Aliens in our own backyard

This post originally appeared on the Contact Infinite Futures SF blog on October 25, 2011.

I did a lot of research while inventing alien races for my upcoming novel Stellarnet Rebel. But how does a SF writer research something that doesn’t exist? (Or has yet to be discovered.) Well, we have a wealth of weirdness right here on Earth.

Did you know that octopuses have three hearts and a copper-based “hemocyanin” (rather than an iron-based “hemoglobin”) blood oxygen transportation system? Some are real-life shifters—they can change the color and even the texture of their skin to resemble almost anything.

Or there’s the interesting female spotted hyenas, who appear to have the same genitalia as males. The only way to tell them apart is that the females are dominant, larger and more aggressive. Reminds me a little of that Star Trek: TNG episode “Angel One.”

Speaking of genitalia, most marsupials have two. Sort of. One, that’s split into two. And cetaceans, such as whales and dolphins, have a prehensile one. “Prehensile” means able to grab things. (I’m looking at you, Londo Mollari.)

An axolotl can regenerate lost limbs. Electric eels can produce a shock strong enough to kill a human. Sea cucumbers can liquefy their bodies at will, allowing them to pour themselves through small openings, then harden on the other side. These would all be cool alien abilities.

You don’t even need to look further than our fellow Homo Sapiens for “alien” traits. Genetic variation within our own species gives rise to individuals with incredible qualities, from super strength to electrical resistance to lightning fast mental computation.

What are some real-life animal abilities you’d like to see in a fictional alien species? What are some of your favorite SF alien traits?

~ J.L. Hilton

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