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Warning picture showing dissected Russian Doll

enter image description here

My theory

I believe that Russian Dolls reproduce asexually. They are born pregnant. At the time of birth, the outer doll dies. What is now the outer doll grows until it reaches full size at which point it gives birth and dies. The birth process is simple - the outer doll simply splits in half around its middle. A new inner doll forms at the same time.

The problem

My theory would mean that the population could only stay the same or decrease. In fact accidents would mean that the population would decrease until the species became extinct.

Question

How can I resolve this problem and allow increase in population whilst still preserving my theory as much as possible?

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This question has an open bounty worth +50 reputation from chasly from UK ending in 4 days.

One or more of the answers is exemplary and worthy of an additional bounty.

19 Answers 19

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Through selective breeding and misplaced import laws, we only ever get to see Russian dolls that are "aesthetically pleasing".

In the wild, it is relatively common to get a "double-yolker" - that is, sometimes when the outer layer dies, there are 2, or perhaps 3 dolls inside.

Since these dolls are often a little misshapen when compared to the outer layer, they never get selected for sale, but are instead kept for breeding. It typically takes a few generations before the descendants of one of these dolls achieves the aesthetically pleasing shape that consumers have come to expect.

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    $\begingroup$ Gross! I love it : ) $\endgroup$ – user151841 Jan 31 at 16:42
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    $\begingroup$ You answered this so smoothly its hard to tell if I'm on worldbuilding or some other wordly bio.se. $\endgroup$ – PyRulez Jan 31 at 17:04
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    $\begingroup$ This makes a lot of sense. I'm not even sure that double-yolk twins would stay misshapen for long or, if they were, that they they would pass the characteristic on to their offspring. In any case this seems like a convincing answer. $\endgroup$ – chasly from UK Jan 31 at 18:01
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    $\begingroup$ I would think it's preferable for the breeders if the double-yolkedness isn't hereditary... $\endgroup$ – John Dvorak Jan 31 at 21:56
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    $\begingroup$ In fact, variable-yolking evolved as a population-regulating mechanism: the more well-fed and otherwise healthy a doll is, the more likely she is to produce a larger collection (is "collection" the proper group term for dolls?); when times are leaner, you get more singletons; over time, this makes the population tend to stabilize. The twist is that this mechanism has a long lead-time, as each doll fissions several generations before she is born, based on the nutrition, etc., passed inward from her great-great-babushka. So the cyclical feedback patterns get complex. $\endgroup$ – dgould Feb 1 at 2:16
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In the deepest, darkest, hidden places in the forest dwell the Queen Dolls.

Rarely seen, these creatures resemble a normal Russian Doll only at the tops of their vast, misshapen bodies - their lower halves more closely resemble a nightmarish wooden bee hive.

Riddled with thousands of cells, they disgorge the normal Russian Dolls commonly found in the forests. But for every 1000 of these normal Russian Dolls a juvenile Queen will emerge.

This instar queen will then scuttle off on their many jointed legs to find a new nest.

There are myths and legends of a King Doll, but no sightings have yet been reliably reported.

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    $\begingroup$ I shall now try to erase this horrible vision from my imagination! $\endgroup$ – chasly from UK Jan 31 at 17:10
  • $\begingroup$ Horrifying! I imagined a Doll King = Rat King kind of scenario... $\endgroup$ – Meg Jan 31 at 19:59
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    $\begingroup$ I saw this movie! It had Sigourney Weaver in it =)... $\endgroup$ – user3445853 Feb 1 at 13:13
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    $\begingroup$ I'm imagining something like an upside down Suriname toad $\endgroup$ – SpoonMeiser Feb 4 at 15:36
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    $\begingroup$ Tsarina dolls, surely... ? $\endgroup$ – colmde Feb 7 at 8:05
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Actually, there is an organism on earth that is vaguely similar to the Russian dolls that you describe. The volvox:

volvox

Individual volvox cells, a kind of freshwater algae, reproduce in the conventional way (more or less), however, they also collect into spherical colonies (called volvocates, I think) with a tiny opening at one end. These spheres can reproduce by internal budding, with immature spheres growing within the body of the 'mother' sphere. Then at some point, the mother turns itself inside-out by inverting itself through the opening, releasing the 'daughter' spheres into the wild. The point where the daughter sphere connected with this interior of the mother becomes the opening of the daughter sphere (sort of like a navel in mammals). The cells that formerly composed the mother sphere don't simply die, however. Most of them are absorbed by one of the daughter spheres.

And yes, 'granddaughter' spheres can start to develop within the daughter spheres before 'birth'/'hatching'. In the following photo, you can see a mother colony in the process of disintegration, releasing it's daughters, which in turn have daughters already developing:

granddaughters
Photo credit: www.microscopy-uk.org.uk

Now, there are two differences between the volvox and your Russian dolls:

  1. The 'birth' event doesn't lead to complete death of the 'mother'.
  2. More than one daughter born per 'birth' event.

The first feature can be achieved by your dolls if the 'mother' dolls can reform somehow. Perhaps the 'head' can reattach to the 'tail' and continue living. After consuming enough nutrients from the environment, they could even begin the process of internal budding again. Or perhaps the daughters simply consume the mother's material, giving them a early boost in life.

