice through which they were implanted, the chance of the host surviving would increase dramatically. Possibly, ancestral organisms used such a strategy. Also, a host with thick exterior armor would make creation of new exits difficult. In any case, a large organism would be better suited to surviving the embryo development process. The parasite might be little more than a pest for a host of sufficient size, and might even serve some symbiotic function by feeding on exoskeletal parasites of the host after emergence.
The implantation period indicates a requirement for about 24 hours of close contact. This is facilitated by the articulated limbs and the tail. In modern creatures, the larval "embryopositor" appears to be composed of soft tissue, indicating that implantation is probably directly onto the desired internal substrate as opposed to being gained by destruction of external tissue. In addition to other possible functions, the mouthed tongue of the imago might function to permit sampling of the tissue contained within a hard carapace, or might have facilitated in creating an opening in a hard carapace specifically for use in implantation. These data suggest that the natural host possessed a hard shell.
During the implantation phase, the host is provided with atmosphere via specialized bellows structures on the larva, implying that the host would be in danger of asphyxiation during the implantation process. Thus the natural host probably has only one breathing orifice, and is at least partially terrestrial. The parameters of the area surrounding the natural host's breathing orifice may be estimated via observing the length of tail available and the available span of the articulated limbs (2-3 feet for the limbs and 4-5 feet of tail). This orifice is most likely at the end of a stalk of indeterminate length, which might be up to a foot in diameter. The terminus of this stalk is most likely a spheroid 1-2 feet in diameter.
The amount of oxygen provided to the host is limited by the size of the larval bellows apparatus, and this would limit the size of a potential host and that host's activity during implantation. Possibly the bellows size has evolved to parallel changes in host size. The constrictive nature of the tail would seem to suggest that the host's breathing is accomplished by changing the volume of the stalk. Bi-directional air flow in the host might be accomplished via the use of peristaltic waves. Since the host is likely armored, the tail would probably not be capable of constricting the host unless this strategy were used to inhale and exhale.
Assuming that the host would resent an attack on its sole breathing orifice and the subsequent implantation event, temporary incapacitation of the host would be desirable on the part of the organism. An extremely large host might be able to detach the larva at negligible expense to its own structure. Possibly the constrictive nature of the tail is used to immobilize the host initially. However, an incapacitated host would be easy prey to various other predatory creatures. It is possible that the implantation period would not be *extremely* uncomfortable for the host, and that the host would be capable of enduring the implantation period without sufficient cause to successfully dislodge the parasite. In this case, the implantation process might only diminish the host's natural breathing capacity, requiring the supplemental air supply provided by the larva. In such a scenario, it might be possible for multiple larvae to simultaneously implant embryos in one host.
Emergence of the nymph seems to be triggered by moderate levels of host activity. This might be a valid strategy if the host was preyed upon. Moderate levels of activity would indicate that there were no predators around and that the locale was safe for nymph emergence. Sufficiently high level of activity might indicate flight from a predator, and a period of inactivity might be indicative of a host's attempt to hide from a predator.
The general conclusions regarding the natural host are as follows; it is a large terrestrial or semi-aquatic organism which breathes through an orifice at the end of a stalk. This could be the host's head, or it could be a specialized structure. The host is most likely armored and is possibly prey to other predators.
Most of the above speculation regards the natural host of the pre-social organism. The natural host of the social organism is most likely a smaller version of the described host. Smaller hosts would occur in more abundant numbers, and their populations might tolerate the parasitic lifestyle of increasing numbers of organisms. In addition, it is more efficient to capture, immobilize and maintain smaller hosts than large. It is possible that the modern organism's penchant for creating a new emergence orifice is a modification subsequent to the dispersal into space; on the homeworld, the social organisms might remain capable of multiple rounds of implantation, gestation and emergence on a single host. Some species might retain the ability to switch from a social mode to a more primitive non-social mode.
A non-social creature with a multi-stage life cycle. Most stages of this life cycle are omnivorous. This is a very primitive version of the organism.
The natural host might be any large mobile creature, or it might be some
sort of immobile
Life cycle: Eggs are created in large clutches, perhaps buried in the ground
or perhaps attached to
Comments: There are a variety of lifecycle and lifestyle strategies which may be derived from this organism. There are probably a variety of different species descended from this general form. The imagoinstago is the fully adult form of the organism, having spent all of its instars searching for food. As with the pro-embryo, this food might be both vegetative or "animal" in nature.
A non-social predatory creature with a dual stagestages life cycle. This type of creature is perhaps on the verge of developing into the modern organism.
