Legacy by Greg Bear is a book whose story takes place on the planet Lamarckia, named after scientist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, who is famous for his pre-Darwinian hypothesis of evolution through acquired traits that has since fallen into disfavor. There are only a few dozen genetically distinct organisms on Lamarckia, taking the form of vast forests or other biomes called ecos. Animal-like and plant-like objects are merely parts of the whole that perform their functions. These ecos compete with each other and steal genetic innovations from each other, giving them acquired traits, hence why the planet was named after Lamarck. While the core of the story is the human drama, there is much description of the biology that makes up the setting.
The free online magazine Astrovitae features artists, projects, and individual organisms from all across the speculative biology genre, stretching it to include even drawings of reimagined mythical creatures. They currently publish twice per year. The layout and graphics are professional, but most of the content is contributed directly from the artists without editing. They write about themselves, their goals, their attitudes towards art, but mostly about the life forms, and that’s what it’s all about.
Curious Archive is a YouTube channel covering an eclectic bunch of subjects including history, cryptids, myths, and speculative biology in all its flavors. It is doing what I had hoped for this blog to do, shining a light on spec projects and encouraging art. If you need inspiration to start your own project, watch the videos sometime. Serina is as good a place to start as any.
If the life of planet Kaimere looks familiar, that’s because it originally came from Earth, teleported by mysterious means over the eons. Many clades extinct on Earth continue to live on Kaimere. Felids, creodonts, and theropods share the same hunting grounds. Bats, birds, pterosaurs, and strange flying therapsids share the skies.
Keenan Taylor has written an anthology of short stories of the people who live on this world, available at Barnes and Noble. Concept art can be found on his DeviantArt page. Updates can be seen on his YouTube channel.
Kalagari is the creation of YouTube user Ben Pebbles. It is a planet of purple plants with swimming fruits. There are also animals and green plants. I enjoy watching the animations of the seal-like and buffalo-like creatures. The narration style is humorous and tends to jump from one organism to the other by their ecological relationships. Watch the videos here.
Project Rose includes not just one, but three planets, Nusku, Mazu, and Ullr, all within the habitable zone of a red dwarf star. Nusku is tidally locked, giving it a permanent typhoon where it faces the sun, surrounded by desert, surrounded by temperate forest, surrounded by ice near the windy twilight zone. The “night” side of the planet is dead. Mazu is a water world with little or no dry land. Ullr is like a colder, larger version of Earth.
As of this writing, only Nusku life has been described and plants are just beginning to move onto land. They resemble purple mushrooms, ferns, or palms. There are two basic lineages of animals: Filter-feeding, radially-symmetrical animals evolved into bilaterally-symmetrical fish-like creatures, some with armor and some with jaws. Flat animals with four mouths and one anus evolved into burrowing, swimming, and barnacle-like forms, some with parapodia, shells, hair, backbones, beaks, hooked tentacles, “swords,” or “saws.” Some filter the water with all four mouths. Others bring water in two of the mouths, filter it for plankton, and expel it out the other two.
Watch the ongoing saga on YouTube.
The planet Almaishah is the creation of YouTube user Dapper Dino and its inhabitants are the collaborative effort of many speccers and artists. Every few months, the project enters a new phase, setting the clock forward ten million years and causing extinctions. New plants and animals are added, but must derive only from those species already in existence. Because it is a collaborative effort, there is some variety in the art style and the length and detail of the descriptions read aloud by Dapper Dino. The large-scale groupings of organisms are more diverse when everyone is trying to take things in different directions. Some focus on behavior, others internal anatomy, others external anatomy.
As of this writing, phase three has just ended. Life still lives primarily in the oceans, but a few animals have adapted to taking short strolls above the tide line. The biodiversity is exciting. The art is professional.
There are boneless tetrapods, some resembling tiny horses or crocodiles, jellyfish-equivalents taking the roles of limpets, leaches, and corals, echinoderm-equivalents sometimes taking the roles of jellyfish, and segmented animals already diversified into forms vaguely reminiscent of fish, turtles, earthworms, shrimp, spiders, beetles, lobsters, swimming centipedes, and giant, blind, heavily-armored worms that slither along the bottom and eat whatever is stupid enough to stumble into their oral tentacles. There are purple plants filling the roles of seaweed, true plants, and corals. There are animal-like swimming green plants, some of which have lost their chlorophyll and become red plankton, and some of which have lost photosynthesis entirely and become vermiform detritivores. There are also animal-like radiotrophs that feed on the energy from radioisotopes, some of which have also developed photosynthesis and chemosynthesis. I don’t understand their anatomy at all.
Watch the ongoing saga on YouTube.
C. M. Koseman, creator of Snaiad, also wrote and illustrated the book All Tomorrows, a future history of the human species. Over millions of years, genetic engineering by both humans and hostile aliens leads to the creation of some truly bizarre monstrosities among our descendants. There are human races that resemble moles, dolphins, flounders, and even colonial siphonophores. A good overview of the book, including some of the art, can be seen at this link.
YouTube user Phrenotopia, who creates videos covering a variety of subjects, including alternate history, science in fiction and popular culture, reviews, and biology, has created a playlist detailing how animal life is thought to have arisen on Earth. It is a good beginner’s guide to different bodyplans and embryology, as well as providing speculation on what patterns of biological evolution are likely to be seen on other planets – and which are not. It is a good resource if you are just getting started trying to develop plausible alien animals. Watch it here.
