Maksim Smelchak: Categorizing Aliens

The following article was written by Maksim-Smelchak as part of the Alien August special event.

Overview of Alien Species Biological Taxonomy

(Categorizing Aliens)

Welcome to Alien August here at SciFi! I’m very excited about the Alien August Competition and I’ll be sharing some ideas to help you create your new alien species!

My first suggestion is to put some though into categorizing your alien. Think of how it might fit into a scientific taxonomy or classification system. In real life, such systems are called taxonomies, and systems that classify life are called biological taxonomies.

To learn more about BIOLOGICAL TAXONOMIES, research this person:

Carl Linnaeus, as set forth in his Systema Naturae (1735).


Today’s BIOLOGICAL TAXONOMIES have changed a lot since Linnaeus, and while many scientists disagree about various details of modern biological taxonomy systems (usually supra and sub-categories of the words listed below), there is a consensus on the categories used, which are:

Table 1. Today’s (2013) Biological Taxonomy System:

  1. Life

  2. Domain

  3. Kingdom

  1. Phylum

  2. Class

  3. Order

  1. Family

  2. Genus

  3. Species


However, our goals here at SciFi Ideas are more focused on entertainment, gaming, and fun rather than deeply scientific research about types of life in the universe, so I’ll suggest some different categories below for an “Alien Species Biological Taxonomy System.”

I might also suggest using a few vocabulary suffixes in your descriptions of your alien species:

Table 2. Alien Species Vocabulary Suffixes:

Suffix: Origin Language: Meaning: Example:
-Morph Greek Having the composition of… Electro-morph(Energy life, a being composed of energy)
-Oid Greek Having the characteristic of… Human-oid(A being with the properties of a human)
-Form Latin Having the shape of… Vermi-form(A being with the shape of a worm)


These suffixes will help you to better describe what you newly-created alien species might look like…

The modern biological taxonomy system uses various descriptors to help separate various type of life into categories. Here are just a few of the descriptors and associated sciences used:

  • – What a species looks like externally? (Morphology)
  • – What a species looks like internally? (Anatomy)
  • – How a species life functions work? (Physiology)
  • – What is its molecular make-up? (DNA)
  • – How it behaves? (Psychology)
  • – In which environment it lives? (Ecology)
  • – How and what a species eats? (Trophics)


Science fiction always benefits from as strong a connection to science as possible, but, on the other hand, a good writer must consider his or her audience as well so I recommend accompanying any uncommon scientific terms with a brief explanation of what they mean for your newly created alien species.


Here is my rough draft of an “Alien Species Biological Taxonomy System”:

Maksim-Smelchak’s Alien Species Descriptive Template v1.1 (August 2013)

Part I. Basic Descriptive Data & Metadata (x4 Categories)

#: Category: Description:
1. Name & Basic Data (Synopsis)1a. Name1b. (Cosmological Orientation)1c. Ethical Alignment

1d. “Strangeness” Rating

1e. Basic Biodata

1f. Basic Drive / Motivation

1g. Basic Culture / History

Alien’s name, tendency towards order or chaos (cosmological orientation), ethics, how strange it is, basic biological synopsis, it’s reason for living, and a basic run-down of its history and culture.
2. Homeworld & Environment (Biochemistry & Ecology)2a. Homeworld (Planetary & Cosmological Conditions)2b. Environment (Planetary Atmosphere, Gravity, Axial Tilt, Tidal Locking, Geology, Vulcanology, etc.)2c. Biome (Planetary Habitat) Planetary data, exo-planetary data, atmosphere, gravity, pressure, moisture, temperature, axial tilt, chirality, preferred environment, etc.
3. Vocational Tags3a. Vocational Role3b. Specialty Role3c. Fantasy Role

3d. Fantasy Race

3e. Exotic Role

3f. Plot Role

Jobs, plot roles, tropes, etc.
4. Metadata (Creator & Association)4a. Author/s4b. Franchise/s4c. Theme/s Franchise, author, theme, universe, etc.


Part 1 of “Maksim-Smelchak’s Alien Species Descriptive Template v1.1” is comprised of the most basic data categories, which tells one the surface details about an alien species.

1.1 Name & Basic Data (Synopsis): Basic data gives the reader a short glimpse into what kind of life form the alien is: Is it an electromorph (Energy life form), a lithomorph (mineral life form), an infomorph (a disembodied intelligence living in computer circuits), or perhaps something even more exotic?

1.2 Homeworld & Environment (Biochemistry & Ecology): An alien’s homeworld and natural environment tells a lot about an alien? Is it from a yellow star like Sol? A binary star? Something even more exotic? What sort of pressure and gravity exist on its home planet? What about the preferred biome (jungle, desert, tundra, etc.)?

