People ask why writers often depict reptilian aliens, sometimes referring to it as cliché. While humans seem predisposed to fear reptiles and regularly equate them with evil (see: Garden of Eden), I think there is a fundamental and practical reason for casting reptiles as a viable intelligent alien species.
The vast majority of Earth’s vertebrate animals sport scales.
The one example we have of life’s diversity—the biosphere we call Earth—demonstrates that hair follicles are the anomaly, not scales. Of all the classes of animal that constitute this planet’s vast wealth of life, only mammals have hair follicles. Species falling within the mammalian class only constitute 5400 of Earth’s 60,000 vertebrates. That’s less than 10%. The percentage falls to 00.3% when you include all 1.5 million known animals.
What if no Earth-changing calamity took out the dinosaurs?
If not for a big ass rock knocking down their evolutionary tree 65 million years ago, dinosaurs would likely still rule this biosphere. Considering we mammals managed to progress from rodents to spacefaring homo sapiens in the intervening 65 million years, it’s interesting to imagine what the dinosaurs might have evolved into had said ‘big ass rock’ not ended their reign.
Now for the fun part, the part where I go off into one of my thought experiments, the part where I ask: ‘What if?’ (And, you probably respond: Well, IF my Aunt had testicles, she’d be my Uncle.)
Thousands of millennia ago, Velociraptors were already hunting in organized parties, a level of intelligence far ahead of the tiny mammals scurrying about their feet.
Imagine those Velociraptors continued to develop and evolve. Hell, I’ll even diminish (but not eliminate) their huge head start over mammals. Let’s suppose it takes this advanced dinosaur species 64 million years to do what base mammals did in 65 million years: produce a spacefaring species.
In other words, what if during the first 64 million of the intervening 65 million years, Velociraptors developed into an intelligent earth-conquering species. Through utilization of superior intellect, opposable thumbs, and tools, they render the planet safe; free of the bigger more threatening species like T-Rex. Who knows, maybe they hunted them into extinction (as we likely did to the wooly mammoth). At the end of those 64 million years, they conquered gravity and put the first dino in space; one even famously referring to their astronauts as ‘Spam in a can.’ (A reference to a popular mammalian meat product.)
Now you say: “Dean, you’re missing a million years. The dinosaur’s evolutionary tree toppled 65 million years ago.”
You’re right. In my hypothetical scenario, our slow-to-develop Velociraptors conquered space a MILLION years ago. I think that is a conservative number. If we instead suppose they maintained their massive evolutionary head start, they might have conquered space tens of millions of years ago.
Where will humans be in a million years?
Back to the real world. If we don’t kill ourselves (and somehow survive Ebola), where will humans be in a million years? Perhaps the reptiles populating a nearby solar system will look up and see scale-free aliens descending on their world. After seeing our hairy heads, they will turn to their science fiction writers and apologize for calling their depictions of hairy aliens cliché.
Enjoyed my writing? Be sure to check out my new novel, SECTOR 64: Ambush.
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