We have a really exciting opportunity to speculate the crap out of things right now! NASA just announced that not only did it find a solar system, Trappist 1, with seven terrestrial planets, but three of them are in the “habitable zone” where liquid water can exist!
The salmon-colored star they orbit is tiny by our standards — 8% the size of the sun — which means that these planets inside the habitable zone are so close to each other, you could stand on the surface of one, look up with your naked eye, and map the others. Imagine how excited any denizens would be to travel to space!
But, of course, most creatures don’t wind up with our particular proclivities and talents, so let’s just start with this sexy critter here:
This is one of the brilliant things about The Dark Crystal, too. Which is probably why I love tweaking this slider so much.
Longtime xenophiliacs will note that one of my favorite toys is the slider between “plant” and “animal”. It’s a distinction that came about because of the particulars of evolution on Earth, and there’s no good reason another planet’s evolution would wind up with the same distinctions.
In the case of Testiflora, here, life begins when a “gatherer” plants itself, eyeball-down, into the soil. Since its eye has evolved from its tuber/gonads, and it retains the genes to metamorphose back into them. Its feathers then metamorphose into ground cover, and its stem, serving no function until now, begins to grow the gas bladder and “flower”.
The ground cover is an excellent absorber of energy, which it shares with microbes that live under it. The microbes’ exhalations fill an increasingly pressurized gas bladder, while genetic material from the gonads begins to form a new gatherer, wrapped tightly in the stiff, sticky “petals” of the flower.
When the gas bladder is full — ideally, during good weather, the petals burst open and the new gatherer rockets out upside-down, turning in flight to flap its way further.
While flying, the gatherer is using its compound eye to search for bright patterns that are sufficiently like, but sexily dissimilar from, its own. When it sees such a pattern, it lands on the petals of the new flower.
The flower passes genetic material and food up to the gatherer from its gonad/tubers, exuding them through pores on the surface of the petals.
In at least one species gatherers, when they’re full and wholly pregnant, they fly as far as they can from their home, start looking and smelling delicious to a more wide-ranging creature that then eats them, digests some of its fats, and then is compelled through a neuroactive in the gatherer to walk far, excreting the gatherer even more distant from its close relatives.
There’s also a really gross species that, when it’s consumed all of its local area, drives the creature that ate it mad with wanderlust and doesn’t ever get excreted. Instead, it waits to grow until the creature has fallen over dead, providing the gatherer with ample energy with which to start a new colony.
The gatherer in all species is solitary (though some species reproduce serially in a year, in accordance with the tides caused by the neighboring planets), and it connects to the launcher organ in the center of the flower. On either side of the launcher organ, inside the base of the flower, are two spiral arms that act as a spring that helps to spin the gatherer upon launch, giving its initial fling a greater distance. The springs, in turn, are connected by the threefold lobes of the pressure container of the bladder to the five petals, which have a colored feeding/gene-passing spiral organ, which circles the petals eight times. There are thirteen lobes to the mature ground cover. Like many radially symmetrical natural phenomena, the Testiflora follows a Fibonacci sequence.
You should check out the generally less-disgusting Patreon for The Fifth World, which probably still has parasites, but also has glass knapping, bamboo hang gliders, and functional social systems of people whose ancestors have survived the collapse of industrial society.