Is Xenomorph XX121 the scariest biological weapon ever created or the most efficient hunter ever to evolve? There is no definitive answer, but everyone agrees that if you encounter them, you probably won't live to talk about it. An invasion of xenomorphs can mean extinction for every other species in the vicinity. Fortunately, our understanding of Xenomorph XX121 has grown substantially since its introduction in "Alien" (1979).
Since 1979, Xenomorph XX121 has appeared in movies, books, comics and toys. Each new chapter in the xenomorph story gives us new reasons to fear them. The list of their hunting capabilities is a long one. Here are 11 to highlight just how dangerous they are, and 5 ways you might try to survive if you encounter them. Although, you probably won't.
16 DEADLY: EGGS CAN WAIT A LONG LONG TIME FOR A HOST
Don't be fooled by the innocuous appearance of the xenomorph egg, or ovomorph. The ovomorph protects the Facehugger parasite inside itself while they both wait for a suitable host to stumble by. When a suitable host wanders by, the egg opens and the facehugger launches onto the new victim. The Queen xenomorph, the highest alien in the xenomorph caste system, lays the ovomorphs inside a protected chamber. If the colony is young and does not have a queen, xenomorphs can use prey for parts and construct an ovomorph from their organic matter in a process called "Eggmorphing."
Ovomorphs are hardy, long-lived creatures. They're able to survive for long periods of time, as long as hundreds or thousands of years, while they wait for a host to stumble within range. The eggs have been known to put out roots with which they can draw nutrients out of the environment. Their outer layer is extremely strong and can survive significant amounts of physical trauma. They have a rudimentary nervous system, and when cut, spurt out the same acid as a defense mechanism.
15 DEADLY: MULTI-SPECIES HOST SELECTION
Ovomorphs and facehuggers aren't picky. If something comes within their range that has self-locomotion and an orifice to force the embryo into, then it can be a host. Using almost any host organism means they can start colonies almost anywhere. It gets even more insidious or amazing (depending on your point of view). The xenomorph experiences some genetic drift as it forms in the host body, granting itself characteristics of the host. The alien is then birthed with the adaptive characteristics of its host making it instantly adapted to in its new environment.
The movies, comics, novels and toys featuring the xenomorph have all invented different variations; a long list of nightmares created by the power of the human imagination. The human-derived xenomorph may be the most well known, but the Predalien from "Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem" (2007) is a particularly nasty variation worth mentioning. They mirror their Predator host's humanoid body, dreadlocks and mandibles, but exhibit greater strength. The truly nasty power up is its ability to use the mandibles to hold the victim's head and force an embryo into the new host. They skip the ovomorph and facehugger phases entirely.
14 DEADLY: ACIDIC BLOOD
Everything about the xenomorph makes them the top of the food chain in any environment. The only exception would be their home planet if they are natural creatures. This would be one planet to never ever visit. Their blood is an example of how perfect a predator they are. The xenomorph blood is an extremely powerful acid ensuring that they are terrible prey for almost everything. A wounded xenomorph's blood is capable of melting through almost all natural and man-made substances. No predator will last long choosing them as prey. All life stages of the Alien's life cycles use this acidic compound as a defense mechanism.
It is speculated that defense is only one use for their acidic blood. The acid in the blood might function like battery acid for a battery. The acidic nature of the blood means it could be releasing a steady flow of energy for the organism. This might be why we rarely see the xenomorphs feeding on their victims. They do not eat their prey because they don't usually need to. The few instances where they have been seen consuming victims might be to support heightened states of activity.
13 DEADLY: DORMANT STATE
Patience is a virtue that the xenomorph knows well. Like the ovomorphs, the adult xenomorph can wait a long time for victims. The xenomorph has the ability to enter a dormant state with absolutely no movement. They do not breathe, so there are no subtle body movements associated with that, either. They can stay completely still with no sign of life. Their outer carapace is usually black, so they blend very well into shadows. They secure themselves in a covered location and wait.
This comes in especially handy in hives and other locations where they have begun building their home. The xenomorph's black exterior visually melds with the resin based structures they build along the walls and floors. The xenomorph's body is indistinguishable from this environment since the colors and textures match their own outer shells. You don't see them until it is too late. They can curl up and look like part of a wall and only move when the victim is too close to run.
12 DEADLY: THEY ALWAYS KNOW WHERE THE PREY IS HIDING
Most of the research surrounding the physical characteristics of the xenomorph XX121 comes courtesy of Lasalle Bionational, a multinational conglomerate from the world of the Aliens. Their research was published in "Aliens" magazine, Vol. 2 #11 by Dark Horse International in 1993. "Aliens" originally republished several comics runs set in the world of "Aliens" for U.K. readers that had been printed in the U.S. by Dark Horse in individual comics form. Volume 2 of "Aliens" expanded coverage to include supplemental materials.
Lasalle Bionational uncovered three different senses that the creature can use to find prey. The xenomorph has sense organs along the sides of its head that can sense vibrations in the air. In the front of their skulls are thermosensitive sensors allowing them to sense the body heat of potential victims. Finally, are a set of vestigial eyes that has very limited functionality and may allow them to sense each other. Dr. Paul Church, introduced in "Aliens: Labyrinth" (1993-1994, Dark Horse Comics), found an organ allowing the aliens to sense electromagnetic fields and brain waves of potential victims.
