The life cycle of the species Xenomorph XX121 is a complex process involving several distinct stages and the use of a living host organism as a vessel inside which the infant Xenomorph gestates. The cycle, and in particular the use of hosts that invariably perish when the infant Chestburster forces its way through their ribcage, is often considered the species' signature aspect and is the characteristic for which they are most well known.
Note that this article is not a comprehensive list of all known Xenomorph castes, but merely lists the key stages in the creature's life cycle.
The Xenomorph life cycle is comparable in many ways to certain parasitoidal insects found on Earth, such as the wasps of the Chalcidoidea and Ichneumonoidea families, which lay their eggs on live prey that are then consumed by the hatching larvae. However, the cycle is at the same time unique, particularly with regards to the manner in which the infant Chestburster stage develops — instead of simply being implanted as a fetus and growing within the host, the Chestburster is actually more akin to a cancerous growth that assembles itself using the host's own cells and biological material as building blocks. The corresponding transfer of genetic material, referred to as the DNA reflex, causes the physical attributes of the adult creature to vary.
The Xenomorph life cycle consists of five primary stages — the Ovomorph, the Facehugger, the Chestburster, the adult and finally the Queen. The adult stage can be further subdivided into a number of forms or castes, each with differing physical characteristics based on age, function or the genetic makeup of the host creature.
Early Life Cycle
- Main article: Ovomorph (Egg)
The Ovomorph or Egg is typically considered to be the first stage of the Xenomorph's life cycle. Eggs are laid by a Queen and are large, ellipsoidal leathery objects between two to three feet high with a four-lobed opening at the top. As a potential host approaches, the Egg's lobes unfurl like flower petals, and the parasitic Facehugger within extracts itself from within and attaches itself to the potential host.
- Main article: Facehugger
A Facehugger is the second stage in the creature's life cycle. As its name suggests, it attaches to a victim's face, and its sole purpose is to impregnate them orally with the beginnings of a Xenomorph embryo. Upon making contact with a potential host, the Facehugger quickly renders them unconscious through the use of a cyanose-based paralytic chemical. The Facehugger then inserts a proboscis down the host's throat, supplying it with suitable atmosphere whilst simultaneously implanting the next stage of the creature's life cycle. Attempts to remove Facehuggers generally prove fatal, as the parasitoid will respond by tightening its grip and suffocating the host, while the Facehugger's acidic blood prevents it from being safely cut away. Once the Xenomorph embryo is safely in place, the Facehugger detaches, crawls away and dies.
- Main article: Chestburster
Arguably the most biologically intriguing stage of the Xenomorph's life cycle, the Chestburster is not implanted into the host as an embryo but is in fact akin to a cancerous growth; it begins as a tumor that causes the host's body to literally construct the infant creature from its own biological material. This process causes the developing embryo to take on some of the host's physical traits via a process known as the DNA reflex, including bipedalism, quadrupedalism or even possessing the mandibles of a Predator and other body structure changes. Over the course of 1–24 hours, and sometimes up to several days in the case of some Queens, the tumor develops into a Chestburster, at which point the creature emerges, violently ripping open the chest of the host, killing it. Owing to its cancerous nature, Chestburster development is typically fatal for the host even if the growing organism itself is surgically removed.
Growth and maturity
Immediately after the Chestburster erupts from the body of its host, it will typically flee and find a secure location in which to molt into its adult form — at this stage in its life, the Xenomorph is in fact quite vulnerable. Initially, the Chestburster is less than 1 foot (30 cm) tall. However, it soon undergoes a dramatic growth spurt, reaching adult size in a matter of hours; aboard the Nostromo, the infant Alien grew to be over 7 feet (2.2m) in height by the time the crew located it again.
- Main article: Drone
The Drone is the most basic and common form of Xenomorph found in the Hive. They serve as both the species' primary assault caste and the gatherers of new hosts for impregnation. They are fast, strong, reasonably tough, and savage combatants. Even in death, the Drone is dangerous, as its highly pressurized bloodstream will cause it to burst apart when killed and drench nearby enemies in acid. Drones have been known to have both smooth and ridged heads, as well as other minor physical differences such as the presence of prominent blades on the upper forearms.
- Main article: Praetorian
Praetorians are considerably larger than most other adult Xenomorphs, typically around twice the size of a Drone, but are smaller than Queens. They act as guards to the Queen within the Hive (their name taken from the Praetorian Guard, the loyal bodyguards who would protect the Emperor in Ancient Rome). They are easily distinguished by the large, flat crest, like a crown, that extends from the rear of their heads. It is thought Praetorians may be capable of molting into a Queen if no Queen is present. Praetorians possess much more concentrated acidic blood, and they have been seen to produce a deafening scream that will summon additional Drones to their aid.
- Main article: Queen (caste)
Xenomorph Queens are generally considered the apex of the species. They are significantly larger and stronger than basic Drones and even Praetorians. They are approximately 20 feet tall when standing erect and 53 feet in length. Their body structure differs also, having two pairs of arms, with a smaller secondary pair of limbs located on the chest. The Queen's head is larger than other adult Xenomorphs and is protected by a crest, similar to that on Praetorians but considerably larger. The exact shape of the crest can vary from Queen-to-Queen. Unlike other Xenomorphs, the Queen also has high heel protrusions from its feet.
Egg-laying Queens possess an immense ovipositor attached to their lower torso, similar to the enlarged abdomen of a queen termite. Unlike insect queens, there appears to be no need for drones to fertilize the Xenomorph Queen. When attached to its ovipositor, the Queen is essentially immobile and her body is supported by a biomechanical "throne" that consists of a lattice of struts resembling massive insect legs.
- Main article: Queen Mother
While in most instances Queens are viewed the controlling leadership force behind the Xenomorphs, on the species' home world, Queens are themselves subservient to the Queen Mother. Considered even more powerful and intelligent than common Queens, Queen Mothers have additionally displayed extraordinarily powerful telepathic abilities, allowing them to command vast armies of Xenomorphs, even those on distant planets across the vastness of space. This telepathy has also been known to affect humans, inducing nightmares and otherwise "communicating" with individuals who have never otherwise encountered the species.
Behind the Scenes
Eggmorphing: The original life cycle
- Main article: Eggmorphing
In the initial cut of Alien, the Alien possessed a complete reproductive life cycle that did not require a Queen to lay more Eggs. Rather, the creature would cocoon its victims, dead or alive, in its Hive and subsequently convert them by unknown means into a new Egg containing a Facehugger, a process dubbed "Eggmorphing".
This process allowed even a solitary Drone to continue the creature's existence. However, the scene showing this final stage was cut from Alien for reasons of pacing, leaving the ultimate origin of the Eggs in the film obscure. This in turn allowed Aliens director James Cameron to introduce a concept he had initially conceived for a spec script called Mother, whereby a massive mother Xenomorph laid the Eggs and formed the basis for the creature's life cycle. Cameron conceived the Queen as a monstrous analogue to Ripley's own maternal role in the film. In that vein, some critics have compared the Queen to Grendel's mother.
Despite its deletion from the theatrical cut of Alien, the original life cycle was included in the novelization of the film, while the movie footage was subsequently reintegrated in the Director's Cut from 2003.
The two methods of reproduction have never been reconciled in the films. However, the novelization of Alien3 suggests that both methods are typical of the species, and that the Eggmorphing seen in the Director's Cut of Alien is simply an alternate means for a Xenomorph to reproduce when a Queen is not present, or possibly even the means by which a Royal Facehugger is created.
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