The Facehugger, known taxonomically as Manumala noxhydria and designated "Stage 1" Xenomorph by Weyland-Yutani scientists (and "Stage 2" by other sources), is a parasitoid form of the species Xenomorph XX121 that hatches from an Ovomorph. It is the second stage in the Xenomorph's life cycle, and exists solely to implant a Chestburster within a living host creature via their mouth. As such, it has no real offensive capabilities (beyond an ability to spit acid, which is generally only used to gain access to hosts and not for attack) and must rely on stealth, surprise or their victims being previously immobilized by an attacker to achieve implantation. Notably, a Facehugger dies shortly after its task has been completed.
- 1 Characteristics
- 2 Alternate Forms
- 3 Non-canon Depictions
- 4 Behind the Scenes
- 5 Trivia
- 6 Gallery
- 7 See Also
- 8 References
The Facehugger greatly resembles a pair of skeletal hands fused together, with a spine-like tail. It has eight long, finger-like legs which allow it to crawl rapidly, and a long tail adapted for making great leaps. These particular appendages give it an appearance somewhat comparable to Chelicerate arthropods such as arachnids and horseshoe crabs. The underside of the Facehugger and its orifice (from which extends a proboscis used for delivering the Xenomorph embryo) noticeably resemble a human female's vagina.
A Facehugger's long digits allow it to move rapidly across all manner of surfaces and also grant the creature its crucial ability to "grip" a host's head during implantation. The spindly appearance of these digits should not be underestimated; they are incredibly strong, and have been known to tear the skin from the skulls of human victims when an attempt is made to remove them. Once the digits are gripped around a host's head, they are nigh impossible to remove and implantation is virtually guaranteed. A Facehugger's tail can propel the creature into huge leaps and is also used for additional grip around a host's neck during implantation. Facehuggers have even been known to use their tail to strangle potential hosts when attempts are made to remove them, sometimes fatally. Their potent acid blood further complicates any attempt at removal. Facehuggers are primarily beige in color, giving them a skin-like appearance.
Situated on either side of the creature's body at the base of the tail are a pair of bag-like bladder structures that are used to circulate air into the victims lungs during implantation. Underneath the Facehugger is a small orifice, from which the creature will extend a proboscis into the host's throat for implantation; this proboscis is around 50 to 60 centimeters in length. While fragile and ill-equipped for combat, Facehuggers' small size and rapid movement makes them adept at ambushing potential hosts, and also makes them difficult to kill. Facehuggers have been known to be used in an actively offensive role when transported by a Carrier.
Prior to detecting a host, Facehuggers are actually inert and lifeless within their Ovomorph. When the Egg detects a host nearby, it will transfer all of the remaining bio-electric potential of its acidic blood to the Facehugger, and it is only then that the creature becomes "alive". The Egg will then open and the creature will launch itself at the victim.
Once outside of the Egg, Facehuggers use a similar set of thermoauditory senses as the adult Xenomorph to track and close in on their prey. Typically, Facehuggers rely on the curiosity or ignorance of the potential host to draw them near to the Egg prior to release, thereby allowing for a lightning-fast pounce that gives the victim virtually no time to escape. However, they are more than capable of pursuing a fleeing host, an act they will carry out with relentless persistence; Facehuggers will chase down their prey with little consideration for their own safety or survival. They are adept climbers and jumpers, using these abilities to quickly overwhelm their victims before they can react. Although Facehuggers can survive outside of their Egg without implanting for a period of time – up to 120 hours has been recorded – this is not thought to be common.
Facehuggers are not deterred in the least by their host's death should it happen despite their determination in getting to them in the first place, they will simply detach from the body and will chase the nearest living suitable host. However, the window for this chance depends on whether or not the parasite had already "implanted" it's host given that most Facehuggers will eventually die afterwards, the creature will be rendered useless.
Being submerged does not appear to affect their ability to operate, as Facehuggers on LV-426 were stored in an alkaloid nahcolite preservative fluid for an extended period of time and were still able to function normally when released. They are also capable of healing incredibly quickly, cuts and lacerations closing within minutes without leaving any trace of permanent scarring.