The natural host is a large creature that breathes atmosphere through a single orifice on the end of an armored stalk. Airflow through this stalk is maintained by expanding and contracting the walls of the stalk, possibly via peristaltic waves.
Life cycle: Thick-hided and perhaps armored eggs are buried in the ground and are mortared in place with resin. The eggs mature and enter the dormant phase. The motion and sound of a proximal potential host signals the egg to hatch and disgorge the larva which pursues, catches and "boards" the host. In this organism, the larva's sole purpose is to locate and implant an embryo into a host as quickly as is possible. Its sensory apparatus are devoted to this task alone, and because it does not take nutrition, it can only afford to implant a few embryos; in many cases it can only manage one. The egg retains a modest ability for detection and controls the release of the larva. The larva then locates the breathing orifice, affixes itself to it via means of the legs and tail and supplements the air flow to the host during the implantation phase. The embryo is implanted in the internal substance of the breathing canal. Once implantation is complete, the larva dies. The host proceeds, until the nymph emerges from its "breathing trunk" via the natural orifice. The host most likely survives this ordeal, although it might experience labored breathing for a few days. The nymph goes through a series of instars , which hunt for food, until an imago is realized, which hunts for food, mates and prospective host ranges. The mouthed tongue might be integral to all three pursuits, as well as protecting the adults form implantation by larvae of other species. Putative hosts might be weakened by use of the mouthed tongue, making them more susceptible to being boarded by the larva. A series of eggs might be created in a large area, waiting for a weakened host to stumble through. Possibly, the adults are capable of cucooning themselves and or severely weakened hosts with resin in order to protect against predation.
Comments: The eggs and larvae of this species appear intermediate in that they share the responsibilities of host detection and selection. This suggests that the larva and egg are a single continuous organism in this species and that sensory organs are shared or duplicated between the two parts.
A predatory social creature, possibly smaller than the medial ancestral type. This is the organism which immediately predated the modern organism.
The natural host would be a smaller version of the ancestor's host, or
a similar smaller
Life cycle: A fertile queen creates thick hided eggs in a protected creche.
These are guarded and
Comments: Queens display at least six limbs, and an additional pair of
hind limbs are required to
The queen-imago is a form devoted to producing large numbers of eggs in
a short amount of time.
The Alien Homeworld
Homeworld speculation (assuming that the aliens are not entirely subterranean):
The homeworld has a higher atmospheric pressure and possibly a greater gravity than terrestrial standards. It has oceans which are of a very low pH and most likely an atmosphere of similar low pH. The EM spectrum incident upon the homeworld is significantly different from terrestrial standards, lacking "visible" wavelengths.
This might indicate that the planet's orbit is very large, that it is extremely overcast or that it orbits a weak sun. In this case, the ecosystem might be based on geochemical and geothermal systems. Geothermal activity might also provide a relatively high ambient temperature.
The acidic nature of the aquatic and atmospheric environments might also
be due to extensive
An ecosystem not based on photosynthesis would require radically different
Extensive tectonic and volcanic activity might result in habitats subject
to frequent change. A
Appendix B: The Spore Theory of Reproduction
The characteristics discussed below are not the sole characteristics available for discussion, nor are the conclusions drawn the only conclusions possible. This is simply one possible picture based on the set of assumptions and the data.
A recent encounter reports the ability of an imago to infect a host in a manner which converts it into an egg. The exact nature and contents of this egg were unknown, but it was presumed to contain a larva. The process by which this occurs may be functionally similar to the embryo implantation process as carried out by a larva. As the larva-implanted embryo converts a portion of the host into a nymph, so does the imago-implanted factor convert a much larger portion of the host into an egg, further supporting the idea of functional and morphological identity being conserved between the juvenile and adult life stages. This factor will hereafter be referred to as the "spore".
The development of the queen-imago as sole reproducing member of a nest may be explained via the existence of the postulated spore. A maturation phase has been suggested for eggs during which they are not capable of identifying a valid host or of producing a viable larva. This maturation phase would correspond to the period of time after the spore is introduced to the host body during which the tissue of the host is converted into egg tissue. In addition to her large size, the queen is impressive in her continuous production of eggs. It remains unclear as to whether or not these eggs are mature immediately after they have been released from the ovipositor, however the rapid creation of eggs in this fashion would be greatly facilitated if the bulk of the egg matter as seen within the translucent egg creating organs was merely specially aggregated "yolk" material which had been implanted with a spore by the queen. The infected yolk would then be converted into an egg by the spore, just as would an infected host.
