Sunday, October 7, 2007

Zero Gravity Life - Part 2

One of the most interesting environments ever proposed is an open atmosphere with no gravity, such as appeared in Niven's The Integral Trees and the wonderful Airspheres of Ian M. Banks Culture universe. Having painted flying creatures for such a world in this work, I thought I would take another crack.

Here is a sketch of the external features of a small [50 to 100 cm] quadrilaterally symmetrical life form. A social creature, it travels in flocks across the vast web like tangles of forest that drift in the air currents. It hunts for small creatures that live within the tangled stems, dipping its long snout into the leaves to nip out morsels.

Quadrilateral symmetry gives 360 degree vision, vital in a world where predators can attack from any direction or orientation. Motion is achieved by undulating four equidistant fins in the manner of a trigger fish or cuttlefish, and with four control axis, they are quite nimble as they dip and dive for food. Four jaws and a mouth like a sea urchin support slicing teeth that grasp prey like a set of needle nose pliers and shred it to smaller pieces to swallow. The paired orifices behind the eyes are for respiration .

From this sketch I will develop some kind of basic skeleton for the muscles to be bound to, and the internal organs.

Criticisms welcome.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Is it possible to evolve radio communication through Darwinian evolution?

Could a creature ever conceivably evolve all the components of a radio transmitter and receiver, including tuners and resonators etcetera?

My next species, the Shaan, are an experiment to see just how strange animal communication could be if the environment favored them. They are either going to transmit information using electric fields in the manner of some catfish and knifefish (which seldom works out of water; air does not conduct very well), or they are going to be walking radio stations. But first I need to discover if it would be impossible to evolve a radio naturally.

I am not a scientist. And so I call on any who are to offer their opinions on the matter of radio communication. I just don't know enough at this time. Electro communication is however far more straight forward because it has happened on earth before.

Creatures that exploit electricity to survive and chat to one another include electric eels (a knifefish), electric catfish, sharks (which passively detect electric fields using highly conductive pits in their nose and face) and even the platypus which uses its bill to detect the electricity generated by the contracting muscles of its prey.

The one thing these animals have in common is that they hunt in water. Air is probably not conductive enough to warrant electrolocation, where eyes and ears provide sufficient sensory input.

So here is my first draft of an environment that could make land creatures favor electric sensory systems:

The homeworld of the Shaan orbits a star brighter than our own, with high levels of light and heat. Average temperature at sea level is 46 degrees C, with little temperature variation across the surface. This is because the atmosphere is loaded with water vapor, trapping heat and distributing it across the worlds' surface. In this permanent hot soaking fog, visiblity is less than on earth. Sunlight does not reach the surface as powerfully as our planet and so the vegetation is very dark to absorb more light, from deep reds and purples to almost black. Basking in the heat and moisture, plant life has run riot and verdant sweltering jungles cover most of the land in darkness. The air is dense, with air pressure higher than earth and soaked with oxygen from the photosynthesizing plants.

In this environment, one branch of life similar in some ways to earth vertebrates uses the soupy, moist air as a conductive medium for electric navigation, prey detection and eventually communication.

The Shaan are well adapted: Their bodies are long and snake-like, easily moving through thick undergrowth. Their tough leathery skin evolved to resist infection by the fungus like lifeforms that infest the forests. Six legs carry claws to hunt and climb, but can be folded against the body to swim and slither through rivers and rotting leaves. Its thick short tail is filled with fat tissue to store energy.

Its head carries a huge beak, taking up a quarter of the body length. This contains sensors and organs to produce and receive electric signals. Folded inside the beak are scythe like mandibles which tear huge chunks of meat from unfortunate animals.

When they hunt they also communicate electrically, sending pulses of information to each other. This allows them to co-ordinate hunts accurately because of the large information content of their language. This language allowed them to evolve complex caste societies, with queens nesting along riverbanks with 10 or so of their young who bring her food and keep her clean.

Both Shaan queens and drones are highly intelligent. In their future they will posses a technological society of vast power. But that is a story for later.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Barnards' Swordswallower - Painting and Critical Review

This is 'Sword in its natural habitat - the metal rich waters of its home world, filtering plankton from the water using its mucus net to guid food into its mouth. Small relatives of the 'Sword called Puukkos [named after a small Finnish knife] shelter in its shadow, feeding on plankton and parasites of the 'Sword, which in return provides them protection from predators.

Critical Review: I am pleased with this creature, and think it is reasonably novel, however there are problems with such a creature:

1. As pointed out by DeviantArt user Nemo Ramjet, the large main fin though creating a current moving generally towards the mouth, would also deflect some food away from it and thus reduce feeding efficiency.

2. Although I feel it would work, the gas-bladder used to control depth in water instead of shark like pectoral fins would likely mean the creature could not quickly or easily change its depth.

I invite anyone to add their own reviews and criticisms to the design: I would love to see what others see wrong [or right!] with this alien, and to figure out ways to improve it.

Anyway, enjoy!

Friday, February 9, 2007

Barnards' SS, Revised internal anatomy.

After designing organs I had to revamp the nervous and circulatory system of the Sword, so it is now fully integrated.

Explaining the Key:

1 - The flotation bladder secretes and absorbs gas to form a variable volume balloon, which helps the Sword stay at its feeding or resting depths without physical effort.

2 - This simple stomach secretes antitoxins and digestive chemicals to neutralize and break down food. There is no complex earthlife-like intestine, so digestion proceeds more slowly than for earth creatures.