Subduing a host
When a Facehugger initially senses a nearby host, it will attempt to attach to and subdue them. Once in range, the Facehugger will leap towards the host's face, often with alarming force and accuracy, and immediately wrap its tail around their neck and its digits around their skull.
Once securely in place, the Facehugger rapidly renders the host unconscious using a cyanose-based paralytic chemical, administered simply through skin contact. The delivery mechanism is dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO), a compound used for exactly this kind of transdermal drug delivery in human medicine. Studies done on Facehugger victims at Hadley's Hope revealed that one of the sedatives administered is a neuromuscular toxin, and once this has been metabolized, the victim wakes up. The sedative is extremely effective, capable of rendering an adult human comatose within seconds. The use of paralytic chemical compounds for sedation would imply that the Facehugger (or perhaps the Egg it resides within) is somehow able to determine a potential host's body mass and composition, so as to ascertain a correct dose of toxin; if the dose was either too low or too high, the host may not be affected at all, or could suffer toxic shock and die. Conversely, the chances of the chemical dose being sub-optimal may play a role in the selection process, as it would prevent the Facehugger from impregnating a host of insufficient body mass to support the Xenomorph embryo. The Facehugger's propensity for chemical attack is further seen in its ability to chemically suppress the host's immune system during implantation, to prevent the host's own defensive systems attacking the embryonic Chestburster. This is achieved using an immunosuppressive substance similar to azathioprine.
While the primary method of subduing the host is chemical, Facehuggers can also use their tail, wrapped around the victim's throat, to induce asphyxiation. For example, should a potential host attempt to interfere with or block the Facehugger attaching to the head in some way, thereby preventing the typical chemical sedatives from being administered, the creature will simply use its tail to choke the victim until they are either too weak to resist or they lose consciousness altogether. This method is noticeably slower, however. The strength of the Facehugger's tail has been described as being comparable to a boa constrictor; even Chimpanzees, with their markedly superior strength relative to humans, are unable to pry it loose.
It also seems that not all victims of Facehuggers are rendered unconscious; on Bouvet Island, the mercenary Mark Verheiden remained conscious for at least part of the implantation process, as evidenced by his attempts to shout for help (rendered futile by the proboscis down his throat). It has been theorized that hosts cocooned in a Hive may not be rendered unconscious simply out of redundancy, owing to their inability to move or fight back. This may explain why many cocooned victims are aware that they have been impregnated and request to be killed, whereas others attacked in the open have no memory of their ordeal.
Whilst subdued, victims have been known to experience vivid and distressing dreams, often concerning smothering of the face. It is unknown if this is directly linked to the Facehugger's presence, although given the typical subject matter, it seems likely. Such dreams may not be universal to all victims, although many of the Facehugger victims during the initial stages of the Hadley's Hope infestation were noted to have woken up screaming, suggesting that there is a majority that do.
Given the size of a Facehugger, humans, Predators or other humanoid-sized victims are the most compatible hosts. It has been suggested that a Facehugger would likely not be able to use a host smaller than a cat. However, there is evidence that even Engineers, which are significantly larger than humans, have been impregnated by a Facehugger. Similarly, it is not unknown for oxen to be successfully impregnated by Facehuggers. Facehuggers are also known to attach to Oswocs, Kurns and Kritics. It is possible that a Facehugger does not need to entirely envelop a host's head to implant a Xenomorph, but merely needs to subdue it and insert its proboscis through the host's mouth.
As the Xenomorph species has occasionally been likened to ants, one theory is that Facehuggers may attack larger hosts in swarms, akin to warrior ants, or with assistance from other adult Xenomorphs. Presumably several creatures would subdue the host while another implants the Chestburster. There have been recorded cases of adult Xenomorphs pinning victims to the ground so that a Facehugger may then attach to them without fear of retaliation.
Once a Facehugger is securely attached to a host, it inserts its proboscis down the victim's throat. This proboscis both supplies the host with suitable atmosphere for breathing and also implants the beginnings of a Xenomorph embryo in their esophagus, a process that takes several hours. It was originally theorised that the proboscis was also used to administer the sedative to subdue its host, however, further studies seemed to conclude that simple skin contact between the host and the underside of the parasite was the primary method.
