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June 12, 2024 24 mins

In this special omnibus episode of STBYM’s The Monstrefact, Robert discusses four different creatures from the Star Trek universe: the Andorians, the Tribbles, the Ceti Eels and the Horta. 

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Speaker 1 (00:03):
Welcome to Stuff to Blow Your Mind, a production of iHeartRadio.

Speaker 2 (00:09):
Hi, my name is Robert Lambin. This is the Monster Fact,
a short form series from Stuff to Blow Your Mind,
focusing in on mythical creatures, ideas and monsters in time.
And this is going to be yet another omnibus episode,
collecting four previous related Monster Fact entries. These are going
to cover my recent journey into the Star Trek universe,

(00:31):
so I hope you enjoy these. Let's go ahead and
kick things off with the Andrians. In this episode, I'd
like to begin a series on various aliens and creatures
from the Star Trek universe. Now, first of all, I
will be the first to admit that I am not
an expert in Trek lore, but I very fondly remember

(00:53):
as a kid in the nineties watching reruns of Star
Trek the Next Generation every weeknight at nine PM. So
fondly remember a book that I had to special order
from the local bookstore, Star Trek The Worlds of the Federation,
written and illustrated by Laura Johnson writing as Shane Johnson.
This was an encyclopedic collection of alien profiles. Think of

(01:16):
it as a monster manual. If you will, covering thirty
two different Federation member alien species, as well as a
number of neutral and hostile aliens. This was a nineteen
eighty nine publication, so it's far from current and is
not considered part of current Trek canon, and I'm to
understand some Trek writers took issue with some of the entries. Still,

(01:37):
it's a book that meant a lot to me as
a young Treky, and I suspect it meant a lot
to others from this time period as well, So I'm
going to go ahead and cite it along with some
other sources, with the caveat that again, it's not canon
much in the same way I cited the Dune Encyclopedia
in some of my Dune related entries. With all of
that in mind, let's turn to the Andrians. These blueskin,

(02:00):
white haired, antinny equipped aliens are iconic original series aliens,
but they were rather exotic for me, as they're virtually
absent from both Star Trek the Next Generation and Star
Trek Deep Space nine, which constituted my prime Trek viewing.
The reasoning for their absence, according to the excellent Memory Alpha,

(02:21):
was largely twofold. First of all, Trek creator Gene Roddenberry
preferred that many original series aliens be avoided in favor
of new ones on the next generation. Secondly, the makeup
was allegedly difficult to get right and avoid looking silly.
They overcame these hurdles and subsequent shows, and in the
current Star Trek Strange New World series, which I'm enjoying

(02:43):
quite a bit, we encounter an albinos subspecies of Andrians
known as the Nar, as well as an Andrian Special
Forces officer, and neither of these aliens looks remotely silly.
But let's come back to the biology of the Andorians
of the Federation describes them as a mix of mammalian
and reptilian features, with both an endoskeleton and a limited exoskeleton,

(03:07):
and the antennae are described as enhancing otherwise colorblind vision
with a quote complex matrix of light sensitive cones in
addition to auditory functions. All of this together would amount
to an enhanced sense of sight and smell. Fair enough
obvious sense organs do sense organ things. Antennay interrestrial organisms
remember very greatly, and depending on the species, may utilize

(03:30):
senses of touch, air, motion, heat, vibration, smell, or taste,
But again, the Worlds of the Federation came out in
nineteen eighty nine before A particular nineteen ninety three episode
of the Next Generation shed a great deal of canonical
light on the biology of Star Trek. The episode titled
The Chase, which I specifically remember from my childhood, revealed

(03:53):
the reason so many Star Trek alien species are humanoid
and resemble each other, often with minor alterations to facial
and cranial features. All of this via a revelation of
ancient intentional pan spermia via a single advanced progenitor humanoid species.
In other words, all of these Trek species look similar