The second feature can be achieved by simply dividing multiple times. Russian dolls have multiple layers inside at varying levels of size, but all are viable. When a large doll splits, a medium one emerges and splits, then a small one emerges and splits, then a smaller one, until there several offspring. Combined withe the above, you could have a burgeoning population of Russian dolls (Matryoshkavox?)

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    $\begingroup$ Damn you, nature! Stop stealing our ideas! $\endgroup$ – T. Sar Feb 1 at 10:33
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    $\begingroup$ @T.Sar It's Rule 34 of reality: If you can think of a reproductive scheme, nature's done it somewhere. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Feb 1 at 14:54
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    $\begingroup$ Any idea if the growth process is so slow that sometimes the daughter spheres themselves can start growing grandaughter spheres before breakout? $\endgroup$ – JeopardyTempest Feb 1 at 17:28
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    $\begingroup$ @JeopardyTempest I had to do a bit of digging around the internet to confirm, but yes, that's possible. See my update. $\endgroup$ – p.s.w.g Feb 1 at 17:49
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    $\begingroup$ Funny, the first things I thought of were diatoms, with some equally weird algal reproduction. $\endgroup$ – Sparhawk Feb 2 at 11:44
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Regenerate the top part.

The splitting doesn't actually kills the doll - just its bottom half.

The bottom half becomes a nest for the little doll that was gestating on the inside of the "mother doll" for a bit, until it can go around hunting for cookie crumbles for itself.

The upper part, on the other hand, shrinks a bit in size and regenerates. After some time passes, it can produce a new doll on its now-empty insides.

This way, the doll population will increase steadily, as most other living beings. They would only truly die from old age, predators, accidents or kid-induced acts of doll terrorism.

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  • $\begingroup$ This means that the head ends repeatedly go through this process. I'm not sure how your theory explains many layers of doll. $\endgroup$ – chasly from UK Jan 31 at 11:54
  • $\begingroup$ @chaslyfromUK I'll explain it a bit better. $\endgroup$ – T. Sar Jan 31 at 11:56
  • $\begingroup$ @chaslyfromUK there! $\endgroup$ – T. Sar Jan 31 at 11:59
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    $\begingroup$ @chaslyfromUK You could have it alternate between the top and bottom. $\endgroup$ – PyRulez Jan 31 at 17:02
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    $\begingroup$ This sounds a little like planarian (flatworm) reproduction. Cut a flatworm in half, the head grows a new tail and the tail grows a new head. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planarian#Regeneration $\endgroup$ – Liam Proven Feb 6 at 16:39
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Budding and out-growing.

Budding: each outer doll, once in a while, produces a bud, which in this case is a tiny Russian doll. Once it detaches from the mother body, it starts living on its own.

Out-growing: once the doll has eaten enough, it grows, on its outer, a new shell. Think of it like the trees growing each year adding a layer to their bark. At the end, being made of wood, it's perfectly reasonable for a Russian doll to grow like a tree does.

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    $\begingroup$ So your theory is almost the opposite of mine? The centre of a tree/doll dies and the bark/outer-layer is alive? It hadn't occurred to me that the dolls might be a kind of tree and the faces and clothing on them some kind of mimicry. Perhaps while alive they have roots emerging from the base and these are removed when the dolls are prepared for sale. $\endgroup$ – chasly from UK Jan 31 at 11:58
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    $\begingroup$ This I think makes good sense. The essential nature of the Russian Doll is, after all, wood; and it is the way of plants to bud from time to time. $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Jan 31 at 13:35
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    $\begingroup$ @chaslyfromUK, I don't see a question in my answer, so I wouldn't know what to ask, and in your question the assumption that Russian dolls are animals is not explicit. Moreover, also yeasts (which are not animal nor plants) reproduce by budding. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Jan 31 at 13:39
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    $\begingroup$ @chaslyfromUK, pregnancy is typical of mammals, which do reproduce sexually. In the same question you also talk about asexual reproduction. So, no, it's not clear that you are talking about animals. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Jan 31 at 14:40
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    $\begingroup$ The usage is pretty common for other species, e.g. "Aphids, tiny insects found the world over, are “essentially born pregnant,” says Ed Spevak, curator of invertebrates at the St. Louis Zoo." news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/09/… - Conversely I am not aware that the term 'pregnant' has ever been used by anyone to describe vegetation. $\endgroup$ – chasly from UK Jan 31 at 14:53
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There is one flaw with the OP's theory: Russian Matroshkiya dolls do not die when split. Anywhere that these dolls are found, over time it may be noticed that their population increases.

This occurs with human assistance. A doll grows to a certain size, spawning dolls inside itself which grow with it. When a doll reaches maximum size, it ceases growing, as does its offspring and their offspring. This is where human intervention comes in.