Preradkor is the creator of not one, but two worlds, planet Coatlique and planet Ullr. Coatlique is home to large animals reminding me simultaneously of mammals and arachnids, although some resemble sharks with whip-like jaws. Coatlique is hot, stormy, and irradiated, leading to a high level of mutation such that all animals and plants are chimeras. Ullr is much colder. It is home to the askewbugs, asymmetrical insectoid organisms. Check out his DeviantArt gallery.
Your mission in this game is to explore planet ARY-26 to make sure it is suitable for human colonization. Catalogue animals, plants, and...er...plantimals. The creators can explain it better than I can. Visit SavagePlanetGame.com
The Conceptual Evolution Forum is where you can connect with other speccers, posting about your own projects and commenting on others. Get feedback on aesthetics and scientific plausibility from thousands of people all over the world. There are different sections to discuss future evolution on Earth, what might have happened on Earth had evolution run differently, evolution on other planets, and other universes where the laws of physics are different. Popular projects include Nemo and Sagan4. Register and say hello.
Illuria is the name of a planet with its own wiki that anyone can edit. According to the introduction, it was discovered in 3018, has a 48-hour day, and a year that is 730 Earth-days long.
In addition to mountains, deserts, scrublands, savannahs, temperate forests, rainforests, marshes, and prairies, it has acid swamps and the “mineral sea,” a body of water rich in iron, gold, and silver. Its sub-biomes include rust reefs, crystal caves, and wiregrass meadows.
Among the animals of Illuria are crystal borers, shrimp-like, colonial animals that make nests out of crystals.
Among the plants of Illuria are crawling boom creepers, plants that grow rapidly at night on stored fuel, seeking out sleeping animals to infect with its spores, which it often delivers so explosively that the animal is killed.
As of this writing, the ecosystem is still incomplete. The life on the continents is undescribed. The gold shiners eat shellfish that have no page of their own. The hovizards lay their eggs on stilt plants with no page of their own. Visit and add your own ideas.
Evolution is a board game of strategy. Each of 2-6 players maintains one or more species that feed from a shared watering hole. To remain alive through the player’s turn each species must take in enough food for their body sizes and population sizes. Those that do not go extinct. Phenotype cards can be combined to alter each species to make it better at getting food. Sometimes, this means becoming a carnivore that can only attack other species for food. Some traits include defenses against predation. When the card stack is empty, the game is over and the player with the most food wins. I want to play this sometime.
Species is less of a video game than an evolution simulation program. One can simply sit back and watch creatures adapt and speciate or one can introduce selection pressures to see what happens. Challenge yourself to evolve something resilient. Among other things, players can change the oxygen levels, temperature, sea levels, and radiation. Changes in terrain can force creatures to expend more calories in order to move. Specific attributes can be added to the gene pools of any population, including not only shape and color, but sex drive, the maximum genetic distance allowable for successful mating, and metabolism – affecting secondary traits such as how often they sleep and how much food they need to keep from going extinct. The software tracks phylogenetic history to produce cladograms and comes with a DNA toggle board. It looks awesome.
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:
Demmmmy is the creator of Fentil, an Earth-like planet of higher gravity and thicker air. It is the flora of planet Fentil I am most enamored with. There are plants that grow at the top, creating gigantic basket-like structures. There are plants that breathe. There is good fauna, too. There are the complex skeletons of the Dystroma and the complex vascular systems of the Photonimals. They are both highly creative and surprisingly plausible.
Spore is a computer game of five levels. First, the player creates a unique aquatic microbe that must survive the hardships of nature. Continual tweaks can help it to better thrive in its environment. Next, it becomes a land-based creature. Next, it develops social groups. Next, it develops technology. Finally, it colonizes space and this level is played against other empire-builders online. I can’t rate it because I’ve never played – I don’t have time or patience to learn structured games – but it sounds fun.
Salpfish1 is the creator of several worlds, including Tregama, home of swimming creatures with siphon-legs and the charybdis fish, which uses suction to create whirlpools and feed on anything on the water’s surface. He also creates a variety of future Earth animals, such as land anomalocarids, fish-like mollusks that eat anemones and then spit stinging cells at predators, and pigs that hunt like frogs. Another favorite of mine is the blind, flying, cave shrimp.
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.
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.
Concavenator is the creator of Horus, a world connected to Victorian-era Earth via wormhole. It is home to red plants with hearts, tube-jet fish, and large land vertebrates. The animals have a double spine. The dorsal spine runs from the skull along the back, while the ventral spine runs from the chest along the tail. They are connected by ribs. The tail houses the respiratory and sometimes reproductive organs. The land animals have six limbs. Some run on the hind limbs and use the forward limbs for grasping while the middle limbs are vestigial. Others stand on the front limbs while the rear four are used as wings. My favorite is the lazy animal that uses its front limbs to carry its head around while it grazes.
Tapejara is the creator of not one, but six worlds, including Tunjera, Adam, Eve, Lyell-3, Toci-1, and Midgard. They are currently all unfinished but all have huge potential. The animals are very creative. Planet Adam is home to “fish” with large ventral “mouth-bodies” attached only by a narrow tube containing the esophagus. Planet Eve is home to completely armored creatures whose only openings (the mouth and anus) are both located in the head. Some are colonial. Toci-1 is home to animals with chain-link ribcages, helical muscles, and specialized organs capable of regenerating any damaged tissue anywhere in the body – as if all the stem cells were in one place.