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Sollluna
07-14-2014, 01:15 AM
I am familiar with the concept of "Don't call a rabbit a smeerp." If something is essentially a rabbit, don't give it a different name just to make it sound more interesting.
However, I am wondering how this applies to alien wildlife/plants. If there's a creature that looks identical to a rabbit, but lives on planet XYZ and survives off of solar energy, is calling it a smeerp okay?

For example, on an alien planet plants/animals look visually similar to Earth's due to similar biochemistry, organic compounds, etc. and convergence of function, ecological niches, etc. They look kind of like Earth plants/animals, but they are alien, so is it okay to give them different names?

For example:
-viera: an animal that fills the ecological nice as frogs (named for one of the first 'true' frogs, Vieraella herbsti)
-land-sponge: land animal that is similar to Earth's sea-sponges
-giant cicada: animal that looks like giant cicada (think goose size)
-insecteans: visually similar to insects, but internally more close to crustaceans
-cloud-poodle: lighter than air, vaguely dog shaped creatures that float and collect small particles/insect type creatures with filament tentacles (balloon-animal dog X jellyfish that floats in air)
-bambooish: a plant that is visual similar to bamboo, except it is more like a tree (rather than the grass, which is what bamboo is), with branching trunks, fruit, etc.


Is alien life allowed to have similar but different names than that found on Earth, or is this just a continuation of calling a rabbit a smeerp?
If it is named with Earth animal words, is there a point where it just becomes ridiculous (cloud-poodle)? Or, alternatively, is it better to have them named with completely new names (smeerp)?

Are there any names that are overused/not good and should be avoided? e.g. grassoid? insectoid? space-rabbit?

Roxxsmom
07-14-2014, 01:29 AM
I think it really depends on how important the deeper differences are to the story. If the average Colonist simply thinks of the thing as a rabbit and doesn't care how it differs from an Earth rabbit, then calling it a rabbit is probably fine. If the animal's not rabbitness is germane to your point of view character, or to the story itself, then calling it something else, even if it's simply "[planet name]-rabbit," makes sense.

However, if a book is shooting for a harder (more realistic) SF feel, I'd likely be knocked out of disbelief by an alien ecosystem where most of the "animals" and "plants" resembled Earthly life forms in spite of having a very different underlying biochemistry and anatomy. At the very least, I'd want there to be a hinted-at reason for this parallelism, or an acknowledgement that it is a strange, if unsolved, mystery.

milkweed
07-14-2014, 01:43 AM
However, I am wondering how this applies to alien wildlife/plants. If there's a creature that looks identical to a rabbit, but lives on planet XYZ and survives off of solar energy, is calling it a smeerp okay?

For example, on an alien planet plants/animals look visually similar to Earth's due to similar biochemistry, organic compounds, etc. and convergence of function, ecological niches, etc. They look kind of like Earth plants/animals, but they are alien, so is it okay to give them different names?


Do you have a hard science background? If not then unless you want to do hundreds of hours into the topic I'd probably stay away from the real specifics, and refer to the critter as being rabbit like in nature.

For instance a rabbit that lives on solar energy will have adapted to it's enviroment and will most probably no longer look like a rabbit but will in fact most probably look more like a lizard or an insect that has specialized scales that utilizes solar energy.

See where I'm going here?

We already have critters here on earth that utilize solar energy as part of their sustence for existance, in addition to whatever else they consume in their daily life. Iguanas, and mortamor dragons come to mind here, as do gecko's, and salamanders.

Weirdmage
07-14-2014, 02:10 AM
Viera instantly threw me off because of this (http://finalfantasy.wikia.com/wiki/Viera). I'm sure there will be other SFF fans making the same instant association.

Generally though; Unless you are doing Science Fiction where ecology/biology is important I don't think using different names than you would do on earth is very useful. It's a level of detail that I don't feel is necessary, and as a reader it is something that will throw me off for at least a moment. If there is a lot of names like that it just feels like technobabble, and I zone out.

