Did Phronima inspire the design of the Alien Queen?

There is an interesting anecdote which claims that the amphipod crustacean genus, Phronima, served as the inspiration for the alien queen first seen in James Cameron’s, “Aliens.”

Photo: Pål Abrahamsen

The story seems to originate from David Attenborough’s narration in the “Blue Planet” documentary (Skip to 3:25 in this video for the scene in question). Some people around the web rebut this, stating that the original alien design was based on a painting by artist H. R. Giger. This seems to be the case as far as the original “soldier” alien morph seen in “Alien” (1979) is concerned. It is much more likely that Phronima actually influenced the design of the queen alien morph, seen in “Aliens” (1986).

I’ve tried to contact someone at the special effects company, Stan Winston Studios, but they seem to be hard to get a hold of if you are not the producer of a multi-hundred-million dollar blockbuster. Instead, lets talk a little about Phronima, which is an awesome animal regardless of whether or not it was the inspiration for the alien queen.

Phronima is a planktonic amphipod crustacean that lives in the pelagic zone (existing in the water column, not on the bottom) of the deep sea. There are two very distinct characteristics about these animals that may have influenced the design of the alien queen. I will talk about each of them in some detail.

Eyes

The most immediately recognizable feature of Phronima is the broad crest atop its head. This morphological feature is actually one set of the animal’s eyes, and represents a classic deep sea visual adaptation. These tubular eyes point upwards, towards the limited down-welling irradiance. The huge facets of these eyes collect whatever light makes it down to that depth, silhouetting potential prey above in the water column. The light travels down long wave-guides to the retina which is near the bottom of the head (the retina appears black in the photos). This tubular eye structure maximizes photon capture and is seen in a variety of other deep-sea crustaceans, squid, and fish.

Photo: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Mike Land

The second set of eyes protrude from the side of Phronima’s head, and are more akin to other crustacean eyes. They probably look for bioluminescence to the sides and below the animal. It is thought that these eyes are used to spot the animals that Phronima likes to make their homes and nurseries out of…

Necro-parasitism

A gristly feature of Phronima that is reflected in the alien queen, is what I would call necro-parasitism. Females hunt down free-floating tunicates. They devour all the living tissue from the unlucky animal, leaving a barrel shaped house to live inside and drive around the deep sea in search of more prey (see below). Eventually, the female Phronima lays its eggs along the inside walls of the tunicate barrel, where the offspring grow and hatch.

It is possible that the alien queen was derived completely independently of Phronima, however I find the comparison shot below, taken from a 1981 paper and from “Aliens” respectively, to be strongly suggestive of a connection.

References:

  • Land, M.F., 1981. Optics of the eyes of Phronima and other deep-sea amphipods. Journal of Comparative Physiology A: Neuroethology, Sensory, Neural, and Behavioral Physiology, 145(2), 209-226.
  • Young, R.E., Function of the Dimorphic Eyes in the Midwater Squid Histioteuthis dofleini. Available at: http://scholarspace.manoa.hawaii.edu/handle/10125/953 [Accessed December 11, 2009].

About these ads

29 Responses to “Did <em>Phronima</em> inspire the design of the Alien Queen?”


  1. 1 Rambling Woods February 1, 2010 at 11:41 am

    One of the all time great sci-fi movies done before all the computer animation. Just call and tell them you are James Cameron…Interesting post. My COS is low tech and in my yard… Michelle

    Autumn Meadowhawks Mating.

  2. 2 Mike Bok February 1, 2010 at 11:49 am

    Its amazing how well the puppetry and animatronics in that movie hold up today. Having a physical creature on the film is more convincing than most modern CGI.

  3. 3 artistatexit0 March 23, 2010 at 10:04 am

    Looking at the life that can cling around a grain of sand, I’m surprised that Hollywood doesn’t reference existing life more. There is plenty of inspiration to be found in looking at images of creatures best seen with an electron scanning microscope! Thanks for your interesting blog.

  4. 4 Cadence March 22, 2013 at 3:39 pm

    Hmmm it does look a little bit like the Xenomorph Queen. Interesting yet at the same time creepy.

  5. 5 Edgar May 31, 2013 at 8:39 pm

    Both drugs have also been denied FDA approval the first time around
    and are awaiting news on their second attempt. Withdrawal from levothyroxine can be done but it takes 6 weeks of withdrawal for the remaining thyroid tissue to be completely starved.

    That way, the actual process will end up being much less frustrating and, for the majority of people, enjoyable.

  6. 6 Miriam June 3, 2013 at 5:04 pm

    Though the levels look really simple, they are actually quite challenging.
    Just last year Apple sold more than one hundred million i – Phone and i – Pad apps.
    Making your game play is the next phase you’ll be focusing on.

  7. 7 healthcare in canada June 10, 2013 at 11:41 am

    Hello, after reading this amazing article i am also glad to
    share my knowledge here with mates.

  8. 8 www.webcamdatingsex.nl June 21, 2013 at 10:37 am

    World-wide-web dating on the net has come to be a well-known phenomenon for
    singles to seek out like and partnership in the last couple of years.
    On the internet dating is definitely the easiest process
    to discover a companion these days.

  9. 9 freelancehackers.com June 28, 2013 at 5:35 pm

    Woah! I’m really digging the template/theme of this site. It’s simple, yet effective.
    A lot of times it’s hard to get that “perfect balance” between user friendliness and appearance. I must say that you’ve done a excellent job with this.
    Additionally, the blog loads extremely quick for me on Firefox.
    Outstanding Blog!