3 - The mouth eats the mucus strings constantly flowing from the long yellow glands, and any plankton that gets trapped in it

4 - The crop is made from two sacs on either side of the upper mouth. During heavy feeding these membranes become bloated with plankton where it can be stored until the stomach is ready for it.

5 - Much like a cuttlefish fin, small muscle banks produce undulations which push the Sword wherever it needs to go, and draws water into the feeding area.

6 - Long strands of gametes [reproductive cells] are secreted from this organ, to be released when the sword detects the chemical signals of a mate nearby.

7 - The bladder produces liquid waste.

8 - These glands produce strings of sticky proteins similar to a spiders silk, which form a basket leading to the mouth.

9 - A simple nervous system controls the bodies functions

10 - A series of hearts draw blood into the gill loops and pumps it around the body.

11 - The simple brain co-ordinates activity and bodily functions.

You'll note I didn't mention eyes, however they are present but tiny, forming a line of light sensitive spots on the Swords' back to inform it of the time of day.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Barnards' Swordswallower - Rough Circulatory and Nervous Systems

1. Blood flow diagram, showing the main veins and arteries. The little blue loops are de-oxygenated blood entering the gills and leaving red, loaded with oxygen. The little red sacs beneath each gill are simple hearts; this slow moving life form has no need for an efficient vertebrate like pump to keep oxygenated.

2. Nerves transmit the data the creature uses to manage its metabolism, feeding and movement. Though not a sophisticated network, there is a simple brain to analyze and respond to stimuli more effectively.

Preliminary Design - Barnards' Swordswallower

I lack a scanner, but I think the dirty look of a digital photograph has its own rustic charm.

This concept will be a planktivore, eating the tiny creatures surrounding it in the water, so its a kind of analogue to the whales of earth. Like the whales it is also huge; I would be thinking about 20 metres [65 feet] long, so just a little bigger that a sperm whale, the biggest thing on Earth with teeth.

Unlike whales it is not warm blooded and has a metabolism more akin to a snail, lacking warm blood but highly energy efficient, important as it is a slow swimmer and would starve if it needed to eat frequently.

The anatomy of this creature requires some explanation, so here are what those numbers on the sketch denote:

1: Looking like a knife blade, long and laterally compressed, this is the swimming fin and works much like the undulating sides of a cuttlefish or squid. It pulses a wave down its length, which as well as moving the critter around also draws water into the cavernous mouth at the tail end, increasing its feeding efficiency at no extra cost.

2+3: The feeding apparatus - I will make this clearer in the upcoming cutaway drawings, but the egg shaped part opens like a clamshell, releasing the billowy feeding filter out its back. Plankton pushed into this sieve by the main fins' undulations are caught in a thin fiber mesh covered in mucus. This sticky slime is constantly secreted and gradually moves to the bottom of the feeding sieve, taking its catch with it. The animals' mouth is at the bottom of the filter, with its 'neck' forming a tube into the body cavity, and the stomach, where the plankton/mucus mix is digested.

4: Germ cell package. Barnards' Swordswallowers are hermaphrodites, releasing these reproductive strings when they sense others of their kind nearby. They disintegrate on release, mixing with other strings to form larvae which drift out to sea on the currents

5: Gills; take in water, take out oxygen, like most earth fish.

This blog is an open forum: I want your ideas, your input and criticisms: lets make the best aliens of all time.

Saturday, February 3, 2007


[My apologies to fans on deviantArt - you have likely read this]

But now for the rest of you...

A large Earth-based company intends to use this gas giant in a nearby star system as a vast Helium 3 extraction and sales operation. However to do so the law requires an ecological damage survey to be conducted on the gas giant's moons, to be sure the operation will not damage any ecosystems on them. This large moon, only slightly smaller than earth, was found to have an advanced multicellular ecology.

The Sol Union Xenobiologist Makeba Sutphen was sent with the company when they left earth, to make sure the laws regarding interactions with alien ecosystems were observed. Here she is approached by possibly sentient natives of this large moon. Although she has a camera out now, if they get closer or show aggression she is well armed.

The species itself evolved from large aquatic creatures which resembled Earth stingrays. As they began to move on to land small feeding appendages on their underside grew into thicker organs to propel them across coastal mud, and the large side fins retracted and darkened to protect against solar radiation. Sensory appendages which stuck from the sides of the head and helped find food underwater become very useful for judging distance above water, with the eyes set so far apart.

Males, who had to compete for mating rites, developed these eye-stalks further into horns, and used them to scare off other males. They also developed a more upright stance to better compete for mates until the species was standing almost vertical. With a head now so far from the ground, the large mouth migrated to the bottom of the body, leaving the brain, eyes and breathing tube on the upper head, so as to spot danger and eat at the same time. Waste products are ejected explosively from the body from a pore on the back, to prevent contamination to the mouth.

Now able to walk upright and survive on land, the species spread across its world to become the dominant creature on the planet.

I would love to get feedback from qualified scientists on this:

Can a planet this close to a gas giant support life despite the intense radiation experienced near Jupiter type worlds?

Grande Opening

This blog is going to be a place for my alien designs and discussions they generate. It will also feature the designs of others, but more on that later.

This alien species is called the Emesii [contraction: MSI], and a group of them wish to set up a joint colony with humans. To determine how well they are likely to get along human and MSI scientists are conducting experiments on members of their respective species to build up a massive database of interactions to help develop social systems for their joint colony. Here two babies are linked to complex computers which both record and modify their thoughts and behaviors to discover more about socializing at early stages of development.