Sollluna
07-14-2014, 02:13 AM
For instance a rabbit that lives on solar energy will have adapted to it's enviroment and will most probably no longer look like a rabbit but will in fact most probably look more like a lizard or an insect that has specialized scales that utilizes solar energy.


Interesting, had not thought about that type of alien rabbit. I was picturing a very rabbit like creature that has some sort of plant type photosynthetic organism which lives in it's fur (similar to algae species which specifically grow on sloth fur). Then taking that a step further, to where the rabbit had some way to directly interact and get sugars/energy from the algae growing in it's fur, to the extent where it is in symbiosis with it. I'm apparently imagining a lichen with a rabbit instead of a fungi...:rolleyes:

Or a rabbit that very large membranous ears with specialized cells that absorb sun light, which split water molecules in a photochemical reaction creating ATP. Specialized enzymes then create an intermediate carbon compound. Then through a carbon-fixation reaction, this is turned into some sort of usable sugar/starch. Although that sort of rabbit-like creature would still need to eat other substances for specific vitamins, minerals, and other compounds....unless it's absorbing them directly through it's skin...although now I'm imagining an amphibious looking rabbit with leaf-like ears, so getting further away from looking like a rabbit...


If there are a lot of creatures something like this, that vaguely resemble (at least superficially) Earth animals, should they really all be called rabbit-like, tree-like, grass-like, lettuce-like, bumblebee-like?

veinglory
07-14-2014, 02:17 AM
The thing is that such an animal would not act at all like a rabbit because it probably would not graze, living in burrows or breed profligately. Changing something so major will change everything.

But in terms of psychology,hundreds of earth species are called 'rat'. Completely different birds are called 'robin'. People are lazy when naming. but I would avoid suggesting that this thing is more rabbity than being the right size and having long ears. That would be unrealistic.

Sollluna
07-14-2014, 02:27 AM
I think it really depends on how important the deeper differences are to the story. If the average Colonist simply thinks of the thing as a rabbit and doesn't care how it differs from an Earth rabbit, then calling it a rabbit is probably fine. If the animal's not rabbitness is germane to your point of view character, or to the story itself, then calling it something else, even if it's simply "[planet name]-rabbit," makes sense.



Unless you are doing Science Fiction where ecology/biology is important I don't think using different names than you would do on earth is very useful. It's a level of detail that I don't feel is necessary, and as a reader it is something that will throw me off for at least a moment. If there is a lot of names like that it just feels like technobabble, and I zone out.

For this purpose, the different is somewhat important, in that the character's job is to identify and classify things (think Carl Linnaeus in space). Characters who instead of saying tree on Earth, would actually name a species (or sub-species/cultivar/etc) of tree would probably want something more specific than just [planet-name]-tree. For example, bambooish would be the approximate equivalent of a family or genus with lots of different types of it.

It seems like just random names, or non-immediately obvious names (viera, cloud-poodle, smeerp) don't seem like the right way to go though.

So are the names based on actual Earth organisms better? Names like land-sponge, giant cicada, insecteans, bambooish.
(Which is not to say that the organisms are the same, but that when attempting to develop some sort of naming strategy, the characters based names for these organisms on vaguely similar (in appearance or function) organisms from Earth.)

Weirdmage
07-14-2014, 02:41 AM
For this purpose, the different is somewhat important, in that the character's job is to identify and classify things (think Carl Linnaeus in space). Characters who instead of saying tree on Earth, would actually name a species (or sub-species/cultivar/etc) of tree would probably want something more specific than just [planet-name]-tree. For example, bambooish would be the approximate equivalent of a family or genus with lots of different types of it.

It seems like just random names, or non-immediately obvious names (viera, cloud-poodle, smeerp) don't seem like the right way to go though.