(04:14):
not because they're all humans in makeup, but rather because
a single ancestor species spread their own DNA among the
various worlds to see them. I've always found this to
be a clever way of addressing the seeming lack of
biological diversity in many of the core Tract civilizations. Now
you might reasonably wonder, okay, fine, but realistically, would these

(04:37):
distantly related species still look so similar to each other? Well?
Susan and Robert Jenkins explore this question in their book
The Biology of Star Trek, published in nineteen ninety eight.
They point out that based on what we know about evolution,
it's not at all unreasonable. The evolutionary clock runs slowly,
they write, and it has a built in bias against

(04:58):
major overhauls. Because speciation is brought about by multiple random
changes in DNA, and the changes must allow the organism
to survive and reproduce, small changes are favored over large ones.
Small changes are less likely to compromise the tested survivability
of the original. Given this constraint, two species that start
out alike remain similar over a rather long time, even

(05:21):
under different sets of environmental pressures. They add that particular
environmental pressures would of course have their impact, and a
trend towards facial symmetry would likely stay in place. They
go into greater detail in this great book about not
only the speculative biology of all of this, but also
the connections between human facial cues and the way we
imagine the facial features of tracks aliens, and they do

(05:45):
get around to considering the andorians. They point out that
while nothing resembling a human with antennae exists in the
natural world, we of course do have mammalian species with
enhanced whiskers, and I would point out that we have
other things like the unique robosis of the star No's
mole and the twin feelers of the tentacled snake to
get into the reptile world. For the Andorians, however, they

(06:07):
propose an interesting notion. Perhaps the Andorian home world contains
multiple atmospheric variations, and this results in various microclimates, requiring
enhanced sensation of atmospheric content, temperature, and pressure for any
species that regularly travels outside of a narrow region or microclimate.

(06:27):
They even go so far as to discuss how tissues
in human embryos might develop into antennae under the right
survival pressures. Quote. Human embryos have several segments called embryonic
pharyngeal arches in what will become the head and the neck.
They supply the developing tissue for jaws and some neck organs.
In fish, However, the pharyngeal arches develop into gills because

(06:50):
these structures have been adapted for very different purposes. They
might evolve to provide the organ substrate for the nervous
tissue in an antenna like organ. More broadly, they point
out that added sense organs could potentially detect any number
of factors in a given environment, provided there was an
evolutionary incentive to do so. Memory Alpha provides little canonical

(07:11):
data on all of this, as far as I could tell,
but it does point out that we know that Andrian
an Kenny can be moved independently via voluntary muscle control,
that they regenerate if they are injured or blasted off,
and they also seem to play a role in balance
and gesticulation and of course therefore communication. I think all

(07:33):
this is quite reasonable. Now, coming back to Star Trek's
Strange New Worlds, the Enar character Himmer in that show
is depicted as having been born sightless, but is more
than able to make up for his lack of sight
in part due to his other senses as a member
of an antennae equipped and Dorian subspecies. All right, Next up,

(07:55):
The Trouble with Triples not discuss the various creatures of
the Star Trek universe, without of course considering the tribles
of Iota geminorum for a world home to an abundance
of carnivorous reptiles, in addition to the vaguely mammalian Trible,
which seems to serve as a basic prey species for

(08:18):
all the space lizards. The Triple is, of course, a
small furry creature with no discernible limbs or features. Really,
its only means of defending itself, at least against humanoids,
is to basically tranquilize the humanoid with a gentle cooing effect.
The trouble with Tribles, of course, is their incredible rate

(08:38):
of reproduction. They are even reportedly born already pregnant, and
can quickly overrun any given ecosystem or starship that they
are introduced into. In their natural habitat, they eat and
reproduce as quickly as possible, but their numbers are kept
in check, presumably by their many voracious predators. But on