11 DEADLY: COOPERATIVE HUNTING TECHNIQUES
Xenomorph XX121 is a social monster. These creatures will work together to both capture and herd prey. The method of their communication is unknown, although Lasalle Bionational hypothesized that it could be through pheromones and non-audible queues. The xenomorphs do make hissing sounds and loud blood-curling screeches but that doesn't seem to be for communication. It is a possibility that the noises they make are for echolocation purposes.
They are able to communicate enough to not only coordinate, but also for minor problem-solving purposes. During the movie "Alien: Resurrection" (1997), two xenomorphs kill a third and use its acidic blood to escape their confinement. In the special edition home video release of "Aliens" (1986), the xenomorphs try alternate tactics to attack the survivors when the most obvious route is made inaccessible. In this version of the film, sentry guns are placed in the hallway outside the room the survivors have escaped too. The xenomorphs find the guns to be too overwhelming, so they change their mode of attack to the crawlspace above the ceiling.
10 DEADLY: EXOSKELETON
One characteristic that almost all variations of xenomorph XX121 share is a protein-polysaccharide exterior. This sort of exoskeleton is seen in nature, called chitin, in the shells of animals like insects and crabs. This chitin-like exterior means the xenomorph can withstand a lot of damage. However, the hard chitin-like exterior is only part of the power of their exoskeleton. They also replace their exterior cells with polarized silicon, giving them resistance to adverse environmental conditions. Not only can the xenomorph take a beating, it can also exist in almost any environment.
They are well protected from most weaponry, and it requires something very strong to punch through their exoskeleton. In the movies, small arms fire and physical attacks have little to no impact. Defeating a xenomorph requires heavy weaponry, energy weapons, fire, explosives or point blank range. Therefore, in most cases, its best to run, hide and cause a massive explosion. Trying to fight a xenomorph without the benefit of range and superior firepower is suicide.
9 DEADLY: OBSERVATIONAL INTELLIGENCE
What is worse than a vicious monster hellbent on your capture or death? A vicious monster hellbent on your painful death that can open doors. Xenomorphs have shown the capacity to learn the use of simple mechanisms by observing their prey. The host organism that birthed them might have some impact on how this intelligence develops, and it might require lifeforms with a higher capacity for intelligence, but xenomorphs can develop a form of rudimentary tool using.
There are chilling examples of this at play in the movies. In "Aliens," the xenomorphs are able to cut the power to the part of the base where the humans are hiding. This gives them easier access to their potential human prey. In the same movie, the Queen is able to use the elevator after watching Ripley enter one and use it to escape to the top level while she waits for pickup. In "Alien vs Predator" and "Alien: Resurrection," the xenomorphs use their acidic blood to free the Queen and escape confinement, respectively.
8 DEADLY: INNER JAW
Xenomorph XX121 has two jaws. The first set of jaws is of limited use. Its purpose may be for intimidation or to protect the more fragile inner jaw. The inner jaw can be propelled at great force to perform a killing blow. The xenomorph will usually ensure the victim is immobilized in some form before projecting the jaw. A well-known technique of the creature is to hold their victim immobilized in its hands, pull back its outer jaw with a loud hissing, then suddenly propel the jaw through the victim's forehead, destroying the brain. This is affectionally called a "Headbite."
The climactic scene in "Aliens" is both a great moment in cinematic history and a terrifying extended use of the inner jaw. Ripley has attacked the Queen with the power loader, and in the struggle, the Queen has managed to get in between the loader's arms and pin Ripley to the wall. While momentarily immobilized, the Queen attempts to headbite Ripley. The inner jaw continues to change angle as it tries to make its way into her head.
7 DEADLY: BLADE-TIPPED TAIL
So far, we have discussed Xenomorph XX121's hard exoskeleton, acidic blood, basic intelligence and a brain piercing inner jaw. All of that together makes for an imposing deadly hunter that is almost guaranteed to kill you. Of course, that isn't enough for this nightmare. They also have a segmented blade-tipped tail. The exact form of the tail seems to vary across xenomorphs which may be due to variations in host. However, in all cases, the tail exhibits great strength and can be used as a bludgeon or a spear. It has enough strength to pierce through and lift its prey. It can also use the tail to push attackers away or clear obstacles.
The tail has been used in some truly vicious attacks over the many Aliens stories. "Alien vs Predator" shows a Yautja (the name of the Predator race), Scar, being mortally wounded and lifted off the ground by a tail thrust through him. "Aliens" has one of the most classic of all tail kills. The Queen comes out of hiding in the drop-ship behind Bishop, a synthetic human, plunges its tail through his chest, then uses her arms to tear him in half.