  10. 10 invitations for a baby shower June 29, 2013 at 1:53 pm

    If you wish for to get a good deal from this paragraph then you have to
    apply these techniques to your won webpage.

  11. 11 Website June 30, 2013 at 5:27 am

    Hi, yeah this paragraph is genuinely good and I have learned lot of things from it concerning blogging.
    thanks.

  12. 12 recipes banana bread recipe July 21, 2013 at 6:51 pm

    you’re in reality a good webmaster. The web site loading velocity is incredible. It kind of feels that you’re doing any unique trick.

    Moreover, The contents are masterwork. you’ve done a fantastic activity in this subject!

  13. 13 Grover July 26, 2013 at 11:34 am

    But at the end of the day, even the computer is a machine and like all machines
    it calls for maintenance, what we can call as.
    adsense_ad_unit += ‘

  14. 14 fvphilo.uzh.Ch July 29, 2013 at 12:46 pm

    Break your 3 normal main meals into 5 smaller portion sizes – morning, snack, lunch, snack,
    dinner. Avocados- Although not my favorite, are high in fats,
    the good ones. Who does not need that little bit of elevation when trying to diet.

  15. 15 Nathan August 2, 2013 at 7:16 pm

    One is the job that would normally be done in a
    company, but where employees are given a flexibility to work pretty much from anywhere,
    including home, and the other type is a job that has sort of grown up in the internet era, and
    is almost home grown, although it can be done in an office as well.
    Well that is another aspect of web design called Search Engine Optimization.
    This includes tasks such as adding and removing a page from your website,
    modifying text within pages as well as inserting and removing images.

  16. 16 Spencer August 4, 2013 at 11:39 pm

    It does appear, however, that hypnosis can help a person achieve his or her weight
    loss goals. Vitamin B3 or also called as Niacin is important in weight loss because it is responsible for the regulation of thyroid hormones and also
    in sugar levels in the body. Do not be tempted to lose weight as quickly as you can, because a crash
    diet will have you eating less than a thousand calories a day slowing down
    your metabolism.

  17. 17 Tanesha August 6, 2013 at 7:01 pm

    a Bruce Lee workout includes stretching, bending, running, dipping, kicking, jumping, traditional
    muscle building exercises, weight lifting, rope skipping, medicine ball
    handling, etc. In fact, I always suggest to those overweight vegetarians to keep to a max of 4 pounds a week
    so you won’t suffer loose skin post weight loss. When you’re about to start on your weight loss plan, it’s a good idea to think about your end goal and chunk it down into smaller goals.

  18. 18 Www.Tor.Com August 8, 2013 at 2:56 pm

    The as if you go through my head! You seem to fully grasp a great deal with this, such as you submitted this ebook in it something like that. Personally i think which can be done with a bit of percentage in order to electrical power the solution dwelling somewhat, however besides that, that is wonderful web site. A wonderful understand. Let me certainly be backside.

  19. 19 Lawerence August 11, 2013 at 3:55 pm

    In order to become a good leader, you need to be a good follower first.
    Cat Truth: Cats are only awake 2 out of every 7 years. Any tips,
    or proposition it doesn’t accept as true with our alert, is at once denied if our conscious come across.

  20. 20 http://luxurycarnews6.webs.com/ March 12, 2014 at 10:37 am

    I’ll immediately grasp your rss as I can’t
    in finding your e-mail subscription link or newsletter service.
    Do you’ve any? Please let me know so that I may subscribe.
    Thanks.

  21. 21 Weight Management March 19, 2014 at 7:02 am

    Whoa! This blog looks exactly like my old one! It’s on a completely different subject
    but it has pretty much the same layout and
    design. Excellent choice of colors!

  22. 22 vegetarian food March 22, 2014 at 6:13 am

    Hi there, i read your blog from time to time and i own a similar one and i was just wondering
    if you get a lot of spam remarks? If so how do you prevent it, any plugin or anything
    you can recommend? I get so much lately it’s driving me crazy so any support is very much appreciated.

  23. 23 Rodney March 22, 2014 at 7:44 pm

    After I initially left a comment I seem to have clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now every time a comment
    is added I get 4 emails with the exact same comment.
    Is there a way you can remove me from that service? Thank you!


  1. 1 Not impressed with “coconut octopus” « Arthropoda Trackback on January 7, 2010 at 12:49 pm
  2. 2 Circus of the Spineless #47 « Beetles In The Bush Trackback on February 1, 2010 at 8:07 am
  3. 3 Arthropods in pop culture: Attack of the Camel Spiders « Arthropoda Trackback on June 30, 2010 at 3:06 pm
  4. 4 Cameron in the Deep « Ultraphyte Trackback on March 29, 2012 at 8:15 pm
  5. 5 Anfípoda extraterrestre | Blog de Astronomia do astroPT Trackback on March 30, 2012 at 11:52 pm
  6. 6 BEACON Researchers at Work: The tale of the tail-less sea squirt | BEACON Trackback on November 14, 2012 at 4:14 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s




I have moved.
Arthropoda can now be found here.

Michael Bok is a graduate student studying the visual system of mantis shrimp.

Flickr Photos

View from atop South Island

Turtle and remora

Lizard Island lagoon panorama

Coral

Wind surfer over the reef, taken from atop South Island

Another Lizard Island Sunset

Odontodactylus latirostris

Mandarin

Lowest tide I have seen at Lizard Island  (-0.11 m)

Nudibranch

More Photos

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: