Reproduction Of The Parasitic Symbiote
By C. Grey. Fact checking by The Grrrl and Brionhet
Symbiotes live a small portion of their lifespan in the womb of a Jaffa until they are mature enough for a host. These creatures live almost their entire lives encased in the body of another being. How, then, do they mate? How, exactly, do they procreate? How much of the host’s body is involved in the process?
We can extrapolate certain data from clues which we have discovered through the years that the Earth Stargate has been in operation.
How do these creatures procreate?
(Reference episode 1.22 "Within the Serpent’s Grasp")
O'NEILL: "He is not your father!" (referring to Apophis)
KLOREL: "He is my father. He seeded the queen mother. He chose the host where I will live out eternity. Apophis gave me life.”
This statement is a clear indication of at least two sexes among the Goa’uld. Apophis regarded Amaunet, the symbiote just maturing, as his queen. Whether this symbiote which was implanted in Sha’re was, indeed, a female has not been proven; however, subsequent missions to Chulak showed that Apophis had a supply of immature Goa’uld offspring ready for implantation in young Jaffa just coming of age to incubate the larvae (Reference Bloodlines, S1-11). This suggests that Amaunet may well have been a breeding queen.
Other references to symbiotes from the Tok’ra indicate that, while males and females are necessary for breeding, most symbiotes are considered “sexless;” at home in either a male or female human, taking on the sexual identity of their host:
(Reference episode 2.11 "The Tok'ra Part 1" and 2.12 "The Tok'ra Part 2")
MARTOUF: ... The symbiote does not have a gender. However, Jolinar has always been in female hosts.
(Reference episode 5.15 "Summit Part 1")
However, it should be noted that Zipacna made great fun of Osiris for taking a female host. Osiris seemed touchy about it as well, quickly making clear that Isis had been his queen and had served him, not the other way around.
Colonies of ants and bees have a similar makeup of sexes: a single breeding queen is kept in a constant state of pregnancy by a handful of male drones, while the rest of the colony consists of sterile, essentially sexless female workers and soldiers.
(Reference episode 1.14 "Hathor")
HATHOR: Did you ever wonder from whence the children come?
DANIEL: Are you saying that they come from you?
HATHOR: Yes. And others like us.
DANIEL: My God! You're like a queen bee. You create the Goa'ulds.
This is statement of fact that more than one breeding queen exists in the Goa’uld population. The Tok’ra have also reported that they had only one queen, Egeria, who was presumed killed centuries earlier by Ra. Once she was discovered alive on the planet Pangara, additional information on symbiote reproduction was obtained (Reference episode Cure, S6-10). The Pangarans had been conducting medical experiments on Egeria, forcing her to breed; however, Egeria consciously withheld vital genetic programming, rendering her children mindless “blanks.” This event also revealed that a breeding queen can continue producing young indefinitely, even without a host, without a male symbiote nearby.
(Reference episode 6.10 "Cure")
CARTER: "According to the Pangarans, they began using her for medical experiments over fifty years ago. She's been breeding symbiotes to make Tretonin for more than half that time."
JACK: "All right. Now, how is that possible? I mean, how does she make kids without a...man friend?"
MALEK, a Tok’ra host: "Symbiote queens are able to fertilize their own eggs. It is essentially an asexual process."''
How is this possible?
Rather than bog the Tau’ri down with a lengthy biological explanation, Malek may have given an abbreviated and incomplete picture of the process. There are precedents on Earth among snakes and reptiles that illustrate how such an apparently immaculate conception can occur. This includes Klorel’s statement above, in which he claims Apophis as his father. What is meant is most likely that symbiote queens are able to spawn many times from a single mating, as other creatures do in the following examples:
In come skinks (a type of reptile) there are literally no males in the species; the females reproduce without the input of any genetic information from a male. However, even in these species, the members of the species (though all technically female) perform many of the sexual stimulation activities and “rituals” utilized by other dual-sex species.