There have been multiple theories regarding the 'impregnation process' and what it is that the Facehugger implants into its host. The first and initially the most common theory was that once subdued, the host's oesophagus is invaded with the parasite's proboscis, which allows the facehugger to implant an embryo. This is also accompanied by a chemical mutagen which may allow for a 'placenta' to form in the host. The main contention with the embryo theory was that since Chestbursters gestate within the chest cavity of the host, there would be no access to that area from within the stomach or oesophagus, which would be where an embryo would be deposited.
Another theory was that the Facehugger implants some sort of cellular cluster or tumors that would force the hosts body to construct the chestburster within them, thereby explaining how the Chestburster can be gestating where it is, as the host body grows it.
The third and what is currently accepted is that the Facehugger does not in fact implant an embryonic Xenomorph in the true sense of the word; no fetus is introduced into the body. Instead, the Facehugger deposits a mutegenic substance known as Plagiarus praepotens into the host's oesophagus. This mutagen brings about a restructuring of the host's cells, essentially causing the host's body to assemble the Chestburster at a cellular level from its own biological material. Implantation takes only a few hours, although the Facehugger may remain attached to the host for some time afterwards to ensure the Chestburster is secure; this can be from as little as twenty minutes up to sixteen hours. How the Facehugger knows when to detach is unclear, although it has been theorized that the developing embryo sends a recombinant plasmid pulse to inform the parasite when it is secure.
During implantation, Facehuggers are not only able to determine a suitable atmosphere mix for the host to breathe, they are also capable of providing this mixture even in an otherwise unsuitable environment; Thomas Kane was exposed to the hostile atmosphere of LV-426 when the Facehugger that attacked him breached his suit's faceplate, yet the Facehugger kept him alive until the crew could return him to the Nostromo. It is thought that the creature supplies suitable atmosphere by breaking down molecules found in the ambient environment and rearranging them into the appropriate compounds before feeding them into the host's lungs; in the case of oxygen-breathing organisms such as humans, the Facehugger is capable of extracting oxygen from gaseous oxide compounds in the air, such as carbon dioxide. It is unknown if the creature is capable of performing this action in locations that lack an extant atmosphere, such as space, although there has been at least one notable incident whereby James Likowski – pilot of the cargo vessel Junket – was kept alive by a Facehugger despite a loss of atmosphere aboard his ship.
While there are no external signs of what is happening to the host during the implantation process, in some cases the host has been known to develop a fever and even sweat profusely. It is possible this reaction is a result of the host's immune system attempting to fight off the foreign element being introduced into the body. Paralyzed hosts have also been known to display muscle twitches or spasms while unconscious.
While Facehuggers have been removed before embryo implantation has taken place, the process is ostensibly fatal for the host. The Facehugger's combination of vice-like grip, its ability to administer sedative chemicals and its highly acidic blood makes them essentially impossible to safely remove. Additionally, their outer skin is known to harden shortly after emerging from the Egg, becoming chitinous, similar to the mesoskeleton of the later, adult stages of the creature's life cycle, affording the Facehugger an increased resistance to physical trauma.
For example, if a Facehugger senses it is likely to be detached by external forces, it will invariably kill the host rather than allow them to survive. At least one medically documented case of a Facehugger killing its host with a chemical overdose during removal exists – that of John Marachuk at Hadley's Hope. They are also capable of killing their victims with direct strangulation, while some have even been known to use their proboscis to inflict terminal internal injuries to the host when threatened with removal. Attempting to terminate the Facehugger before removal, in order to avoid any such assault on the host, is also likely to prove fatal thanks to the creature's highly acidic blood or simply by way of collateral damage. Even in the very early stages of an attack, before the Facehugger is securely attached to the potential host, very few victims have managed to remove the creature before being subdued. Even Yautja and Engineers (both being notoriously strong) are apparently unable to fend one off once it is attached. It is possible a Facehugger's legs may "lock" once wrapped around a host's head, possibly in a manner similar to rigor mortis, which would make simply pulling it off almost impossible. While a victim could conceivably lift the creature off like a helmet, the Facehugger's powerful tail prevents this.
