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From ALIEN Egg to Queen, A Breakdown of the Xenomorph Reproductive Cycle

Xenomorphs from the Alien franchise have staked their claim as some of the most terrifying extraterrestrials of all time. We fear them for their merciless hunting of people, their super acidic blood, and their (probably) awful tiny-second-mouth breath. But it’s the xenomorph’s reproductive cycle, which includes elements analogous to real-life parasitoidism, cancer, and good ol’ fashion spermatophores, that really make them the last kind of creature you’d want to be stuck with aboard an M-Class star freighter.

The cycle endures as one of the most fascinating fictional methods of producing offspring ever, so here’s a brief breakdown of the steps ‘morphs go through to transform from egg into fully formed nightmare.

Ovomorph (the Egg) 

Just like the original 1979 Alien film, the horror of the xenomorph’s reproductive cycle all starts with eggs, a.k.a. ovomorphs. Ovomorphs are laid by a queen, and they are far more than meets the eye. In fact, they have a symbiotic relationship with their in vivo facehuggers, and are able to “‘sense’ or otherwise detect when a potential host creature approaches.” This way they can open their tops, flower-like…

And eject a Facehugger onto an unsuspecting host’s face.

Facehugger

The facehugger is the second stage of the xenomorph’s life cycle, and is, at its core, a delivery system for inserting the xenomorph’s DNA into a host. The facehugger isn’t so much about delivering sperm, like real spermatophores are, but is instead used to deliver a knot of cells (basically an embryo) through the mouth of the host. It executes this goal by clinging to the host’s face and tightening its tail around the throat to minimize oxygen moving to the brain, keeping the host alive but unconscious. (It also apparently delivers “a cyanose-based paralytic chemical” to help sedate the host.) Once the ‘Morph DNA has been delivered via a proboscis down the throat, the facehugger detaches and dies.

Chestburster

Once the facehugger has delivered its knot of xenomorph cells into the host, those cells have what is known in-universe as the “DNA Reflex.” This DNA Reflex works much like real-life lateral gene transfer: meaning the xenomorph’s cells release their DNA and inject it into the host’s cells. (This, incidentally, is the reason xenomorphs take on the characteristics of their hosts.) Those cells containing hybrid host-xenomorph DNA then multiply uncontrollably, much like cancer, and grow into a chestburster, which, y’know…

Adults (Warriors, Drones, Runners, and Praetorians) 

Once a chestburster has done its thing, i.e. explode out of its host, killing it — why xenomorphs would technically be considered parasitoids rather than parasites — it runs off somewhere to grow into an adult. This growth process, from tiny burster into full-blown gonna-eat-cha adult, happens extremely fast, on the order of hours. Once a xenomorph is full grown, you’re talking about a seven-foot-tall terror armed with a protective exoskeleton, deadly teeth, a deadly barbed tail, deadly claws, and a deadly set of just about everything else.

They also apparently have superhuman strength, quickness, stealth, and general combat abilities. Plus they have those inner mouths, which are fictional correlates of the pharyngeal jaws of a moray eel, but about one billion times as freaky.

Queens

Xenomorphs that eventually become queens are destined to be the most massive and powerful adults. Queens are almost three times the height of the other strange forms, standing roughly 20 feet tall, and spanning over 50 feet in length. The queens are also faster and stronger than any other xenomorph class, as well as significantly more intelligent.

Xenomorph queens also lay new ovomorphs, which thusly continues the circle of life… as well as the most horrifying method of procreating ever thought up by humanity or mother nature.

What do you think about the xenomorph reproductive cycle? Hug our faces with your thoughts in the comments below!

Images: 20th Century Fox

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