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How to design your really weird alien

Updated on October 23, 2018
"I love to mess with their minds!"
"I love to mess with their minds!" | Source

Use insects as inspiration for your bizarre alien.

As a writer of science fiction or fantasy you may need to design bizarre-looking aliens for your story and a world for them to live in. In this page you will find inspiration for truly weird aliens, by watching the aliens that live right under our noses: the insects.

Insects are amazingly weird. Compared to our bodies, theirs are inside-out as well as upside-down. They breathe through tiny tubes all over their bodies. They smell with antennae. Some taste their food with their feet. Many insects are deaf, but those that are not, hear with their front legs or antennae. They have no voice, yet some make noises. They see with large, compound eyes.

Near the end of this page, you'll find two useful books on world building for science fiction writers.


Insect bodies are inside-out, because their skeletons are not inside their bodies, but on the outside. In fact, an insect carries its skeleton as a kind of harness. Similar to the harness of a Knight from the Middle Ages, the insect harness has hard, stiff parts where the body needs to be well protected, and softer, more flexible parts near the joints.

Cross-section of an insect.
Cross-section of an insect. | Source


If we go on all fours, like an insect, then our back is above and our belly below. On top of your back you can feel your spine, through which runs the nerve cord. Your heart and the most important blood vessel, the aorta, lie below the spine. At the bottom is the alimentary canal: your gullet, stomach and intestines.

Compared to ours, the insect body is upside-down: the nerve cord runs along the lower side of the body and the heart and aorta are on top. The alimentary canal is therefore situated in the centre of the body.

Moreover, the insect heart is at the back of the body, instead of near the front as in our bodies (if we stand on all fours). In an insect there is only one blood vessel (few exceptions occur), which runs along the midline of the back. The heart is the back end of the vessel and has a series of valved openings through which the blood can enter. The blood is pushed forward by contractions. To the front, the vessel, or 'aorta', is a uniform contractile tube. It ends abruptly after passing through the brain and the blood simply percolates backwards through the tissues, to enter the heart once again.


Insects have no lungs, but they breathe through thin tubes which open along the sides of the body. These tubes, or tracheoles, branch and become finer and finer, until they form a network around or inside tissues or muscles. This allows them to bring oxygen direct to those parts of the body that need it. Carbon dioxide diffuses through the skin and out of the body. Insects do not breathe out, therefore, as we do.


Insects have three pairs of mouthparts. The first pair serves to crush, like our teeth, the second to grasp, like tongs, the third to taste and probe, like our tongue. In most insects, one or two of the pairs of mouthparts have been modified for specialised eating techniques. A few examples:

  1. In lacewing larvae, the first pair of mouthparts has become pincer-shaped to grasp their prey.
  2. In butterflies, the second pair fused into a long 'drinking straw'
  3. In some weevils, all three pairs fused together to form a powerful drill at the end of their long snout.

The senses

Each creature needs senses to perceive its surroundings. Like us, most insects have five senses: they can feel, see, hear, smell and taste.


Insects ‘feel’ with hairs on their bodies. Almost all hairs are connected to sense cells which are stimulated when the hairs move. Those sense cells are usually most abundant on the antennae, which are thus important tactile organs, but the cells occur all over the body. Insects can, therefore, feel with all parts of their body. In that sense they are not unlike us.

Compound eyes of a robber fly.
Compound eyes of a robber fly. | Source


Some insect eyes can be nothing more than small groups of light-sensitive cells beneath lens-like thickenings of the skin. This kind of eyes are called 'simple eyes'. The simple eyes cannot perceive imagines; they only allow insects to respond to light and darkness or to perceive the movement of prey within the field of view.

Other insects have highly developed compound eyes. Compound eyes are groups of facet eyes in which each has its own lens. These eyes are, just like our own eyes, able to perceive images and the insect can accurately judge the distance of an object as it has also a form of binocular vision. The images they see are, however, far less defined as those that we see. What insects perceive is more or less what we see when watching a newspaper photograph through a magnifier: a picture composed of dots.

Insects have colour vision, but they perceive colours differently from us. For example, bees are blind to red, but can see far into ultra-violet, something we cannot. Indeed, it has been discovered that many flowers that we perceive as 'white' have various colours to insects.