So are the names based on actual Earth organisms better? Names like land-sponge, giant cicada, insecteans, bambooish.
(Which is not to say that the organisms are the same, but that when attempting to develop some sort of naming strategy, the characters based names for these organisms on vaguely similar (in appearance or function) organisms from Earth.)

OK, this is just my personal opinion, but I am sure a lot of Science Fiction readers I know would agree with me. If your main character is a biologist I would expect the names to be scientific. I do not in any way have the knowledge needed to advise you on that, but as far as I know there are naming conventions for different species on Earth (both plants and animals). I would expect those naming conventions to be followed to some degree. Even if the flora and fauna is totally unrelated to Earth's I would at least expect it to make sense when held up next to our naming conventions.

I'm afraid "land-sponge, giant cicada, insecteans, bambooish" sounds like laymans descriptions more than names to me.
If you want to go with a story where the character being a biologist is important I think you have to do extensice research on biology, at least the naming of flora and fauna. Many Science Fiction fans are either scientists or interested in science so if what you do is not correct they will notice.

Hopefully someone else on the forum can help you more with details than I can.
And good luck with the story. :)

Dennis E. Taylor
07-14-2014, 03:07 AM
Doesn't it depend on who is doing the naming? If your MC is visiting the home planet of the Chatainia, animals will have names that sound like random syllables. If it's humans that are naming them, they won't call something a "luhomaoyt". They'll use names based on familiar things. Either they'll be named after existing animals (rabbit) that look or behave vaguely like them, or they'll use fanciful names (bandersnatch, cootie), or they'll use names that describe the animal's look or behavior (tree-humper, shovel-mouth). Even if the animals have Chatainian names, people being what we are, we'll come up with names of our own.

As far as ecology, don't expect too much variation. Sure, if it's a gas giant or silicon biology it'll be a bit off -- but generally speaking you'll get one layer of life that extracts energy directly out of the environment (photosynthetic, chemosynthetic, etc), one layer of life that eats the first layer, and several layers of life that eat the second layer. Plus parasites and symbionts.

Just resist the temptation to make the planet a rampaging tempest of nightmare predators constantly feeding off of each other. Predation is inherently inefficient, and biologists have calculated IIRC that you can have a maximum of 7 layers based on Earth biology, i.e. plant, herbivore, and no more than 5 layers of predation up to apex.

Helix
07-14-2014, 03:25 AM
For this purpose, the different is somewhat important, in that the character's job is to identify and classify things (think Carl Linnaeus in space). Characters who instead of saying tree on Earth, would actually name a species (or sub-species/cultivar/etc) of tree would probably want something more specific than just [planet-name]-tree. For example, bambooish would be the approximate equivalent of a family or genus with lots of different types of it.

It seems like just random names, or non-immediately obvious names (viera, cloud-poodle, smeerp) don't seem like the right way to go though.

So are the names based on actual Earth organisms better? Names like land-sponge, giant cicada, insecteans, bambooish.
(Which is not to say that the organisms are the same, but that when attempting to develop some sort of naming strategy, the characters based names for these organisms on vaguely similar (in appearance or function) organisms from Earth.)


A space Linnaeus (assuming that s/he originated on Earth) would use standard nomenclature for taxa. That doesn't usually include common/vernacular names. S/he wouldn't use 'rabbit' to describe something rabbit-like in appearance because it isn't a rabbit. It isn't part of the evolutionary lineage that gave rise to rabbits.

Roxxsmom
07-14-2014, 04:13 AM
We already have critters here on earth that utilize solar energy as part of their sustence for existance, in addition to whatever else they consume in their daily life. Iguanas, and mortamor dragons come to mind here, as do gecko's, and salamanders.

Well, we have plants (and some bacteria and single-celled Eukaryotes) that capture sun energy and use it to assemble the atoms found in CO2 and in water into sugars.