However, there have been limited examples of Facehuggers failing to subdue a host. On Acheron, Ellen Ripley was able to impede a Facehugger by shielding her face with her hands as the creature attacked, and while she would inevitably been rendered unconscious in short order, with immediate assistance she was able to remove it. Similarly, on the USM Auriga, Ripley 8 successfully removed a Facehugger unaided, although due to her partially-Xenomorph DNA she had physical strength in excess of a typical human, and also an apparent immunity to the creature's acidic blood.It is unknown if being submerged in water aided in this instance, as it could have either discouraged the Facehugger due to the host potentially drowning after detachment following a successful implantation, or prevented it from sedating its host by chemical means altogether. Had Ripley 8 been attacked out of water, it is unknown if she would have been able to successfully defend herself. Another example is Captain Mike McCubbin, who partially wounded a Facehugger with a golf club and then removed it with assistance before it fully attached. Synthetics are typically strong enough to pull a Facehugger from a victim before they are subdued, but this carries its own risk as sometimes the Facehugger is torn apart in the effort and the synthetic risks showering the victim in acid.
Once the embryonic Xenomorph is secure, the Facehugger will detach from the host and subsequently die. It is not known how long a Facehugger can survive after implantation is complete; some Facehuggers have been found dead directly alongside their hosts, or even still attached to the host's face, while others have been known to crawl away and apparently even hide before dying. Hosts are often left with no memory of the Facehugger's attack, a possible side-effect of the chemicals it administers to them. They may also experience post-implantation symptoms including extreme hunger, sore throat, dry mouth, nausea, nosebleeds and chest pains, although these may not be present in all victims, and some individuals have been known to display no outward symptoms whatsoever until the Chestburster inside them begins to emerge. Some hosts have also complained about a bitter taste in their mouth or that their mouths feel strange.
However, these negative effects do not appear to be universal – Darcy Vance noted that many documented hosts reported feeling healthier than normal during the incubation period, a fact attributed to heightened levels of endorphins and adrenaline in their blood stream, though at the cost of their immune system.
Facehuggers do not appear to possess any higher form of intelligence like their adult Xenomorph counterparts, which is especially evident in their single-mindedness and relentlessness while in pursuit of a host, even when at obvious risk of death. However, at the very least they seem to possess a sense of cunning, and have been known to ambush their victims at opportune moments, such as when they are distracted, alone or otherwise vulnerable. They also seem to possess an ability to gauge how much acid to use when melting through helmets or other obstructions to reach a victim's face without causing the host itself physical harm, given that victims never seem to be harmed or have any acid burns upon their faces after implantation. It is also possible that the acid secreted by Facehuggers neutralizes at a much faster rate than typical Xenomorph blood, considering the lack of damage to hosts.
Facehuggers also seem to have at least some ability to analyze the threat a host may pose to their own safety, and will adjust their methods of attack as a result. For instance, they will move aggressively when attacking hosts that can defend themselves, but are more nonchalant and methodical when their victim is cocooned or otherwise immobilized, or even willingly allowing themselves to be impregnated.
- Main article: Royal Facehugger
The Royal Facehugger has the ability to lay a Queen embryo inside a host, as well as a further standard embryo inside a second host, a tactic designed to give the unborn Queen an immediate "bodyguard" in the form of a normal Drone. The necessity of a Royal Facehugger in creating a Queen has never been definitive – many sources show standard Facehuggers to be capable of creating a Queen. Given that the Xenomorph species is adaptive in so many ways, this may well be plausible.
In the novel "Aliens : Prototype" it is suggested that the determination of a facehugger as being either a Royal or drone is seemingly up to nothing more than genetic chance, and while in the drones case it would be a welcome chance, it doesn't seem to rely on this idea as its train of thought follows a significantly slower growth for its hive.