In this case, the development of the queen-imago and her complex egg production organs reflect the creation of a system whereby the queen converts nutrients into a yolk or "pseudo-host", specially designed to be implanted with a spore. The queen, in addition to being the organizational hub of the nest, can then be seen as a special processor designed to convert raw materials into pseudo-hosts, while the spore is seen as the remains of the ancestral system of reproduction wherein hosts were aquired by adults for implantation. Possibly, queens retain the ancestral ability to infect real hosts with spores, and may rely on this capacity in the event that the egg production organs sustain irreperable damage.
This implies that there were two periods of host-mediated adaptation during the lifecycle of ancestral organisms. The first occurred during the maturation phase of the egg, and the second occurred during the gestation phase of the nymph. It further implies that the queen may direct the adaptation of her offspring by creating special pseudo-hosts based on the information obtained during her own gestation phase. This may permit a faster or more efficient means of achieving adaptation to a new environment, and may allow the queen to control the makeup of the nest by changing the character of the pseudo-hosts.
The proposed lifecycle stages and designations are revised as follows:
Life cycle stages:
The life stages encompassing the spore, egg and larva are referred to as
JUVENILE, and those
Finally, it might be that prior to metamorphosis into a queen, each imago implants a host with a spore in this manner. It is likely that the queen becomes immobile once her egg production organs mature, and it would be difficult for her to obtain sufficient nutrients and hosts to establish a nest were she alone. If the imago prepared a second host in addition to the one it had implanted with a spore, the new queen would be assured of having at least one adult who could function in obtaining nutrients for the generation of her eggs and hosts for larval implantation.
OF ALIEN PROPOGATION
Humans suffer from peculiarly self-centered notions as to the nature of life. We assume out of hand that other lifeforms must somehow conform to our comfortable standards of logic and morality. This, of course, is absurd.
Our human "morality" is a thin tissue of arbitrary principle, easily ignored
when expedient. Why
As a matter of practical fact, much of what we presume to know about the
alien lifeform is
1.They are not like us
Judging from the alien's dense exoskeleton and remarkable adaptability,
we must assume their
At some point, perhaps cyclical, the hive's queen must sense the instinctive need to propogate new colonies, and lays eggs that will later hatch as queen-larvae. Given the aliens' legendary "temperament," it is likely that these special breeding eggs are quickly removed from the queen's chamber and sheltered elsewhere. At the proper time, the drones provide host bodies for the fledgling queens. For many in the research community, this parasitical breeding process is the single most disturbing aspect of the entire alien phenomenon. Of course, for the aliens, it is completely natural - their equivalent of giving a bottle to a baby. The actual incubation period is relatively short, a matter of days or even hours.
Birth is an ordeal of pain and violence.
As the fledgling queens emerge, there may well be a battle for dominance. Imagine a species where the first concious act of life is killing. Even so, I hesitate to imply any sort of "Darwinian" connotation to these struggles. Killing may merely be a way for the newborn queen to define its own reality.
Soon, the new queen would lead a contingent of drones away from the old hive. The drones are the queen's slaves and there would be nothing more important than the construction of the new hive. If natural building material were unavailable, perhaps other - elements - would be substituted. One would not describe this as cannibalism so much as a remarkably ruthless practicality.
The nesting instinct is a powerful one. Early on, all effort would be concentrated
on completing the hive. The aliens would not think in terms of sacrifice.
The hive is all. To assume death has meaning to
All ecosystems exist in a delicate state of balance. This would be as true of the alien homeworld as our own. At home, the aliens would have any number of natural enemies. Some would live, some would die, and the alien herd would be kept in check. The bodies of the dead would be used to reinforce the walls of the hive. The cycle would continue. The ecosystem would survive.
The violent, uncontrollable alien infestations occured when the creatures were removed from their natural habitat. We can only guess how this might have happened. Perhaps it was millions of years ago. Perhaps only decades. The end result is all that matters. Somehow the aliens were transplanted to other worlds. The creatures would not be concerned with the particulars of their environment. They would concern themselves only with circumstances. The natural predators were gone. The balance was gone.
All that was left was prey.
We humans believe our technology has made us invincible - that we have evolved beyond the simple notion of predator and prey. Certainly there was no reason for the crews of the Nostromo or the Sulaco, or the settlers on Acheron to believe otherwise.
Man has never been comfortable in space. Even with our ships and atmosphere suits and weapons, we are intruders. A hostile environment - ample quarry - the aliens must have felt utterly at home. Humans have confused comfort with survival. For us mere existence is not enough. We demand the accoutrements of life as well. The aliens make no such demands. They live in a very simple world.
They live to kill.
They live to breed.
And finally, they survive.
ACHORPOINT ESSAY (CL5)