Everything else gets their energy (and the atoms they need to assemble complex, organic molecules) entirely from eating plants or other organisms. On Earth, animals are a lineage of such "heterotrophs." Many of the characteristics we associate with animals (moving around and reacting to and manipulating their environment in complex ways) are adaptations that stem from the need to search for food.

Plants can chill and absorb sunlight and absorb water and minerals and fixed nitrogen through their roots.

Reptiles and so on use solar energy to regulate their body temperatures, but they don't use it as a source of chemical energy the way plants do.

This is one of the things I'm getting at re "harder" SF. Animals are a lineage (or clade (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clade)) that evolved on Earth and diversified into all the currently existing phyla (body plans) during the Cambrian era (over 500 million years ago). There are many different body plans in animals, and all the animals that resemble lagomorphs (in exactitude or superficially) are in the class mammalia. Rabbits look like rabbits because their bodies have been subjected to selective pressures where "rabbitness" is a useful strategy for survival and reproduction. But they also had a "starting point" of
"animalness," "the vertebrate body plan," "mammalness," and so on.

A random worm or fish or plant or whatever is not terribly likely to experience selective pressures that will render it terribly rabbit like, even on Earth (convergence does happen, but it's usually superficial unless the organisms in question are already closely related).

An alien planet would likely have organisms with different DNA (assuming they have DNA at all) and a different array of starting body plans. Maybe something akin to animal and plantness as seen on our planet would evolve there. Maybe it's possible for there to be animals that supplement their heterotrophy with photosynthesis even, or for a lineage of plantlike organisms to evolve under conditions where animal-like movement and complex behavior is advantageous.

But I'd be surprised if these aliens looked terribly much like rabbits.

This doesn't mean you can't have them look this way in your story. But if it's harder SF, I'd be annoyed if no one seemed to wonder how and why this happened at least.

robjvargas
07-14-2014, 07:01 AM
Here's how I think of it: What best serves the needs of the story?

Does it matter to the story whether you call it a rabbit or a smeerp? If you can call it a rabbit, and the story is unaffected, call it a rabbit. The reader knows what you mean, and can concentrate on the story. If it makes a difference, calling it a smeerp, then it's a smeerp.

ClareGreen
07-14-2014, 09:40 AM
Alternatively, call your Rabbitlike a Somethingorotherean Rabbit. A Heb-rabbit, or a Venusian Rabbit. Goodness knows there are misnamed things on this planet because someone saw something that looked vaguely like something they knew.

Sollluna
07-14-2014, 09:42 AM
If your main character is a biologist I would expect the names to be scientific. I do not in any way have the knowledge needed to advise you on that, but as far as I know there are naming conventions for different species on Earth (both plants and animals). I would expect those naming conventions to be followed to some degree. Even if the flora and fauna is totally unrelated to Earth's I would at least expect it to make sense when held up next to our naming conventions.


A space Linnaeus (assuming that s/he originated on Earth) would use standard nomenclature for taxa. That doesn't usually include common/vernacular names. S/he wouldn't use 'rabbit' to describe something rabbit-like in appearance because it isn't a rabbit. It isn't part of the evolutionary lineage that gave rise to rabbits.

The characters do use standard binomial nomenclature, following standard taxonomic classification.
However, as well as the standardized scientific names, the characters also have common or layman terms to refer to the things they see every day. This is just for their ease of conversation, and to make things easier on the reader.
"I hate Anopheles quadrimaculatus" seems a bit overkill, even if they know the species identification compared to "I hate mosquitoes."

So the characters do use scientific names which follow similar conventions for classification as on Earth, but they also have common names for these same organisms as well.