Compound eyes can do something our eyes cannot: they can perceive polarised light. Light coming from a blue sky shows a characteristic pattern of polarisation that is related to the position of the sun, and insects are able to orientate themselves by means of this pattern.

A chironomid midge
A chironomid midge | Source


Many insects are deaf and those insects that are able to hear, have no ears. Most insects, therefore, hear in a way different from ours. Those insects that do have ears belong the locusts, grasshoppers, butterflies and moths. Their ears are not on their heads, but on their belly, thorax or front legs. Their highly developed hearing organs are made up of groups of cells that are stimulated by the movements of a membranous ear-drum. These insects can hear sounds with much higher frequencies than we can.

Male mosquitoes hear with their antennae. High-pitched sounds emitted by females in flight set a male's antennae in vibration, and this vibration is picked up by sensitive sense organs.

Again other insects hear with bristly hairs that are set in vibration by sound waves.


Insects smell, i.e. detect odours, mainly through their antennae but also, to a lesser degree, through the palps (appendages of the mouthparts). Smell can be used to find food, the right plant on which to lay eggs, the right larva in which to lay eggs, and mates. Some male moths are able to detect and locate a female by smell from a distance of one to two kilometres!


We humans taste flavours with our tongue. Insects taste in different and varied ways:

  1. Bees, wasps and ants taste with their antennae
  2. Beetles taste with their palps
  3. Flies, butterflies, moths taste with their feet
  4. Honeybees taste with their mouths
  5. Plant- and blood-sucking insects taste with the throats


We communicate with language, be it spoken or written, but we also use body language.

As insects have no voice, they use their own ways to communicate. They use chemical substances, called pheromones. These pheromones are smelled or tasted by others of their species, and cause a reaction in the recipient. Pheromones and are used for various reasons:

  • Ants use them to lay down trails towards a food source
  • Migratory locusts use pheromones to form swarms
  • Many insects use pheromones to attract mates

Making noises

Although insects cannot speak, bark or peep, some are able to make noises:

Crickets rub front wings against each other.

Grasshoppers make sounds by stridulation, i.e. by rubbing the hind leg against the front wing.

Cicadas make their distinct noise again in a different way.

They posses a kind of internal drum. The membrane of this drum is a stiff cuticle that is made vibrating by fibrillar muscles that contract several hundred times per second.

Surviving freezing winters and dry, hot summers

We humans have little to fear from cold winters or hot summers. As long as we have enough to eat and drink, we have enough energy to keep our body temperature at the right level. For coldblooded animals, like insects – and maybe your alien – the situation is different. Their body temperature depends on the surrounding temperature. When that becomes too low, they can freeze to death. Alternatively, great heat can dry them out. Luckily, insects have found a way to survive these difficult circumstances.

All of the life stages of the southwestern corn borer (Diatraea grandiosella).
All of the life stages of the southwestern corn borer (Diatraea grandiosella). | Source


Many insects, particularly in the temperate zones, spend the winter (overwinter) in a state of diapause, during which growth and development are temporarily arrested. In this state, they are often resistant to temperatures well below the point of freezing. They make preparations well in advance: already in late summer (often early September) they store certain fatty substances in their bodies that will work as antifreeze. When enough fats are stored, they stop eating and search for a hiding place to spend the winter.

On the photo on the right you see all of the life stages of the southwestern corn borer (Diatraea grandiosella). Clockwise starting at top: adult moth, non-diapausing (spotted) last instar larva, diapausing (immaculate) larva, pupa, eggs (laid on wax paper), first instar larva (above date on coin).

In areas where summers are hot and dry, and therefore dangerous for insects - they can easily dry out - they oversummer in a state of summer-diapause, which resembles winter-diapause in that again growth and development are in temporary arrest.

Both winter- and summer-diapause are not easily broken. A change in day length (lengthening in the case of winter-diapause; shortening in the case of summer-diapause) followed by increasing (winter-diapause) or decreasing (summer diapause) temperatures are usually required to 'wake up' the insects from the diapause state.

All of the life stages of the southwestern corn borer (Diatraea grandiosella). Clockwise starting at top: adult moth, non-diapausing (spotted) last instar larva, diapausing (immaculate) larva, pupa, eggs (laid on wax paper), first instar larva (above date on coin).

