Why Facehuggers Make Great Science Teachers

Illustration for article titled Why Facehuggers Make Great Science Teachers

Xenomorphs are horrifying opponents — but they're also a great teaching tool.

Back when Alien: Resurrection was in theaters, science teacher Lali, aka @LalSox, realized the Alien life cycle was a great way to teach high school students about the plant life cycle. Until she brought up facehuggers and chestbursters, students tended to be confused about how a plant's life cycle worked. "They were completely befuddled by 'intermediate' asexual generation," says Lali. "They just couldn't get past it."


Plants cycle between a sporophyte form and a gametophyte form. During this cycle, there are both asexual (one parent) and sexual (two parent) reproduction. A mature sporophyte produces spores by meiosis. These spores grow up to be gametophytes. That's the asexual part. Now for the sex! Our gametophytes make gametes, which come in male and female forms. The pairing of a male and female gamete (two parents) produces a zygote, which develops into a sporophyte.

With plants, we've got a product of sexual reproduction (sporophyte) undergoing asexual reproduction to produce a gametophyte that undergoes sexual reproduction to bring us full circle to sporophytes. Just like in Alien, explains Lali. "The facehugger is asexual and lays a pod in a host to make a new xenomorph," she says. "Our xenomorph is sexual, with the queen making eggs that grow into facehuggers."


From the first time Lali compared the plant cycle to the Alien (xenomorph) cycle, it's worked like a charm. "They totally got it [plant reproduction] after that." It's likely that her artistic abilities also helped her students. With a background in art and science, she's able to produce a drawing of a plant and Alien life cycle for her students in a few minutes during a lecture.

It's been 15 years since Alien: Resurrection, but @LalSox has found that at least half her students know all about this xenomorph. "Alien makes a huge impression," she says. "Each stage of that creature is so terrifying that there's no way you can forget it." Plus the soon-to-be-released Prometheus has dramatically increased the number of students that are familiar with the Alien life cycle, says Lali, which makes plant reproduction lessons a snap.

Here is one good reason for Hollywood to grow the Alien franchise -– it helps students to understand how plants grow.

Illustration for article titled Why Facehuggers Make Great Science Teachers

Life cycle of bryophytes, one of the four mayor types of land plants

Images: provided by @LalSox


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I'm surprised she was teaching about plants and not stomach parasites. But then I didn't learn about the life cycles of tapeworms until my second year in uni... Guess the humans needed to mature a bit too before being forced to handle the real chest(stomach?)bursters.