Lots of good points by everyone else. It seems as if it will be okay to name the organisms based on similar appearance to Earth organisms, or names based off of Earth organisms. Similar to duck-billed platapus, elephant shrew, golden mole, naked-mole rat, flying lemur, sea cow, etc. found on Earth since it does seem a very human thing to want to name something based on what familiar thing it looks like (even if it actually has no relation to the other thing at all).
If this is the case, and it's important for the character to name them something different than just -like something, then assigning them new names, is not calling a rabbit a smeerp, because the things aren't rabbits. I guess it's more like calling a smeerp a rabbit, because no one immediately has a visual image of a smeerp, but most people can visualize a rabbit?

noranne
07-14-2014, 10:12 AM
While I understand the awfulness of "smeerps," I don't like the opposite tendency where everything is just Earth 2.0. I like to have a smattering of flora and fauna that are unique to the world to give it its own flavor.

I think it depends too if the people on the other planet are familiar with Earth or not. If someone is from Earth and they go to another planet and see some weird-ass thing, they're probably going to describe it differently from someone who is native to the planet and just sees it as "rabbit."

Helix
07-14-2014, 10:19 AM
The characters do use standard binomial nomenclature, following standard taxonomic clades. There are bacterial kingdoms on this new planet, and, because a lot of classification is making things fit into existing classification structure rather than creating completely new categories, there are plant, fungi and animal kingdoms of life which are at least superficially similar in role/function/cell-structure/appearance to that found on Earth. The Earth definitions have therefore been expanded to allow for this greater diversity in what human's call 'plants', etc.

However, as well as the standardized scientific names, the characters also have common or layman terms to refer to the things they see every day. This is just for their ease of conversation, and to make things easier on the reader.
"I hate Anopheles quadrimaculatus" seems a bit overkill, even if they know the species identification compared to "I hate mosquitoes."

So I do have the the scientific names which follow the same conventions of things on Earth, but am trying to develop common names for these same organisms as well.

I'd be hugely surprised if an alien biota fitted into the existing classification, unless it shared a common ancestor sometime a few billion years back. If the common ancestor was that far back, then things are going to have evolved in isolation for a long time. There might be convergent evolution producing things with stems and photosynthetic plates and complex and colourful reproductive structures that appear at certain times of the year, but no taxonomist is going to stick them with the angiosperms.

What could be a possibility is to have everybody else call things roses and rabbits and robins, which would drive the taxonomist absolutely batty.

(Disclosure: I'm a taxonomist. Well, a retired one.)

veinglory
07-14-2014, 06:14 PM
IMHO a space Linnaeus would use a shortened form of the latinate. I say that because that is what modern taxonomists do. The find common names just too imprecise--especially as some of those green rabbits and floating dogs will probably be different species with a similar appearance.

Even lay people dealing with similar species shorten a distinctive part of the latin. Experienced aquatic snail owners for example say spixi, cana and marisa--not striped apple snail, apple snail, and giant ramshorn. Its actually easier and much more clear.

milkweed
07-14-2014, 07:46 PM
OK, this is just my personal opinion, but I am sure a lot of Science Fiction readers I know would agree with me. If your main character is a biologist I would expect the names to be scientific. I do not in any way have the knowledge needed to advise you on that, but as far as I know there are naming conventions for different species on Earth (both plants and animals). I would expect those naming conventions to be followed to some degree. Even if the flora and fauna is totally unrelated to Earth's I would at least expect it to make sense when held up next to our naming conventions.

I'm afraid "land-sponge, giant cicada, insecteans, bambooish" sounds like laymans descriptions more than names to me.
If you want to go with a story where the character being a biologist is important I think you have to do extensice research on biology, at least the naming of flora and fauna. Many Science Fiction fans are either scientists or interested in science so if what you do is not correct they will notice.

Hopefully someone else on the forum can help you more with details than I can.
And good luck with the story. :)

This^^^ There are guides you can purchase or use directly on the internet where one can identify, scientifically, all manners of fungi, birds, insects, reptiles, mammals, plants, fish, so on and so forth.

