In the darkness of the deep sea, the tiny crustacean Phronima lurks. Phronima are terrifying: they kill plankton, eat their insides and ride around the ocean in the planktons’ cold, dead husks. Later, after Phronima lay their eggs in these husks, their babies come bursting out of their victims’ bodies to begin the cycle anew. They’re not exactly friendly looking, either. And, in both their predatory life-cycle and their appearance, they bear an uncanny similarity to the alien queen in the 1986 movie Aliens. Recently, hundreds of them washed up on a beach in Ireland. Very rare!

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Hundreds of the parasitic sea creatures that are rumoured to have inspired the extraterrestrials in the Alien film series have washed up on the Kerry coast. “A Female Phronima in Its Barrel,” by Christian Sardet, CNRS

A string of the eerie-looking parasites called Phronima – which bear an uncanny resemblance to the alien queen in the iconic movies – have been found on Ventry Beach outside Dingle. The creatures – which eat barrel jellyfish from the inside out and ride around in their corpse – are an extremely rare find in Ireland.

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The zooplankton is similar in appearance to the monsters that first appeared in Alien, Ridley Scott’s 1979 film. Phronima sedentaria via Twitter

Parasitologist Katie O’Dwyer explores in more detail the lives of Phronima parasites. In 2011, a Phronima washed up on the coast in Ireland where O’Dwyer was working. Writing about the find, the Kerryman, a local newspaper, remarked:

There is an interesting anecdote which claims that the Phronima served as the inspiration for the alien queen, Xenomorph Regina, immortalised in the works of artist HR Giger and first seen on the bigscreen in James Cameron’s, ‘Alien’ movie – which has gone on to become one of the most successful sci-fi franchises in movie history.

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They normally float around the deepest oceans. by Christian Sardet, CNRS

The original Alien, directed by Ridley Scott, featured only one alien; the queen did not appear until the sequel. It’s not clear, however, where anyone got the idea that she was based on Phronima. The origin of the rumor, says Michael Bok on his blog Arthropoda,

seems to originate from David Attenborough’s narration in the “Blue Planet” documentary. Some people around the web rebut this, stating that the original alien design was based on a painting by artist H. R. Giger. This seems to be the case as far as the original “soldier” alien morph seen in “Alien” (1979) is concerned. It is much more likely that Phronima actually influenced the design of the queen alien morph, seen in “Aliens” (1986).

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The parasites, which eat barrel jellyfish from the inside out and ride around in their corpses while their larvae grow, are very rare in Ireland. by Christian Sardet, CNRS

This parasite is really an Alien:

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Terrifying parasites. Phronima sedentaria. Picture by Scripps
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Some of the phronima found on Ventry beach outside Dingle are still alive. “Phronima sedentaria,” by Christian Sardet and Sarif Mirshak, CNRS.

The link between Phronima and the Alien Queen remains largely one of anecdote. “It is possible that the alien queen was derived completely independently of Phronima, however I find [this] comparison shot… taken from a 1981 paper and from “Aliens” respectively, to be strongly suggestive of a connection,” says Bok.

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The Journal – Parasites that inspired Alien monster wash up on Kerry beach

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