Umbrella polyps are small animals with appendages shaped like umbrellas. The appendage sweeps food particles inward and upward where it can be grabbed by short tentacles underneath and pulled into the mouth.
When it sees a predator, the sticker worm folds itself over and attaches each half on either side of the seam of a screwcap shell using pads of variable stickiness. Microscopic grooves in these pads take advantage of every deviation from perfect smoothness. Flexing its muscular body, it twists the shell open and then quickly slips inside before it can shut again. While hiding from predators, the screwcap and the sticker worm will not hurt each other. When the shell opens again, the sticker worm will leave.
One of the many predators the reefbuilder crabs must defend their livestock from is the sonic sucker. Sonic suckers are false fish with one skull formed into a parabolic dish (though some species make use of the fusion of two or three skulls). The sucker places this dish on the surface of a shell and bombards it with sound until it finds the right frequency to crack it open. Once this is accomplished, it sucks the meat out through the hole. While in most species it is the parabolic head with the mouth and the forward head with the eyes, some species retain a second mouth in the forward head for chewing weeds. While suckers are too fast for crabs to catch, breaking open a shell can take a long time, allowing the crabs to chase them off. Unfortunately some sucker species have graspers to carry a meal away with them while they swim.
Many screwcap shells will form pearls of silicon carbide much like the calcium carbonate pearls of Earth oysters. These pearls are harvested by the reefbuilder crabs, which glue them together with their own secretions to build elaborate structures of all kinds. Over tens of thousands of years, the reefbuilder crabs have built thick walls right up to the water’s surface, dividing the reef into different zones and redirecting water currents. Even they do not entirely know why they began building, but it seems to have something to do with their religion. These walls serve as attachment points for organisms of all kinds. The reefbuilder crabs also build towers and structures that can only be described as abstract art.
The reefbuilder crabs defend the screwcap shell beds from predators that might try to eat them. In this way, they are sure to have a constant supply of pearls to harvest. To feed themselves, they also care for several varieties of weeds.
One of the most common polyp animals are the branch tongues, which is a bit of a misnomer since not all of them have branched tongues. Some have multiple ends per tongue, some have multiple tongues per mouth, some have multiple mouths per stomach, some have multiple stomachs per body, and some are colonial organisms of multiple bodies. Many have some combination of all these attributes. At the ends of the tongues are sticky lures to attract different types of swimming prey or sticky hairs to grab floating plankton. Snap traps have yet a different sort of lure. They resemble nooses. The lures of snap traps are not sticky, but will snap shut on anything disturbing the lure in the middle held only by two narrow strings. Once a meal has been caught, the tongue is pulled down into the stomach (where its base is attached) to be digested along with the meal. For those species with more than one tongue end per stomach, the animal will usually wait until seventy percent or more of its tongue ends are full before drawing them all in. It cannot wait too long, however, because there are other animals that might crawl by and try to steal a meal.
The pin traps are one family of branch tongues that take advantage of this. The lures are able to sense what type of prey has bitten into them. When bitten by small prey, the lures merely swell up and secrete glue to hold it there, using the small prey as a lure for larger prey. When bitten or grabbed by large prey, a large number of mineral fibers from deep in the tongue shoot outwards at high velocity, hardening on contact with foreign tissue and sending out offshoots to hold them in place. On signal, the animal will draw its other tongue ends around whatever it has caught, all of them extruding rapidly hardening mineral fibers on contact. It then pulls the prey into its mouth.
Written by Daniel Noe, ChampionOfTheUniverse.com
If you are a world builder who needs to ground your life form designs in scientific plausibility, the podcasts at BEKernWrites.com are a good place to start. Each runs about forty minutes long. Subjects such as biomes, metamorphosis, metabolism, and genetic material are covered by an actual professor of biology. The lectures stick pretty close to describing Earth life most of the time while briefly mentioning some of the variations found across the galaxy. It is not wildly speculative.
Like a cross between Star Trek and Calvin And Hobbes, my novella The Gorilla with Twenty-Four Heads features many strange animals and plants, including bushes that defend themselves with prisms, starfish with retractable spines, spear-tail monkeys, and the nocturnal, carnivorous crystals that blur the line between living and non-living. It tells the story of a young dinosaur and his living stuffed-animal friends exploring a desert planet in orbit around a red dwarf star. Here is the blurb:
Having discovered a previously unknown planet, Captain Nathaniel and his crew cannot resist exploring it, but a run of bad luck and poor choices leaves them stuck on a hostile world of extreme temperatures, aridity, and dangerous and fascinating animals. Now an entity known only as “The Gorilla” wants them dead. How will they ever survive long enough to repair their ship and escape?
You may also enjoy my other stories and illustrations from the life of Nathaniel at my blog, ChampionOfTheGalaxy.com
Nearly all life in the galaxy is descended from the same ancestor through the process of panspermia – and something is trying to kill it. The Sage of Sagittarius by Kenn Brody is a fast read. It is full of scientific details, but without slowing down the action at all. The end is satisfying without being too unrealistic (the “bad guy” is destroyed, but at a heavy cost). Each twist makes sense in the context of the story. The characters are quirky, yet believable, and fairly well developed without getting bogged down in a lot of internal musings – nothing wrong with that, but this book’s focus is on the struggle for survival between species of radically different biology (and physics).
In the course of the story, the characters encounter many alien ecosystems. I liked the mollusk-like beings that sift gold from the sea. I liked the “birds” that planted themselves into the ground and became trees. I liked the centipede-like creatures that kept harems. I loved it.
There are many awesome artists on DeviantArt.com, but not all of them have well-defined exobiology projects. Some focus on the behaviors and outside appearance of long-extinct organisms on Earth. Some engage in all kinds of art and mix all their work together. Some post great alien pictures, but give no descriptions or environmental context. Some deal more in fantasy than science fiction. Some only had a few good ideas and then stopped. Some create strange landscapes covered in what might possibly be plants perhaps inspiring someone else to offer design and explanation. Here are those that at least deserve recognition as artists:
Their work and that of others of all genres can be found in my favorites gallery.
Heart crabs are a reef predator. They eat worms, screwcap shells, and even reefbuilder crabs and are only repelled when attacked by superior numbers. That this often happens has caused some to band together for protection and to provide distractions so others can steal food from the reefbuilders. Heart crabs are heart-shaped and have two heads. They crack open the shells by smashing them against other shells.