Here is a book for identifying lichens (http://www.amazon.com/Know-Lichens-Pictured-Nature-Series/dp/0697047636/ref=sr_1_25?ie=UTF8&qid=1405352612&sr=8-25&keywords=lichen+identification) and a website (http://www.sharnoffphotos.com/lichens/lichens_home_index.html) for identifying lichens (science heavy information here) as one example for resources and the types of books a field scientist would use. And if your field biologist/botanist is looking at scat from owl like critters here's an identification guide (http://www.amazon.com/Resource-Manual-Owl-Pellet-Labs/dp/B006M0K0YS/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1405352890&sr=8-5&keywords=rodent+identification+field+guide) to learning what the owl has been eating. And I'm guessing he will be identifying ferns, and the like on this new world so another field guide, (http://www.amazon.com/Ferns-Allies-Pictured-Nature-Series/dp/0697047717/ref=pd_sim_b_3?ie=UTF8&refRID=0F4FQEDRFMBGTAW7YD1K) again like what we used in my Mycology courses here at the university.

williemeikle
07-14-2014, 07:52 PM
Even back here on Earth we use same names for things that just look remotely similar - e.g. robins in Europe and robins in North America, so if it looks like a duck...

Reziac
07-14-2014, 09:51 PM
However, I am wondering how this applies to alien wildlife/plants. If there's a creature that looks identical to a rabbit, but lives on planet XYZ and survives off of solar energy, is calling it a smeerp okay?

As someone above says, it depends who's doing the naming. Earth-origin colonists would probably call it a "solar rabbit" or "sun-rabbit" or "electric rabbit" (if not all of the above).


For example, on an alien planet plants/animals look visually similar to Earth's due to similar biochemistry, organic compounds, etc. and convergence of function, ecological niches, etc. They look kind of like Earth plants/animals, but they are alien, so is it okay to give them different names?

From the examples I'm assuming Earth-origin colonists. And I think maybe you're not thinking this far enough, thus:


For example:
-viera: an animal that fills the ecological nice as frogs (named for one of the first 'true' frogs, Vieraella herbsti) Froggies. The biologist in the group might call 'em 'viera' but no one else will.
-land-sponge: land animal that is similar to Earth's sea-sponges dry-sponge
-giant cicada: animal that looks like giant cicada (think goose size) Seventeen (pun on "17 year cicada" but 17 times as big)
-insecteans: visually similar to insects, but internally more close to crustaceans lobster-bugs
-cloud-poodle: lighter than air, vaguely dog shaped creatures that float and collect small particles/insect type creatures with filament tentacles (balloon-animal dog X jellyfish that floats in air) I think this one is hilarious and utterly perfect :D
-bambooish: a plant that is visual similar to bamboo, except it is more like a tree (rather than the grass, which is what bamboo is), with branching trunks, fruit, etc. Boo-tree (short for bamboo-tree)




Are there any names that are overused/not good and should be avoided? e.g. grassoid? insectoid? space-rabbit?

-iods sound like some scientist classifying 'em, not like what normal people would call 'em.

Sollluna
07-14-2014, 09:58 PM
It seems like there is a lot of coinciding points various users have brought up (leaving aside the issue or how similar or different alien life would be compared to life on Earth):

Characters who are scientific/specifically studying organisms would generally use the scientific names (or some shortened derisive of them); these would not be the same as Earth organisms, but would follow the same process of binomial nomenclature (even if they are in entirely new kingdoms or other types of life).
Characters without the need/want to have the specific scientific names would just call the organisms common names probably based on appearance and/or what Earth organism they look like.
There would probably be some disagreement/frustration between the people using common names and the people using scientific names to describe the same organisms.
None of this falls into the awfulness of calling a rabbit a smeerp, since it's not a strange name for a familiar organism, but instead a truly alien organism.

Does that seem right?

veinglory
07-14-2014, 09:59 PM
Yup.