In most vertebrates fertilization occurs shortly after emission of the sperm by the male. The sperm lose their ability to activate the ova and initiate development after a few hours or a few days at most.
In many reptiles this is not the case. Sperm can be stored in an inactive state in the female reproductive tract and may retain their ability to fertilize ova for months or even years. Both lizards and snakes have seminal receptacles in the female reproductive tract.
Turtles do not have special storage structures or seminal receptacles in the female reproductive tracts but are known to have delayed fertilization. Female box turtles (Terrapene carolina) and diamondback terrapins (Malaclemys) have laid fertile eggs up to four years after separation from males.”
It is also possible for a female bat to be fertilized by a male and then delay the pregnancy until such time as conditions are favourable for birth.
“As cold weather approaches the bats move to suitable caves, mine tunnels, or other quarters where they hibernate and sleep through the winter. During the period of preparation for winter, males and females are found together and breeding takes place, but the ova are not fertilized at that time. This habit of breeding in the fall has led some students to estimate the gestation period of this species to be 300 days; however, the period of gestation is actually 50-60 days. The sperm from the fall mating are retained in the reproductive tract of the female and fertilization of the ova does not take place until the following spring, shortly before the bats leave their winter quarters. This ability is known as ‘delayed fertilization.’ A short breeding period may also occur in the spring. The single young is born in June or July.”
It is conceivable, then, given the fact that symbiotes live encased within their hosts, that a single mating between a male and female might result in fertilization on demand when the queen decides to spawn. If the symbiote queen is capable of choosing the genetic makeup of her young (as has been declared by Malek of the Tok’ra), storing sperm and fertilizing as necessary would not be too far outside the boundary of possibility. Considering the long lifespan of the symbiotes and the possibility that they might live far afield of potential mates, the sperm might have the capability to remain viable indefinitely, held within seminal receptacles inside the female, for as long as necessary for a lifetime of producing young.
How is mating accomplished, when these creatures live inside hosts?
If the mating took place just as a young female matures, during the process of passing from pouch to host, she would not need to leave her host to accomplish this feat. As Teal’c has borne witness during the implantation of Amaunet into Sha’re Jackson, the symbiote is immediately imbedded in a host without first being fertilized by a male. Mating can still be accomplished with a little gymnastics on the part of the symbiotes.
X-rays and MRIs taken by Dr. Janet Fraiser, Air Force Medical Corps and senior physicians at the SGC, show that the symbiote achieves control of the host by imbedding its head directly into the brain tissue of the host. The remainder of the creature’s serpentine body then wraps around the spinal column.
In order to facilitate sexual congress, the symbiotes need only have their hosts engage in a prolonged kiss. During this oral coupling, the lower half of the creature’s bodies may breach the throat of their hosts and entwine within the joined oral cavities for fertilization. While this might be slightly uncomfortable for the hosts, it would not be life-threatening and would not require the symbiote to relinquish control of the host to accomplish the act of procreation. From this single breeding event, the female may continue to produce young throughout her lifetime.
How are the young born?
Hathor, a Goa’uld queen who temporarily controlled the SGC base, provides us with some answers to this. Symbiote young do not come from eggs, as many amphibious creatures do. They are live-born, preferably into a liquid environment until they can find their way into a Jaffa pouch for incubation to maturity. Also important to this process is reception of the DNA code for future hosts. In order to ensure that the symbiote is not biologically rejected by the host body, specific coding to the larval symbiote is necessary. This is accomplished by delivering the code (in the case of Hathor’s example, human sperm) to the larval young before birth. As the experience was severely traumatizing to Dr. Daniel Jackson, who provided the DNA donation under the influence of Hathor’s mind-altering pheromones, complete information on the details of the process was not available; however, science offers us some possibilities:
(Reference episode 1.14 "Hathor")
DANIEL: So you actually create the larvae. How?
HATHOR: We must first have the code of life from the juices of the species intended as the host.
DANIEL: Code of life?
HATHOR: In order to ensure compatibility for the Goa'uld child and the host.
