Alien Biology: The Vehisipen

Santos, E. (2865). Biological overview of B. vehisipensis. Catskills-Atlantic Journal of Xenobiology, 4(2), pp. 96-98.

The Vehisipen (Biosculum vehisipensis) is a Sentient soft-bodied, 19-limbed amphibious xenomollusc of the order Uligora. Only one extant species is recognized (23 variant species are recorded as extinct), and the order is grouped within the class Triocula, along with the non-Sentient capreoles, plurispumes and limivores native to the planet Vehisipen.

The Vehisipen are well adapted to their native mangrove swamp habitat, but can survive outside the marshes within large freshwater lakes off-world. Being semi-aquatic, they use their 19 arms (or tendrils) for propulsion through the water and across land. They are bilaterally symmetric with two mouths positioned on either side of the dorso-ventral axis. B. vehisipensis grows quickly, matures early, but has an exceptionally long lifespan for a non-terrestrial invertebrate, with an average lifespan of 115 Earth years. As a Sentient species, they have the most complex nervous system of the class Triocula, and possess unique infrared sight.


ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY

Size. The average adult Vehisipen typically weighs around 21 kg (46 lbs), with an arm span of up to 9 m (30 ft). The organism’s pair of longest arms can reach approximately 4.5 m (15 ft) in length at sexual maturity. Its three shortest limbs, located between and on either side of its two mouths, reach an average length of 0.6 m (2 ft). Its semicircular body has an average width of 0.9 m (3 ft).

Circulatory system. They possess an open circulatory system in which haemolymph, an oxygen-rich fluid, directly bathes the internal organs. Small clusters of muscles are evenly distributed across the Vehisipen’s body, which expand and contract in regular intervals to circulate haemolymph throughout the organism. Vehisipen haemolymph contains copper-rich haemocyanin to transport oxygen, which gives the blood a bluish color.

Respiration. The Vehisipen is able to breathe in both terrestrial and aquatic environments, using an arrangement of filamentous, unipectinate gills located within a tightly clustered series of ventral breathing slits.

Digestion and excretion. Though the Vehisipen possesses two distinct buccal orifices, both are connected to a single digestive tract; before entry into the esophagus, food is saturated with highly corrosive nitric acid in the species’ distinct pre-digestive sinus, the ampulla acida, where it remains for a period of 2-3 hours. The liquid, semi-digested food is then filtered through a porous membrane called the carbasus coli, which allows the organism to regurgitate any remaining non-organic, indigestible material. After passing through its tightly coiled intestinal tract, waste is excreted into the environment through the cloaca.

Nervous system and senses. The Vehisipen has the highest brain-to-body mass ratio of all known xenoinvertebrates. Approximately one-third of its neurons are distributed across its 19 appendages, allowing for a variety of complex reflex actions that may persist even without a viable connection to the central brain. Unlike the Old Earth octopuses to which the Vehisipen are often compared, the Vehisipen have an astute proprioceptive sense, and can control each limb individually when desired. In most circumstances, however, the limbs are largely neurologically autonomous. The centralized brain is contained within a cartilaginous capsule, the most durable part of the Vehisipen’s otherwise soft, vulnerable body.

The Vehisipen perceives its environment primarily through its excellent senses of sight and smell. Its vision functions exclusively within the infrared spectrum, thereby allowing the organism to visually penetrate the murky waters of its native mangrove swamps. The highly iridescent tapetum lucidum behind its retina causes a prominent red eyeshine in nearly all light conditions. Juvenile Vehisipen display 27 ocular structures: three permanent eyes, each encircled by eight smaller, deciduous analogs. By the time of sexual maturity, the deciduous eyes will have permanently closed; they are reabsorbed into the body, though some individual specimens may retain one or more well into adulthood.

The olfactory bulb is located between the Vehisipen’s paired mouths, the inner periphery of which are lined with a highly developed, sensory neuron–dense olfactory epithelium. These chemoreceptors allow the Vehisipen to analyze the chemical makeup of ingested material, as well as to detect the presence of toxins or hazardous chemicals in their aquatic environment. In the humidity of their natural habitat, Vehisipen are able to perceive olfactory stimuli from a distance of up to 3 km (2 mi).


LIFECYCLE

Reproduction. The Vehisipen reproduce asexually through budding. Under specific environmental conditions (i.e., the presence of high humidity, low light conditions, ambient temperatures exceeding 35°C (95°F), and high levels of atmospheric methane), a bulb-like projection will emerge from the organism’s abdomen, which matures over an average period of 11 weeks. The bud or neospore then separates from the parent and develops into a new organism. This reproductive process does not reoccur more than once every ten Earth years.

Lifespan. The average lifespan of the Vehisipen is 115 Earth years. Sexual maturity is reached at approximately 15 Earth years. Asexual reproduction continues over the course of the organism’s life.


DISTRIBUTION AND HABITAT

Native to the mangrove swamps of the eponymous planet Vehisipen, B. vehisipensis can thrive only in hot, humid environments. Their range is largely restricted to Vehisipen itself, though the species has spread to other star systems over the past 500 years; all colonized planets displayed natural swamps, requiring no terraformation efforts. For survival outside of the humid marshes, the Vehisipen utilize artificial breathing devices that flush warm water vapor through the organism’s gills. To preserve epidermal moisture, the Vehisipen will immerse themselves in a petroleum-based fluid, which must be reapplied every 12 hours to maintain effectiveness.


BEHAVIOR AND ECOLOGY

Communication. Vehisipen have the capacity for spoken language. Speech is produced by one or both mouths and consists of strings of clicks, roars and screeches emitted at various frequencies. Harmony between the sounds produced by each respective mouth appears to influence meaning. The Vehisipen language has not yet been deciphered, as there appears to be little relation between their system of writing and the sounds uttered in spoken language. Communication with other species requires the use of a digital translator; for convenience, L’zgljan (i.e., the H’jani language) is used for Vehisipen names and terminology.

Defense. Six of the Vehisipen’s 19 arms are tipped with double pairs of pincers, which the organism uses both to grasp hold of objects and to defend itself against predators. The knifelike inner edge of each pincer is used to cut through soft tissue. Because the Vehisipen’s body is soft and vulnerable, when threatened it will wrap its limbs tightly around its core and position its pincers outward in an urchin-like manner.

Bog algae symbiosis. Indigenous Vehisipen have formed a symbiotic relationship with a particular species of native bog algae, Foetoritalla paludosa. In this symbiosis, the bog algae provides the host organism with protection against environmental toxins through the production and expansion of a thin, viscous biofilm; the Vehisipen then defends the F. paludosa cells against predation by limivores by harboring them on its body. It is this bog algae biofilm that produces the putrid odor characteristic of Vehisipen in the wild.

Spirituality. The Vehisipen are capable of abstract thought and have developed a basic spiritual belief system over the course of their evolution. They adhere to an animistic belief system in which all members of the physical universe are imbued with a soul or energetic essence (including non-Sentient life, e.g., plants, and inanimate objects, e.g., rocks and mountains). Ancestral spirits are honored through offerings made to wooden and stone effigies.