Unless the vocalization of the sun-rabbit sounds a bit like : "SMmmEEErp!" A lot of animals are named after how they sound. :)

Roxxsmom
07-15-2014, 12:00 AM
I'd be hugely surprised if an alien biota fitted into the existing classification, unless it shared a common ancestor sometime a few billion years back. If the common ancestor was that far back, then things are going to have evolved in isolation for a long time. There might be convergent evolution producing things with stems and photosynthetic plates and complex and colourful reproductive structures that appear at certain times of the year, but no taxonomist is going to stick them with the angiosperms.

What could be a possibility is to have everybody else call things roses and rabbits and robins, which would drive the taxonomist absolutely batty.

(Disclosure: I'm a taxonomist. Well, a retired one.)

You can bet there'd be friction between the less and more scientifically inclined folks about what to call things. Even among the non scientific, there are different "popular" names for some things on Earth. What the Europeans call "red deer," North Americans call "elk" or even "Wapiti." And what we call "moose," Europeans call "elk," I believe.

You'd likely get this sort of thing in a SF world too. The original colonists and their descendents call them killer smeerps, but everyone else just calls them "space bunnehs."

A lot of our taxonomic concepts are pretty recent too. Since one of my characters in my pre-industrial fantasy novel studies biology as part of his magic training, I've been hunting down information about early microscopy and zoology and so on. Turns out, our names for things like arthropods, and the various subgroups within them like crustaceans, arachnids, and so on have their origins in the mid-19th century at earliest. Linnaeus classified all of them as bugs (erm, insects), which makes modern biologists grind their teeth.

So I make my character refer to spiders and water fleas and so on as "insects." I hope readers understand that it's my character and his early enlightenment like setting that are leading me to refer to them all as "insects," and not my lack of 21st century biological knowledge :D

I'd bet there'd be a lot of initial disagreement an separation of schools of thought among the initial wave of scientists who are studying the alien ecosystem as to which groups represented clades and lineages and taxonomic groupings too. Even assuming our 21st century Earth concepts of taxonomy would even apply in the future or on a different planet.



Maybe if the Cambrian explosion was "Seeded" from space, we'd have parallel animal phyla on alien planets. An interesting idea, though it still wouldn't explain why we have the same DNA as microbes and plants and so on. Even so, I'd expect evolution would have produced a lot of variety on different planets, both due to chance and from different environmental pressures.

If little Pikaia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pikaia) and its relatives had all been killed in some kind of disaster 570 million years ago, there would be no vertebrates on Earth today, and therefore no us. This is hard to grasp for a lot of people, but actually, anyone who was a betting person who stumbled across Earth in the cambrian would probably not have laid money on a relatively rare group of soft-bodied critters being the ancestors of the largest-bodied and ecologically dominant group of organisms on the planet over the next several hundred million years.

Sollluna
07-15-2014, 01:15 AM
If little Pikaia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pikaia) and its relatives had all been killed in some kind of disaster 570 million years ago, there would be no vertebrates on Earth today, and therefore no us. This is hard to grasp for a lot of people, but actually, anyone who was a betting person who stumbled across Earth in the cambrian would probably not have laid money on a relatively rare group of soft-bodied critters being the ancestors of the largest-bodied and ecologically dominant group of organisms on the planet over the next several hundred million years.

Given the variety of planets, animals don't need to be vertebrates, or vertebrates as we know them anyways. A planet with lower gravity, different air composition, and different mass extinction events could (in theory) end up with large land based creatures with cartilage endoskeletons with no ossification, or (with more efficient 'lungs') even exoskeletons. Animals that evolved from creatures more similar to trilobites (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trilobite) than pikaia.

Roxxsmom
07-15-2014, 01:26 AM
Given the variety of planets, animals don't need to be vertebrates, or vertebrates as we know them anyways. A planet with lower gravity, different air composition, and different mass extinction events could (in theory) end up with large land based creatures with cartilage endoskeletons with no ossification, or (with more efficient 'lungs') even exoskeletons. Animals that evolved from creatures more similar to trilobites (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trilobite) than pikaia.