What will your alien look like?

Two important problems occur when you choose an insect as your alien and simply 'blow it up' to a monster as big, or bigger, than a human being:

Problem 1

Its external skeleton, or harness, will not be strong enough for such a size, and your alien will collapse under its own weight.

There are a few solutions for this problem:

  1. The alien's home planet is smaller than Earth and has therefore a much lower gravity. This would cause the alien to weigh far less.
  2. Your alien's 'harness' could be made relatively thicker and stronger.
  3. Your alien lives in the water.

Problem 2

You should also be careful about how your alien breathes. Oxygen diffuses only slowly through the tracheoles; in a man-sized insect, the organs and muscles will receive oxygen so slowly, that our poor alien, if it does not suffocate, will be extremely sluggish. You can solve this problem in the following ways:

  1. You could make the alien very thin, e.g. two metres high and one centimetre in diameter. (I don't know if such a creature can walk upright, though!)
  2. You could give the alien lungs or gills to breathe with, or give the tracheoles built-in pumps to make the oxygen move faster.

A last thought

What would you think of a creature that is a peaceful vegetarian in spring and summer, but turns into a fierce predator because it needs animal fats for overwintering to come through the severe winter of its planet?

Do you believe aliens exist?

Do you believe that somewhere on a planet in the universe there are aliens about?

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    • diegocomercio profile image


      6 years ago

      what a nice lens. I really enjoyed how detailed you describe every aspect of the insects. I hope not to have nightmares. Thanks for all the info

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Really wonderful lens. Congrats.

    • amitsarkar lm profile image

      amitsarkar lm 

      7 years ago

      your lens having really a unique thinking as before i didn't see any lens of this theme...

    • kislanyk profile image


      7 years ago from Cyprus

      I know I already commented on this a while ago, but just wanted to say how great the lens looks with the new theme!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Congrats on LotD!

    • EditPhotos profile image

      Edit Photos 

      7 years ago from Earth

      Great lens - nice job!

    • squidoopets profile image

      Darcie French 

      7 years ago from Abbotsford, BC

      What a totally awesome fun buggy page!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Very nice work!

    • marlies vaz nunes profile imageAUTHOR

      Marlies Vaz Nunes 

      7 years ago from Amsterdam, the Netherlands

      @playercoach: Always nice to hear. :-)

    • playercoach profile image


      7 years ago

      Goodness!! I stayed on your lens here much longer than I expected! Take that as a compliment. I really learned a few, no make that a lot, of new things about insects here. Nice job.

    • OliviaDaughter LM profile image

      OliviaDaughter LM 

      7 years ago

      Really cool lens.

    • ccsonian profile image


      7 years ago

      I need to show this to my son.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      man what a great lens!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Very insteresting Lens!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I love insects. I'm not so sure about aliens.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      So glad I'm not an insect !!!!!!

    • besttechgadgets profile image


      7 years ago

      Cool lens!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I never knew insects were upside down! Great lens :)

    • UKGhostwriter profile image


      7 years ago

      Brilliant! I love it!!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Really quite astonishing! Lovely piece of writing.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      What a lovely article! While macro-photographing insects I have often thought of how 'alien-like' some of them are. I am sending this to my daughter (7) as a summer reading assignment for the day :)

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Aliens are cool!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Great lens! My sons could use this to help create a really cool science project!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Absolutely fascinating. I enjoyed this round about way of describing bugs.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      great lens

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 

      8 years ago

      This is truly one of the most unique and creative lenses I have visited - and I have visited a lot of them! No argues that this deserved LoTD and Purple Star. I bookmarked it to Stumbleupon and Google Plus, and Pinned it to my boards: one for Aliens, UFO's and other Far Out topics, another pin to the Cool Critters Board, and a third to Squidoo Lenses that Deserve a Blessing. A true delight! (PS - I didn't even realize I wanted to write a science fiction book, but now that I see how inspiring the natural world can be I definitely want to.)

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      cool lens

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Cool lens! Congrats in being LOTD!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Awesome! Look no further than the "aliens" in our own world to imagine those in others. So cool...thanks!

    • BunnyFabulous profile image

      Erin Hardison 

      8 years ago from Memphis, TN

      Never thought of making an alien, but the insect facts are fascinating. Congrats on LOTD!