6 DEADLY: GENETIC MEMORY
The litany of advantages extends beyond just one xenomorph. Xenomorph XX121 has exhibited a genetic memory that connects generations. The memories are specific in nature, not just a collection of general knowledge. "Alien: Resurrection", the movie and novelization, give the best example of this since the clone of Ellen Ripley can give insight into the nature of Xenomorph XX121. The original Ellen Ripley dies in "Alien 3" with an infant queen bursting from her chest. She is successfully cloned so that the xenomorph queen can also be cloned and then detached for further study by Dr. Mason Wren. The Ripley clone, the Queen detached from her, and the xenomorphs the Queen gives birth to all appear to share Ripley's memories.
Dr. Wren speculates that the purpose of the genetic memory is to maintain cohesion among the species. The potential downside of the genetic drift experienced by the xenomorph embryo would be a loss of xenomorph identity in favor of its host's identity. This could create life-threatening confusion. Genetic memories ensure that the new xenomorph will know what it is and how to live, without confusion from the host.
5 NOT: DEPENDENT ON HOST FOR ADAPTATION
All of this sounds imposing because it is. However, a few people have survived encountering a xenomorph. Here are a few things that you might be able to leverage to survive such an encounter. The xenomorph is designed to acquire adaptations from its host. This means that they are always best suited to the environments that their hosts live in. There is always the possibility that the xenomorphs being faced had hosts that were not well suited to the current environment.
If you can force a xenomorph into an environment it is not well suited for, you might be able to slow it down. A xenomorph birthed from a host well adapted to running fast could be tripped up by lots of twists and turns. Another example might be tight spaces. A xenomorph birthed from a large creature might not be able to fit through small openings. This tactic is probably what kept Newt alive as long as she was in the movie "Aliens."
4 NOT: LIMITED INTELLIGENCE
It is possible to outthink Xenomorph XX121. Xenomorphs are intelligent and can learn, but that is limited. Multiple multinationals have been able to keep xenomorph subjects contained for study in laboratory settings. Although, more often than not, the creatures tend to escape, wreak havoc, and kill almost everyone in said laboratory setting. Their escape is usually helped along by human arrogance or negligence or both.
Their problem-solving capabilities are limited to their immediate needs, so it is possible to trick them. Usually, this is useful for buying time to escape. Alternatively, they can be lured into a trap or kill zone. This is evident in the "Aliens" special edition where large numbers of xenomorphs are killed by the sentry guns. They place so little value on individuals, except the Queen or Empress, that a well-placed trap can thin their numbers and give survivors a fighting chance to make it to safety.
3 NOT: WEAKNESS TO EXTREME TEMPERATURES
One thing xenomorphs share with most lifeforms is a weakness to fire. Fire is a cross-species equalizer. Very few things can survive fire burning across their exterior. The stronger xenomorphs like the Queen, Empress or Predalien may be able to handle flame, but most warriors and drones cannot. A flamethrower is a great tool to bring to a xenomorph fight. Not only can it kill them, but also they will retreat or keep their distance at the threat of flame. Ripley uses this to great advantage in "Aliens."
They also appear weak to rapidly changing temperatures. If you can expose them to different environments rapidly it can cause their shells to shatter from the stress. In "Alien 3," a xenomorph is destroyed by being covered in molten lead then rapidly cooled with sprinklers. Its silicon shell shattered from the stress of rapid adaptation. The extreme cold of outer space can also kill them eventually. It's most likely the cold and not a lack of oxygen that kills them since they have shown no respiration.
2 NOT: VICTIMS OFTEN KEPT ALIVE FOR IMPREGNATION
If you are captured by a drone, you might have a chance if you have friends close by. A well-known tactic of Xenomorph XX121 is to capture potential hosts and cocoon them. Ovomorphs are then carried into position so the facehugger can spring onto the new host as soon as it is ready. That might provide the victim a short window for rescue. It's a small chance, but a chance nonetheless. Before a rescue is attempted, make sure a Queen is in the Hive. If not, then the captured individual may have been used for parts to create an egg through eggmorphing.
This worked for Newt in the movie "Aliens." Ripley fought her way into the Hive to retrieve Newt. She found her cocooned against a wall and managed to get there just before the facehugger could get to Newt. As Ripley found out the hard way, being near the eggs means you are probably near the Queen and her egg-laying chamber. It is best to make sure the route back out is well marked so as not to accidentally bump into the Queen.
1 NOT: CAN BE STUNNED BY VIBRATION
After so much human slaughter at the hands of xenomorph XX121, humans needed some kind of advantage. It has been pathetic watching humans get decimated for decades in all different kinds of media by the xenomorphs. Lasalle Bionational's discovery of the xenomorph ability to sense vibration along the sides of their large heads gave human beings a potential advantage. In an emergency, it could be possible to use ultrasound vibrations to stun the xenomorph and buy time for an escape.
Z.C.T. Corporation was able to turn that advantage into a weapon. The comic run "Aliens: Rogue" featured a sound cannon created by Dr. Ernst Kleist. The sound cannon fired a directional burst of ultrasound pulses. The resulting overload to the xenomorph's senses could stun them for a time. Unfortunately, the cannons were unstable and had a tendency to go critical and explode. However, sometimes progress requires sacrifice, a sentiment that all multinationals in the "Aliens" universe would understand.
What's your verdict on the "Alien" xenomorph? Is it deadly or dumb? Sound off in the comments!