Model: Arthropods

TechNote: Phylum Arthropoda contains (among other creatures) the Classes Insecta (six legs - lice, flies, ants, beetles, true bugs, dragonflies and so forth), Crustacea (best known forms with ten legs - shrimp, lobsters, barnacles, crabs, crayfish; isopods and other marine forms - some isopods, "pillbugs" and "sowbugs" on land), Subphylim Chelicerata (mainly eight legs - spiders/Class Arachnida, sunspiders, scorpions, harvestmen, ticks, mites, Subphylum Trilobita which is extinct) and Chilopoda (lotsa legs-centipedes, millipedes).

Arthropods are jointed or segmented with support from a chitinous exoskeleton and are bilaterally symmetrical. They have fluid moved around inside by a heart-like muscular section of blood vessel inside a special cavity or "hemocoel." They solve the rigid external skeleton problem with flexible areas between segments and the growth problem by molting. They "breathe" or exchange gases with the surrounding air in many ways, so they do not have lungs we mammals are used to using. Their light and chemical sense organs function in different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum from human senses and they are differently placed on the body (flies can sense food with their "feet"). They have specialized segments of the body which adapt them closely to the environments in which they live: those fancy parts are a source of novelty to science fiction artists and authors.

Dragonflies contribute a spectacular feature of the model for the Alien from the Alien movie series.

But wait! There's more! The Alien is BIG! and insects are small. There are the problems of surface area to volume ratio (gas exchange, fluid retention) and the kind of physical support a terrestrial critter can get from an exoskeleton. Well these things seem to have both kinds of skeleton.

Furthermore, the rest of the alien is a hodgepodge of insect (which is a kind of invertebrate) and human vertebrate skeleton. Hmmmm. How are we to know if these creatures are intelligent? What is going on? Are the Aliens a natural species or are they a bioengineered weapon? My comments on these and other matters of Extraterrestrial Biology follow.

ABOVE: dragonfly nymph with labium (hinged lower jaw) extended for prey (underwater). Nymphs are ferocious predators, hiding in muck on pond bottoms and eating anything they can snatch -- including each other. They molt about 12 times as they approach adult shape and size. Science82 Magazine June.
ABOVE: Dragonfly nymph with captured salamander with lower jaw labium/grabber, retracted it to the upper jaw mandibles and has gnawed a small chunk out of its side (underwater): nymphs can also capture small fish. Nymph is about 2.5 inches long. Adult dragonfly eyes have 7,000 (small species) to 28,000 facets (large species), arraged to wrap around the head for keen vision. Adults hunt and eat on the wing, landing to devour only the larger prey items (which may include other dragonflies). Science82 Magazine June.

LEFT: H. R. Giger's (who likes to work with bones) concept of the whole Alien is a hodgepodge of Urrthly species and machines. It is in the Dr. Who tradition of putting a human in a weird suit. What are the heel spurs for? Looks like a cross between a hotrod and an octopus (where did they get the DNA for that??). Maybe they breathe through those pipes. Could come in handy when eating so the food doesn't get in the way of gas exchange.

What is in the carapace of the head? Brains? Sinuses? A trombone? The skull projection looks like a dinosaur (Parasaurolophus), which is better designed with a longer neck. The Alien has shoulder pipes and a stumpy neck which severely limit mobility of the head. The jaw comes from a dragonfly nymph, Does it have eyes? Apparently not. And that tail with stinger...

ABOVE: Alien from the first movie, showing the dragonfly jaw. Dragonflies have better design in the hinging of the lower jaw: the Alien would choke if it tried to swallow. Note glassy teeth. As you might suspect, they are messy eaters. Later versions have nearly human teeth. Could this indicate unstable DNA? Did the bioengineers who cooked up this thing goof? Or didn't they care?

The Alien went through a number of steps in its conceptual development. At first, it was a half-rotted human corpse with an unwieldy, immobile head assembly. Another artist had toyed with small dinosaruoids. This shows in the Alien life cycle tablet. Later versions of the Alien had more mobility in the head assembly. Mommie Alien (concept: Jim Cameron) had an especially elaborate head shield. BELOW LEFT she is shown in a moment of rage at Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), who has just roasted a number of her eggs with a flamethrower. BELOW RIGHT the profile of the Mommie Alien. The Queen was a 14 foot glued-to the rafters-egglaying monster operated by two men inside (four arms) with hydraulics to operate the body in unhuman movements. (Aliens: The Movie Book; Aliens: The Official Movie Magazine)

If you want to get fancy, the female Queen Alien represents nature tampered with and reproduction out of control. Creature/creator is a deeply embedded pattern in Christian, Jewish and Islamic thought. With the Christian versions, it is common for the creation to turn on its creators. The Alien follows the tradition of "Tales of Hoffman" and other stories. Like the nuclear mauling of nature fears of the 1950s sci fi movies, the current popular concerns over ethical problems and control of genetic engineering emerge in films such as the Alien series.

BELOW : The Alien life cycle from the Alien Handbook. This was deleted from the first movie.

Adult Mommy Predator Alien lays egg (top overarching creature), According to H. R. Giger. Facehugger hatches out of egg, jumps on host's face (assisted by Creator Alien!), deposits second egg or larva in throat of disabled(but alive) Creator Alien. Larva grows into chestburster inside paralyzed host... (The Book of Alien) The parasitic life cycle is borrowed from certain wasps, as is the skeletal, stinging tail. The parasitic cycle seems to have extra steps and is wasteful of energy. Of course, this is an engineered species, and its flaws make it scarier because it implies incompetent evil on the part of its creators.

Criteria for Emotional Impact: Alien

1. Teeth: nasty, sharp

2. Claws: some, sharp

3. Eyes: none

4. Other Natural Weapons: surprise second jaw, paralyzing stinging tail, strength

5. Fuzziness: slimy with acid blood

6. Color(s): cadaver

7. Behavior: hungry most of the time; sneak up on people; carry them off to the hatchery

8. Reproduction: metamorphosing parasites (see life cycle image)

9. Traits borrowed from model: ferocity of dragonfly nymphs transferred, can live underwater or in space (insects do not appear to breathe as humans do)

10. Miscellaneous: are these monsters telepathic? Alien III indicates that they are. They mainly hiss and snarl.

Overall Impression: really mean, hard to kill, intelligent = scary

Criteria for Intelligence Checklist: Alien Predator

1. Brain, preferably big (somewhere in body): who knows what is in the top of that head, but Mommy Alien may do most of the thinking. Head is copy of cranium of creator species.

2. Manipulative members: hands ( six fingers)

3. Behavior: hive organism, but individuals can sneak around a spaceship or high tech installation.

4. Intelligence of model: dragonflies are ancient and excellent predators; appear to have insect intelligence with small brain, instinctive behaviors

Criteria for Intelligence Checklist: Alien Creators

1. Brain, preferably big (somewhere in body): creator species (alien pilot of crashed spaceship in first movie). Very organic ship. Indicates that this creator species specializes in biotechnology, even to "growing" a pilot into a ship. But this ship's pilot was infected with a chestburster...

2. Manipulative members: hands ( six fingers)

3. Behavior: sophisticated bioengineers, but not wise. Their parasitic creation got loose. They are also nasty, using their own species as a growth medium and host for the parasite. They must have a mammalian biochemistry because humans can also be hosts.

4. Intelligence of model: humanoid, and humans also make weapons that get out of control. And have been known to run experiments on each other withouth the consent of the experimental subject. So who is scariest? What about humans? We're so much fun we scare ourselves...

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