- Main article: Praetorian Facehugger
As with the Royal Facehugger, Praetorian Facehuggers play a part in creating Queens by implanting Praetorian Chestbursters. These Praetorians can subsequently develop into a Queen. Should a Queen already be present, the resulting Praetorian can develop into a bodyguard – either a Ravager or a Carrier depending on the circumstances. Like regular Facehuggers, they die after implanting one embryo, making them distinct from Royal Facehuggers.
These genetically engineered Facehuggers will attach to a host as usual, but then parasitically fuse with it, linking it to the Hive mind, thus creating an Infectoid. The Infected move in a zombie-like fashion. If one infects a Yautja Hunter, it will attack anything unlinked to the Hive that moves.
Queen Face Hugger
- Main article: Queen Face Hugger (Kenner)
Not to be confused with the Royal Facehugger from the films, the Queen Face Hugger was a toy created by Kenner Products as part of the company's Aliens toy line. The packaging variously referred to them as Queen Face Huggers or Giant Face Huggers.
Planet 4 Facehugger
- Main article: Facehugger (Planet 4)
These Facehuggers come from the eggs created by the android David. They possess similar traits to their later counterparts but seem to lack the ability to chemically sedate their hosts along with inferior grip. To make up such shortcomings, they possess greater speed and agility along with last resort ability to infect a host within seconds of attachment should forced removal become imminent.
The 1995 crossover Superman vs. Aliens, Superman is infected with the embryo of an alien queen by a Royal Facehugger during a time when his powers are diminished from lack of sunlight. When his powers return due to close proximity from a yellow sun, his core muscles are able to crush the egg and then he is able to regurgitate it.
The 1997 crossover Batman/Aliens had a Crocodile Alien, implying a Facehugger was able to overpower a crocodile despite its larger stronger jaw and longer breath-holding abilities. In 2002 Superman vs. Aliens II: God War depicts Darkseid able to crush a Facehugger one-handed. At the end, Parademons are shown infected by Facehuggers.
A testament to a Facehugger's strength can be seen in issue 1 (page 18) of the 6-part 2015 crossover Aliens/Vampirella, where the eponymous main character Vampirella (a vampire) is overpowered and subdued by a Facehugger despite catching the creature in mid-air with an outstretched arm, meaning the creature would have had no leverage. She survives the Chestburster resulting in a Vampiric Queen due to her regeneration abilities.
In a 2017 Rick and Morty promo for Alien: Covenant, a Facehugger attacks main character Rick Sanchez as he and Morty Smith investigate a ship resembling the Space Jockey's vessel. Before it can subdue and impregnate him, however, it dies from the massive amount of toxins (drugs, alcohol, etc.) in Rick's body. Nothing prior to this implied that Facehuggers absorb anything from their victims.
Behind the Scenes
The Facehugger was the first design completed by H. R. Giger for Alien. His original Facehugger was a much larger creature with eyes and a spring-loaded tail. Later, in response to comments from the filmmakers, Giger reduced the creature's size substantially. At first Giger assumed that the Facehugger would wrap around the outside of Kane's helmet, but Scott decided that it would have far more impact if the Facehugger were revealed once the helmet was removed. Scott and Giger realised that the Facehugger could burn through the helmet's faceplate with its acid blood; subsequent redesigns of the space helmet included a far larger faceplate to allow for this.
Dan O'Bannon initially conceived the Facehugger as somewhat resembling an octopus, possessing tentacles. However, when he received Giger's designs, which substituted tentacles with fingerlike digits, he thought Giger's design concept superior. Since no one was available at the time, special effects creator Roger Dicken created the Facehugger prop himself. The technical elements of the musculature and bone were added by Ron Cobb. Giger's initial design for the smaller Facehugger had the fingers facing forward, but Dicken's redesign shifted the legs to the side. When the foam rubber sculpture of the Facehugger was produced, O'Bannon asked that it should remain unpainted, believing the rubber, which resembled human skin, was more plausible.