(08:59):
a federation star, yes, this is where the trouble occurs.
With no predators, plentiful food, and a crew overcome by
their adorable cuteness, their population very quickly spirals out of control.
The creatures debuted in a nineteen sixty seven episode of
the original Star Trek series, but the Grimlins franchise of
the eighties and nineties treads on similar ground. Adorable fur

(09:22):
babies that get entirely out of hand due to a
mix of ineptitude, human vulnerability to cuteness, and a reproductive
system clearly evolve for different parameters. I've speculated elsewhere that
maguai might depend on a desert, if not an extraterrestrial
environment for their biology to make sense and likewise unsuftible

(09:42):
your mind. We've talked about the role of cuteness, both
among humans and cuteness between humans and non human animals.
It is a potent force that manipulates us. For the Triple,
the stabilizing factor is the severity of its ecosystem. On
the Triple home world, triples presumably die in vast numbers,

(10:03):
and their prolific reproduction rate merely allows them to keep up.
We see variations of this in the natural world here
on Earth as well. In general, we see the basic
quality quantity tradeoff. In practice, some organisms err on the
side of producing few high quality offspring, while others simply
produce offspring in vast numbers. The predators can't eat all

(10:25):
of them, and a select few survive to reproduce as adults.
In sea turtles, for example, somewhere on the order of
two out of a thousand eggs actually makes it to adulthood,
surviving the gamut of consumers along the way. We can
also think of the triple in terms of predator satiation,
by which prey briefly and periodically occur at such high

(10:46):
population densities that the predators can't possibly eat them all.
Periodical cicadas, which many of you will be experiencing yet
again this year, are an example of this. So it
would seem possible that might work in a similar manner,
periodically reproducing in such numbers that they simply overwhelm their
many reptilian predators. Now, given that tribles are vaguely mammals,

(11:10):
we might also compare them to such prolific terrestrial warm
bloods as the European rabbit, infamous for its own rapid
reproduction rate. According to the Texas Invasive Species Institute, an
eighteen fifty nine introduction of a mere twenty four European
rabbits into Australia led to a population of more than
six hundred million in less than a century. The tribles

(11:32):
ultimately are a fantastic commentary on what can happen when
a species is artificially transplanted from one ecosystem into another. Now,
how long would it take tribles to overrun the starship Enterprise. Well,
that is a question that you have to throw some
math at. And in twenty twenty student researchers at the
University of Leicester made science headlines with a paper in

(11:55):
the journal Physics Special Topics. Their answer four points five days.
All right. Next up the Seti Eels. In a rare

(12:19):
case of synchronicity with the news cycle, which is all
about brain worms of late, I decided to devote this
Trek themed episode to the dreaded Seti eels of Seti
Alpha five. You will, of course remember them from the
nineteen eighty two film Star Trek two, The Wrath of Khan,
in which thowd twentieth century eugenics war tyrant Khan Noonan Singh,

(12:43):
played by the superb Ricardo Montaban, uses larval Seti eels
to torture and control two Enterprise crew members in his
quest for vengeance. We also learned that Seti eels, native
to the harsh world sing was exiled to by Starfleet,
killed many of Khan's people, including his wife. The setiworm

(13:05):
is a burrowing desert creature, but its larva, we're told
by singh crawl in through the ear canals of host
creatures to wrap themselves around the cerebral cortex, rendering the
host organism highly susceptible to suggestion. Madness and death follow
as the eel grows, unless the eel is removed or

(13:25):
leaves of its own accord. The latter occurs with First
Officer Chekhov, though the reason is uncertain. Was it responding
to danger, had it lost control of its host? Was
it in fact leaving the host in order to continue
its life cycle. We don't know any of these answers,
in part because Captain Kirk instantly vaporizes the escaping eel,

(13:46):
turning once more to the non canonical Star Trek. The
Worlds of the Federation, written and illustrated by Laura Johnson
written as Shane Johnson back in nineteen eighty nine, the
author largely shares what we already know from the movie.
Adult Seti eels, one of the few native species to
survive on the planet, grow to lengths of fourteen inches