    • Sher Ritchie profile image

      Sher Ritchie 

      8 years ago

      This is a great lens, thanks!

    • AgingIntoDisabi profile image


      8 years ago

      Great tips - original idea!

    • Steph Tietjen profile image

      Stephanie Tietjen 

      8 years ago from Albuquerque, New Mexico

      This is a fantastic lens--so captivating. I learned so many new things-- about their breathing and diapausing, etc. Thanks and congrats.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      This is one of the all time SUPER COOL lenses. Congratulations on getting LoTD and that Purple Star!!!!!!!!!

    • Charlino99 profile image

      Tonie Cook 

      8 years ago from USA

      Wonderfully informative and interesting! I learned a lot here, and appreciate the time you took to compose this page. Congrats on your well deserved LOTD and Purple Star.

    • gatornic15 profile image


      8 years ago

      Congratulations on LoTD and a Purple Star! Great lens, Blessed!

    • andreaberrios lm profile image

      andreaberrios lm 

      8 years ago

      This is so cool, love it!! Blessed*

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      A well deserved LotD and Purple Star, congratulations. ~ Blessed!

    • CNelson01 profile image

      Chuck Nelson 

      8 years ago from California

      Fun and interesting...a well deserved LotD.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Congratulation on your LotD. Very interesting and I learned something about each

      featured. Thanks for sharing.

    • lclchors profile image


      8 years ago

      great fun I can see why it is LOTD congrats

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Great videos! What a fun lens :)

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 

      8 years ago from New Zealand

      Great lens, you sure know alt about insects and bugs.Congrats on LotD, thanks for sharing your knowledge with us, Blessed.

    • ClassyGals profile image

      Cynthia Davis 

      8 years ago from Pittsburgh

      Wonderfully written, I've learned a lot about bugs today. Blessings**

    • TaraWojt profile image

      Tara Wojtaszek 

      8 years ago

      Very informative lens. Congratulations on LOTD!

    • Stress-Master profile image


      8 years ago

      Fascinating lens and well written. Thanks.

    • marlies vaz nunes profile imageAUTHOR

      Marlies Vaz Nunes 

      8 years ago from Amsterdam, the Netherlands

      Thank you all so much for the likes and the kind words! *blush*

    • vividviolet profile image


      8 years ago

      Congrats on LOTD! I love how you compare insects with aliens! Maybe someday these "aliens" will leave us to create a new insect civilization on the moon!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Congrats on Lens of the Day!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Wauw! LOTD and the purple star! Go go girl!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I have a sci-fi book with aliens, and you gave me some great ideas. Thanks!

    • DeannaDiaz profile image


      8 years ago

      Very cool lens!

    • SheGetsCreative profile image

      Angela F 

      8 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Informative and fun! *blessed

    • KandDMarketing profile image


      8 years ago

      Great lens!

    • lbrummer profile image

      Loraine Brummer 

      8 years ago from Hartington, Nebraska

      Congratulations on LOTD and the purple star. Great work and a great read.

    • oooMARSooo LM profile image

      oooMARSooo LM 

      8 years ago

      I like this a lot. So we could also think of what kinds of problems the cultures of these aliens had to overcome; what kinds of things forced their civilizations to reach for the stars? :) Maybe we could take it a step further and imagine what kinds of problems would force OUR species to finally take to the stars.

    • LiteraryMind profile image

      Ellen Gregory 

      8 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Interesting I never thought of the connection between bugs and aliens -- although now that I think about it, most of the creatures in Men in Black look like bugs.

    • hntrssthmpsn profile image


      8 years ago

      Aliens among us, indeed! I'll be giving all the insects in the garden the hairy eyeball for months ;)

    • jtrag profile image

      James Trageser 

      8 years ago from Baltimore, MD

      Congrats on getting LOTD and Purple Star! Very interesting Lens and very well designed! Great Job!