Five Facehuggers were built for the film – a fully articulated "hero" puppet with wire controls for the legs, a puppeted tail and air bladders to animate the sacs on either side of the body, a single Facehugger used solely for shots of the creature's understudy, and three stunt Facehuggers with poseable fingers. For the scene where the creature leaps from its Egg and attacks Kane, sheep's intestine was propelled directly towards the camera using high-pressure air hoses. The shot of the Facehugger latching onto Kane's face was acted out and filmed backwards, then reversed in editing. A final shot showed the creature inserting its proboscis through Kane's melted helmet visor. All three shots were edited together with quick cuts in rapid succession so that the final sequence lasts barely a second on film. For the scene in which the dead Facehugger is examined, Scott dressed a cup-shaped body with pieces of fish and shellfish to create its viscera.
For Aliens, where the Facehugger took a more active role, numerous different models were constructed to give the creatures a far greater range of movements. Effects supervisor Stan Winston said of the production, "We have – including states of decay and dead ones, dissected ones and living ones that do different things – approximately 15 Facehuggers, to make it look like one lives."
Among the various Facehugger proper constructed were two principle "hero" puppets that were cable-operated and capable of fully articulated movement. These required as many as nine operators to control their performance. An additional cable-operated Facehugger was built solely for the scene where the survivors encounter the live creature inside a preservative tank. This puppet had to be waterproofed against the liquid in which it was suspended, with the control cables emerging from its back (out of shot) and through watertight seals in the rear of the tank. It also featured a cable-operated proboscis for the shots where it attempts to attack Burke. Winston's studio also designed and built a running Facehugger that could operate without any need for external puppeteers. Described as a "sophisticated pull toy", the puppet moved along a thin wire, which in turn rotated a spindle within that operated the creature's legs and tail; this Facehugger is memorably seen charging towards Ripley across the med lab floor. Alongside these animatronic Facehuggers, an array of static foam and rubber dummies were also used, with various features such as magnetised legs for sticking to walls or spring-loaded tails to perform leaps.
- Some video games of the Alien vs. Predator franchise have allowed players to take control of a Facehugger as part of the Alien campaign.
- In the novelization of Alien, the Facehugger is described quite differently to what is seen in the films. Instead of the usual pale yellow, the creature is grey and also has a single, large lidless eye on its back. It also has octopus-like suckers on its underside that help it adhere to the face of its victim. This appearance conforms to early H. R. Giger concept sketches for the creature.
- The time it takes for a Facehugger to implant a Chestburster in its victim varies wildly throughout the Alien series. In Alien, it takes around 24 hours for Kane to become impregnated. This timescale is borne out in Aliens (in fact, a scene originally showing Burke conscious in the Hive at the end of the movie was removed because it would have contradicted this timescale) and Alien3. In Alien Resurrection, no specifics are given regarding the length of time taken to impregnate a victim, although the impression is given that the process is occurring faster than before; the novelization of the film states the Xenomorphs' reproductive cycle has been accelerated due to genetic alterations, but the film never makes this clear. By the time of Alien vs. Predator, however, impregnation happens almost instantaneously; several victims in the film are conscious again within minutes, including Scar, who is impregnated in less than the time it takes the pyramid on Bouvet Island to rearrange itself, which would be under 10 minutes. The sequel is inconsistent again, with Facehuggers taking longer to impregnate their victims but the Chestbursters still hatching seconds after the host wakes up. Many of the video games based on the franchise also drastically accelerate the impregnation process, most notably Aliens vs. Predator and Aliens: Colonial Marines, in which the process takes only a few hours. Conversely, Alien: Isolation once again uses a timeframe similar to the original Alien. In Alien: Covenant, Oram is subdued by a Facehugger and wakes up a few hours later, only for the Chestburster inside him to hatch and kill him mere seconds after awakening. In the same film, Lopé is attacked by a Facehugger, but is saved by his comrade seconds later. However, a Chestburster later hatches from Lopé, revealing that the Facehugger managed to impregnate him in the few seconds it was attached to his face.
- The scene from the beginning of Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem showing a Facehugger in a tube aboard the Scout Ship lunging at the camera is an obvious reference to the similar scene in Aliens where a Facehugger in a tube lunges at Burke in an identical manner.
- The actual Facehugger prop used in Alien is located at Movie Madness in Portland, OR, along with the Chestburster and the original Xenomorph headpiece.
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