DANIEL: DNA. You mean you need DNA to prevent rejection.
HATHOR: The code of life. We do so enjoy the method of procuring the code in your species. It is much more pleasurable than most.
DANIEL: I’ll bet.
HATHOR: Since you are to be our first pharaoh, you will honor us by being the one to contribute the code.
While it is within the realm of possibility that the host of Hathor might well have provided sufficient DNA to encode the larvae, additional genetic diversity could be required via this “donation” from a secondary source. It is also possible that Hathor simply wished to make pleasurable use of the human she had chosen for her new pharaoh. Without additional information on symbiote biology, that determination remains open to conjecture.
Since the body of the symbiote is relatively small, it is not physically possible for a female to reach the human female uterus to implant her young. While the potential exists that the symbiote might relinquish control, detach from the brain stem and travel through the host body to reach the uterus for procreation, there is a much simpler method by which reproduction might be accomplished, without utilisation of the human female reproductive parts in the process, and more importantly, without relinquishing control of the host.
By extending its nether region into the host’s throat, the female symbiote can deposit fertilized eggs and/or live larvae into the human digestive tract. By shutting off acid production in the stomach, this organ can then act as a holding chamber where the young might grow for several hours or days until they receive the DNA code, and are consequently spawned.
Another Earth creature uses a similar method for incubating its young:
“Most amphibians lay their eggs in water and then abandon them to their fates, but a few have developed strange ways to guard their eggs until they have hatched. The Surinam toad (Pipa pipa) of South America carries its eggs in pockets of skin on its back until the froglets hatch three months later. The gastric brooder (Rheobatrachus silus) of Australia no sooner lays its eggs than it swallows them! The eggs incubate in the frog's stomach where acid production ceases until the froglets hatch and crawl out through their mother's mouth.”
Then how do the larvae receive the code?
(Reference episode 6.10 "Cure")
TEAL’C: "Prior to the process of incubating Goa'uld symbiotes using Jaffa, the blending between Goa'uld and host had only a one-in-two chance of success. The Jaffa were created for the very reason of improving the ability of the symbiote to take human hosts."
The process is simple. With acid production in the host’s stomach suspended, the larvae are free to circulate throughout the gastrointestinal tract. The various organs of digestion are connected in one long passageway that begins at the mouth and ends at the anal sphincter, through which waste is normally expelled from the body. Since the larvae enter the host body through the throat, DNA material might be provided for them either orally or anally. Once coded, the young might then leave the host body through either orifice.
Through this process, it is apparent that the reproductive organs of the host play no part in the procreation process of symbiote offspring. Since the sex of the host is inconsequential to symbiote reproduction, it is therefore possible for a host of either gender to provide for the reproductive needs of a symbiote queen on all levels.
Speculation on the number of queens is vague at best. With Hathor’s death, the last known Goa’uld queen was removed from the breeding population. Egeria was the only known Tok’ra queen. Neither variant of the symbiote species has shown population growth recently, which in no way confirms that both species are nearing extinction. Regarding the personalities of the System Lords, it is certainly possible that Bastet may well be a queen. Given that her providence was the same as Hathor’s; namely, fertility, love and sex, it is possible that many earlier broods of symbiotes discovered on Chulak could have been the offspring of Bastet or other unknown Goa’uld queens. Since Hathor was entombed at the time and Amaunet only recently implanted in a host, the presence of larvae on several worlds could indicate that additional breeding queens exist.
It is imperative that we learn more about this species if our efforts at containment and/or extermination of the Goa’uld faction are to be successful.
- 1.02 "Children Of The Gods Part 2"
- 1.14 "Hathor"
- 1.22 "Within The Serpent's Grasp Part 1"
- 2.11 "The Tok'ra Part 1"
- 2.12 "The Tok'ra Part 2"
- 5.15 "Summit Part 1"
- 6.10 "Cure"
- 7.11 "Evolution Part 1"
- 7.12 "Evolution Part 2"
--Alison 17:34, 8 Jan 2005 (PST)