    • favored profile image

      Fay Favored 

      8 years ago from USA

      Congratulations on LOTD and the purple star.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      wanna write very unique and high quality lens like yours. enjoy your days

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Many things I learned, great lens ..Thanks

    • WriterJanis2 profile image


      8 years ago

      What a fun and unique lens! Blessed!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Unique topic; I enjoyed this lens and learned a lot of new things! ~blessed~

    • Mandy Stradley profile image

      Mandy Stradley 

      8 years ago from Riverton, Utah

      Very cool! Now I want to design an alien :)

    • KimGiancaterino profile image


      8 years ago

      Congratulations on LOTD!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      very cool lens.great work

    • MartieG profile image

      MartieG aka 'survivoryea' 

      8 years ago from Jersey Shore

      Have to pass this along to my grandson who loves to create characters with different looking features-some interesting ideas! Congrats on LotD :>)

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      lavadoras baratas bosch

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      What a fun lens!

    • TheGutterMonkey profile image

      The Gutter Monkey 

      8 years ago

      Hey, just dropping back by to say congrats on a well-deserved LotD. So... congrats!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      It always makes me happy to see a lens I've visited and loved make it up as LotD! Congratulations! :)

    • LovelyMom77 profile image


      8 years ago

      Wow, I never knew most of this stuff! Thank you for sharing and so I will share this information with my children.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      This is great information.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      What a fun way to learn about insects. Great concept for a lens.

    • profile image

      faye durham 

      8 years ago

      Fabulous! Congrats on LOTD!

    • Rusty Quill profile image

      Rusty Quill 

      8 years ago

      Very creative lens - I love it! And congrats on LotD!

    • GabStar profile image


      8 years ago

      What an awesome page! Brilliant.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      What a great fun, informative lens. Loved it!

    • jcj1677 profile image


      8 years ago

      Fantastic, thank you for this one!

    • Mark Shearman profile image

      Mark Shearman 

      8 years ago from Alicante Spain

      Great lens I really enjoyed it thanks.

    • aka-rms profile image

      Robin S 

      8 years ago from USA

      Congratulations! This amazing lens was selected LOTD today. Read all about it here:

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 

      8 years ago from Arkansas USA

      I'm having flashbacks to Mr. Bower's 10th grade biology class. It's okay, though. He was a great teacher. . . unless he was an alien in disguise! Ahhhhhhhh! (What a great way to learn about insects! Awesome Lens of the Day!)

    • flinnie lm profile image

      Gloria Freeman 

      8 years ago from Alabama USA

      Hi way cool lens, love reading about the really weird alien. Congrats on LOTD.

    • AcornOakForest profile image

      Monica Lobenstein 

      8 years ago from Western Wisconsin

      Ingenious approach to teaching about insects. I may have to use this in my youth programs.Thanks!

    • KarenHC profile image


      8 years ago from U.S.

      What a fun lens to read! Insects are fascinatingly bizarre-looking, and they'd make great templates for aliens. Congrats on LOTD!

    • KarenHC profile image


      8 years ago from U.S.

      What a fun lens to read! Insects are fascinatingly bizarre-looking, and they'd make great templates for aliens. Congrats on LOTD!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      So cool! I always wondered how cicada's made their noise. Thank you for a great lens.

    • earthybirthymum profile image


      8 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Congratulations on LOTD, great Lense! My kids would love your Lense, its packed with great information. Many Blessings



    • agoofyidea profile image


      8 years ago

      Congratulations on LOTD! My current favorite alien is from Battleship. Except for the traveling issue it is well thought out. Lots of movie aliens appear insect like so it makes sense to study insects when designing aliens. I wonder if the aliens are doing the same thing when designing us.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Looking for Likes and comment share if you like me and comment my lenses i will reply you.

    • magictricksdotcom profile image


      8 years ago

      vazzie, this is a really creative approach to the study of insects. Hope some teachers are reading this- it would be a terrific idea for a lesson plan! Congrats on LOTD!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Never read anything like this. What is really worry is they do actually look like aliens.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Never read anything like this. What is really worry is they do actually look like aliens.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Very interesting lens ! I was in assumption that cricket make a lot of noise by shouting..

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Thanks for that. Informative and well written.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Really cute lens

    • intermarks profile image


      8 years ago

      This lens is so unique. Never though that insect can be related with alien.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Wow... they really do look like aliens!!!! Blessed!

    • Tracie-Fisher profile image


      8 years ago

      Now I'm thinking the dead moths I see during the winter months might not really be dead. Diapausing - I learned something new. Thanks!


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