(14:06):
and carry their young in tissue or armor folds on
their backs until such time as they leave the parent
for a host organism. In life signs the biology of
Star Trek. Susan and Robert Jenkins briefly discuss the seti
eel in context with other neural parasites and symbians of
the Trek universe, and there are several classifying The possession

(14:26):
we see with the seti eel is a kind of
quote co conscious mind control, with the hosts made helpless
by the superseding power of the parasite. Presumably, the whole
reason for subduing the host organism is to keep it
from interfering with the larva's occupation of set organism, and
we might assume that the seti eel also eats the

(14:48):
tissue that it presumably burrows through to reach the cerebral cortex.
The mind control aspect of this fictional parasitic scenario is,
of course vary, in keeping with numerous example from the
natural terrestrial world, including various parasitoid wasps, flatworms, hair worms, protozoans, fungi,
and more. In broad strokes, we see parasites that alter

(15:12):
host behavior to help complete their own life cycle. This
may mean mere survival or positioning of the host in
such a way that a desirable new host will consume
the current host. Now with the SETI eel. We certainly
see the former survival, but not so much the latter
eel controlled humans don't seem to do anything other than

(15:35):
obey fellow humans, though one could make a case that
this alone might lead to say, uninfected human being either
being expelled, which would at least be a choice. You
can imagine scenarios in which this would put the current
host organism in a position to, say, be near water,
or near another organism that it needs to enter, perhaps

(15:58):
some sort of a predator. Or you could also make
the argument that well, okay, a human that is so
easily controlled by fellow humans is going to remain in
close proximity with humans, and perhaps it just needs to
enter a new host organism once it's done munching and
constricting inside that individual skull. Either way, we also have

(16:19):
to acknowledge that humanoids, and remember in the Trek universe,
most or all humanoid species are very distantly related to
each other. Humanoids might not be the desired vector for
the parasite, and in the world of actual terrestrial parasite studies,
we do see dangerous results from parasites winding up either

(16:41):
in the wrong host or the wrong part of the
right host. Now, I've long found this one of the
more horrifying aspects of sci fi space horror, and particularly
sci fi space related body horror, human interactions with hostile
biology that simply didn't evolve to deal with human beings.

(17:01):
The xenomorphic threats of the Alien film franchise are great
examples of this. Of course, on one hand, the creatures
we see in the films are highly adaptive and make
use of host DNA in the acquisition of their adult forms.
They have evolved and or been engineered to make quick
study and use of new bodies. But the other horrifying

(17:22):
way to think about it is that here is a
creature that is truly an alien within the host body.
It doesn't know what it's doing in there, and much
like the scene in twenty twelve's Prometheus with the robotic
surgery pod, this combination of high skill and lower context
for the target body runs the risk of heading into

(17:43):
very grizzly territory. Still, we don't have to invoke Alien
to make the seti eel terrifying. The implantation scene in
Wrath of Khan remains one of the greatest moments of
space horror. In a franchise, we don't generally associate with it.
And finally, we're going to learn about the Horta. In

(18:07):
today's episode. I'm going to round out this initial batch
of Star Trek selections, and I'm going to go with
a listener suggestion from one of our mini gems, the
Horta of Janus six. As we learn in the original
Trek episode The Devil in the Dark, the horta is
a large, subterranean heap shaped organism entirely silicone based rather

(18:29):
than carbon based. It tunnels through the rock via powerful
acidic secretions, which it can also use defensively. Exceedingly long lived,
the entire population of horta dies out every sixty thousand years,
with the exception of a single mother horta, which tends
to the spherical eggs that will produce the next generation

(18:50):
of this amazing species. While the Horta are reclusive and
ultimately peaceful, they can prove lethal in confrontations, such as
the one with a Federation mining colony in the Devil
in the Dark, which ultimately required the intervention of a
Vulcan mind meld. In the non canonical Star Trek, the
Worlds of the Federation by Laura Johnson written as Shane