Absolutely, and it's very likely there will be organizations and support mechanisms that are different from anything we've seen here. But they probably wouldn't look very much like rabbits, or any other vertebrate.

Reziac
07-15-2014, 01:30 AM
Maybe if the Cambrian explosion was "Seeded" from space, we'd have parallel animal phyla on alien planets. An interesting idea, though it still wouldn't explain why we have the same DNA as microbes and plants and so on.

You don't seed DNA; you seed a spectrum of viruses that can use any host and displace existing DNA. That way everything's DNA gets the same inclusions (which appear to be common ancestors, but aren't) but how it's expressed continues on their individual paths... with a probable result of periodic spasms of many bizarre and nonviable phenotypes.

[Side thought: how many of the one-of-a-kind fossils are actually one-shot mutations, rather than normal specimens? Mutations tend to be mostly dramatic and nonviable.]


Even so, I'd expect evolution would have produced a lot of variety on different planets, both due to chance and from different environmental pressures.

In my universe, 8000 years ago we terraformed all the habitable worlds to a more or less uniform standard, with utter disregard for any existing ecology. And over thousands of years, the relatively-few remaining indigenes have hitchhiked to many worlds. This explains why we have a lot of flora and fauna that's the same on every planet, and a few here and there that "don't match". (And since the planet of origin is now a scoured ball of naked rock, we have no fossil record.)

Helix
07-15-2014, 02:33 AM
You don't seed DNA; you seed a spectrum of viruses that can use any host and displace existing DNA. That way everything's DNA gets the same inclusions (which appear to be common ancestors, but aren't) but how it's expressed continues on their individual paths... with a probable result of periodic spasms of many bizarre and nonviable phenotypes.

The problem is still the necessity for a DNA/RNA system identical in every detail to that on Earth. Horizontal (aka lateral) gene transfer is now a fairly well documented phenomenon, occurring in many taxa. It's something to keep an eye out for when doing all the fiddly stuff in the lab.

Modern phylogenies are based on multiple genes and use different combinations for different level analysis. Two of the favourites areRNA for phylum level and above and COI for lower taxa. These are functional genes and are conserved, so don't change much over time.



[Side thought: how many of the one-of-a-kind fossils are actually one-shot mutations, rather than normal specimens? Mutations tend to be mostly dramatic and nonviable.]

Very few, I suspect. (But I can't back that up with actual data!) An awful lot of mutations are neutral, esp. if they occur in areas of DNA that aren't doing a lot or are point mutations on the last base in a codon. On the other hand, some quite substantial mutations, involving big sections of DNA, have led to speciation. A couple of examples are chromosomal rearrangements and polyploidy.

Reziac
07-15-2014, 02:45 AM
The problem is still the necessity for a DNA/RNA system identical in every detail to that on Earth.

Chemistry doesn't change, tho. In a system sufficiently like to host viruses designed to be adaptable and invasive, a lot of the same building blocks, or near variants, would be present, just by the nature of C-H-O-N. Now, the invasion of such a virus would likely change the base genetic material beyond all recognition (and given something like the DNA=>RNA=enzyme chain, probably with a lot of metabolic fails) but that it would fail to change it at all? When carbon stops having four bonds.

Roxxsmom
07-15-2014, 03:28 AM
I do hope that if we ever find alien life somewhere, someone will name something a "smeerp" in honor of all those 20th and 21st century writers :)

Once!
07-15-2014, 02:29 PM
I do hope that if we ever find alien life somewhere, someone will name something a "smeerp" in honor of all those 20th and 21st century writers :)

Oh yes, yes, yes. That would be a bit like the first space shuttle being called "Enterprise".

Lillith1991
07-15-2014, 02:42 PM
Oh yes, yes, yes. That would be a bit like the first space shuttle being called "Enterprise".

I would love that! Then again, I'm a fan of Star Trek.

Albedo
07-15-2014, 07:45 PM
And I hope the smeerp is an apex superpredator that eats people.