1.3 Vocational Tags: In the alien’s universe, what is it best known for? For being logical scientists capable of super-fast calculation? For being daring warriors? Able judges? Ferociously monstrous animals? Is the alien more attracted to order or chaos?

1.4 Metadata (Creator & Association): Metadata is for aliens from franchises we already love. It tells us the non-story details of the alien. Who created it? When was it first published? In what sort or sorts of media has it appeared? Comic books? Television? Novels? Movies?


Maksim-Smelchak’s Alien Species Descriptive Template v1.1 (August 2013)

Part II. Anatomy & Physiology (x2 Categories)

5. Exo-data (External Appearance)5a. Taxonomy (Classification)5b. Life Order (-Morph)5c. Life Type (-Oid)

5d. Life Form: (-Form)

5e. Stance (Upright, Semi, Horizontal, etc.)

5f. Senses

5g. Communication (Language, speech, etc.)

Morphology, Oid’ism, form, stance (upright, semi, etc.), senses, humanoid variation, etc.
6. Endo-data (Internal Workings)6a. Trophics (Biological Niche, Role, Strategy)6b. Diet (Consumption, metabolism, etc.)6c. Reproduction (K-Strategy, R-Strategy, etc.)

6d. Sociality (Eu-, para-, pre-, quasi-, semi-, sub-, etc.)

6e. Other Bio-processes (Respiration, rest, etc.)

Physiology, anatomy, trophic level, trophic role, suffixes (-Vore & -Phage), reproduction strategy (K., R., etc.), respiration, sociality, waste, rest, etc.


Part 2 of “Maksim-Smelchak’s Alien Species Descriptive Template v1.1” describes all the details that an artist might need to create a picture of an alien species AND… All of the internal details for a writer or a biologist to determine how the alien works inside… What it eats, how it reproduces, etc.

2.5 Exo-data (External Appearance): Exo-data paints us a picture of what the alien looks like from the outside…What kind of skin or outer covering does it have? Fur? Scales? Something else? Does it stand upright, move horizontally or somewhere in-between? What kind of senses does it have? Eyes? Ears? Sonar? Life sign readings? If it has eyes, what range or ranges of the electromagnetic spectrum do they pick up? How does the alien communicate? By sound or voice? By touch or tactile senses? By radio waves?

2.6 Endo-data (Internal Workings): Endo-data explain what happens inside of the alien, the life processes that help it to create energy and survive? It’s what scientists would learn if they could dissect the body of an alien and study it under controlled conditions. What does it eat? What role does it play in the life net of its native environment (predator, prey, etc.)? How does it excrete waste? What does it breathe? How does it reproduce (a few treasured children, thousands of ignored children, or something else…)? Does the alien prefer to be alone and hunt as alone wolf? Or is it a very social alien that can’t stand to be away from a pack of its fellow aliens? What does it breath? How long can it hold its breath? Can it survive in a vacuum? If so, for how long?

I welcome you to use Maksim-Smelchak’s Alien Species Descriptive Template v1.1 and modify it as you wish. All I ask is that you mention me (Maksim-Smelchak) as its creator or as a source of inspiration if you modify the template. [Part 1] is probably the most useful source of ideas for the Alien August Competition here at SciFi

I’ll be writing future articles developing many of the ideas mentioned in the Maksim-Smelchak’s Alien Species Descriptive Template v1.1. So, for example, I’ll be sharing ideas about how to evaluate and categorize an alien’s strangeness level (stranger, incomprehensible, monster, etc.), how tell various types of humanoids apart (Sub-humans, trans-humans, meta-humans, etc.), detail various life orders (Organic, mineral, energy, etc.), and more.

And before I close this article, I’ll make a few recommendations for your alien-creating inspiration:

Table 3. Alien Species Inspiration Sources:

Name: Author: Type: Notes:

Xenology (1979)

Robert Freitas Science Study Doctor Freitas wrote an actual scientific paper on the study of aliens. It’s an amazing read.
Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials (1979) Wayne Barlow Sci-fi Guide / Art Book Wayne Barlow is one of the premier artists of science fiction. His 1979 guide is a sci-fi classic.’s_Guide_to_Extraterrestrials
GURPS Space 4th Edition (2006) David Pulver RPG Book David Pulver writes amazing sci-fi and his many contributions to the RPG industry are topped by GURPS Space, which is a bible of good sci-fi. David’s web site:
Alien Species Wiki (2007) Various Web Site

This is one of the best collections of data on various alien species out there on the Internet. Very inspiring.


Good luck and good writing to you!

Shalom and sincerely,


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  • I’m going to have to check out some of those books. Thanks for the ideas!