(19:12):
Johnson from nineteen eighty nine. We learned that the miners
and Horta would eventually work together on Janus six following
this reconciliation. Now, I distinctly remember watching this episode of
the classic Star Trek as a kid, and I remember
enjoying the alien monster based suspense and its thought provoking
treatment of interaction between intelligent but radically different alien species,

(19:38):
and looking back on it now, it certainly has that
Star Trek optimism that is often lacking in our modern
sci fi. It's no surprise that this one is often
held up as one of the best original Star Trek episodes.
In Life Signs the Biology of Star Trek Susan and
Robert Jenkins, the authors here discuss the singular nature of

(19:59):
the Orta in Trek. The Federation was apparently not accustomed
to the presence of silicon based life, and had therefore
missed the Horta's presence on Jenus six in their scans.
Entirely later on in tracks, similar mistakes were made with
the microbrains of Vlara three and the space born crystalline entity.

(20:22):
This all underlies a known challenge in astrobiology, we ultimately
have only one model of life upon which to base
our observations, and it happens to be earthlife. We're told
that Janus six never developed carbon based life beyond a
few spore producing plants as well as some algae, but

(20:42):
it did boast minerals and heavy metals, and the authors
stress that while silicon based reactions occur much more slowly
compared to carbon based reactions, a planet like Janus six might,
in theory have the minerals to catalyze the chemical reactions
needed for a silicon based life. Now, in the larger

(21:03):
realm of science fiction, silicon based organisms are not uncommon.
The alien Xenomorpho is sometimes described as silicone based, or
at least partially silicone based, and there are numerous ways
this is explained to factor in with their carbon based bodies.
Other examples include the Kaiju of Pacific Rim, the Exogoths
of Star Wars, and the Easter Island headed Lithodia Rexians

(21:28):
of Marvel Comics. However, as outlined by Charles Q. Choi
in the space dot Com article, silicon based life may
be more than just science fiction from twenty seventeen, various
experts speculate that silicon based or silicone encompassing life is
very possible. Silicone and carbon are similar in many ways.
Silicon is one of the most common elements in the universe,

(21:51):
and chemist have artificially synthesized organosilicone molecules composed of both
silicone and carbon, so by some estimations, silicon based life
of some sort may be out there somewhere, whether we
know of it or not. Back to Trek, the Jinkins
stress that the Horta might actually reproduce and reason too

(22:13):
much like a carbon based organism in this episode of Anything.
But then again, this is where science and philosophy butt heads.
Star Trek is ultimately about the hope, if not the reality,
of making contact, settling differences, and figuring out how to
move forward, both as an interstellar community within the fiction

(22:35):
and as a terrestrial species here on Earth in reality.
As much as I love my various nihilistic sci fi
visions and various examples of space horror, I feel more
and more like I need the Star Trek vision in
my life. As in aside, I'll mention that there's actually
an underground geographic positioning technology here on Earth. Named after

(22:57):
the Star Trek Horta. It is, of course, say backronym,
which stands for Honeywell or Retrieval and Tunneling AID. All right,
there you have it. I hope you enjoy this, so
I keep doing these omnibus episodes because it's a better
way to do like a rerun essentially on a Wednesday.
And I've also heard from some listeners that they prefer

(23:19):
to listen to these short form episodes batched together into
a longer omnibus series. So I'm going to keep doing
this as long as it remains popular. As long as
the folks seem to enjoy them, I enjoy putting them together.
If you have recommendations for other Star Trek creatures you'd
like for me to cover in a future series of
Star Trek episodes, or if you have suggestions related to

(23:40):
other you know franchises, comic books, movies, literary settings of
folkloric traditions, mythologies, and more, write in I would love
to hear from you. As always, you can email us
at contact at stuff to Blow your Mind dot com.

Speaker 1 (24:06):
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