Where humans exist, Matroshkiya dolls have evolved to have patterning pleasing to humans. Humans, seeing a doll with a pleasing pattern, split them along the line of weakness around their middle, releasing their offspring, then they rejoin them. When the Matroshkiya dolls are rejoied, much as a grafted branch, they do not die. If the doll's offspring has been removed, then the offspring resumes growing, and the outer doll produces a new offspring which grows to fill the available space, producing its own offspring as it grows.

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    $\begingroup$ They can do so by nature as well, but the human support makes the process easier and less painful. This is why dolls tamed humans. The main drawback of that is that mainly non-cautious human offspring (called babies or infants) allow this process. The adults tend to ensure that all Matryoshkas go back to their position, thus preventing the reproduction. BTW I have two Matryoshkas. One consists of 5, the other of 6 dolls. This is apparent proof that the Matryoshka doesn't die and the number of dolls vary depending of age. It shouldn't be surprising, that the 6 dolls Matryoshka is larger (older) $\endgroup$ – Ister Feb 1 at 11:57
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    $\begingroup$ This hypothesis is confirmed by Dimiter Inkiow's first book, written in 1975. I don't know the book's name in English, but in Spanish it's Matrioska, in German it's Die Puppe die ein Baby haben wollte and in Bulgarian it's Куклата, която искаше да си има бебе. BTW, only female Matroshkiya dolls can reproduce (with help of a human mastercraft). Males, which can be identified by a large moustach, can't. $\endgroup$ – J.A.I.L. Feb 6 at 9:07
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It's self-evident all births are cesarean, at worst a little masking tape & mum's fine, in a few months she's ready to give birth again.

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I'm Russian, I know the answer, but do not tell it to anyone else. The point is. that we should not stop at one pregnancy for a doll. If the outer doll is pregnant, so does the inner one (this is what we see on the picture). That leads us to an infinite series of pregnant dolls of different sizes, thus extinction is not possible for these strange creatures (see below). The awful part starts when we start to think what is being sold on the market. I think it is a dead Russian Doll, so someone deliberately kills the infinite pregnant creature, cuts it apart wash the guts out. During the washing smallest dolls are lost. We only can hope that they (the smallest) still can be alive somewhere (I think they are), and in the millions of years, they will grow significantly big to conquer the WORLD. If you ask me why they are made of wood, I will answer that trees are made of wood, but for some reason, you do not ask me why is it so...

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    $\begingroup$ Yep. It's dolls all the way down. $\endgroup$ – Willk Feb 2 at 18:51
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    $\begingroup$ It's Red Alert 2, but with dolls $\endgroup$ – Nahshon paz Feb 3 at 13:05
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The OP's growth assumption is incorrect.

There are two types of Russian Doll.

  1. Top growers The top growers expand their top halves while the lower halves remain the same size.
  2. Bottom growers

The bottom growers expand their lower halves while the upper halves remain the same size.

When the top half of Top Grower expands too large it pops off and joins the equivalent lower half from the Bottom Grower to form a hybrid doll. They continue to do the same until they reach a maximum size, after which they stop growing completely and die when split

Occasionally a Russian Doll can develop a type of cancer where they continue to grow uncontrollably. There is a theory that the Earth and Moon are remnants of an ancient dinosaur Russian Doll that outgrew gravitational forces, leaving the Moon as a Top Half and our world as a Bottom Half.

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Two-stage reproduction: In the first stage, the Doll "bulbs" into two (or occasionally more) mirrored/symmetrical copies, like a daffodil or an onion does.

It is this second form which is fertilised from an outside source, and then grows a new first-stage Doll inside it, eventually cracking open around the middle.

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Wicker Dolls

Russian dolls actually reproduce by consuming the ashes of burnt animals and/or people. Biomass in this form is reconstituted into another doll, which the parent doll then splits open to disgorge.

The exported Russian dolls you see are actually produced by small isolated Slavic pagan communities residing in extremely remote areas. These communities are the only ones that know the secret of the nesting doll, as they possess and watch over the really big "brood mother" dolls. These dolls are unique in that they are capable of reproducing multiple times unlike their "children".

On May Day every year, the pagan villagers young and old gather around maypoles to dance, sing, copulate and otherwise celebrate fertility in their own ways. They conclude the festivities with a special ceremony which all attend in symbolic costume and make up. A virgin sacrifice is tied to a stake, doused with oil and placed within the brood mother doll. The sacrifice is then lit afire, the mother doll closed and sealed as the community sing songs of praise to Mother Nature. This they believe will ensure the climate will always be favourable and the harvest always good.

Several days later, the villagers then return to find within the matriarch doll the smaller ones we foreigners are familiar with

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Your theory is correct and they do become extinct, but Geppetto builds more in his secret bio-woodshop-laboratory. Along with the good fairy to bring the dolls to life, they cornered the market and made billions.

Accidents such as the discarded-wooden-parts-wanting-to-become-a-real-child incident were covered by the government and became folk tales.

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Fertile dolls have noses which grow when detached, feeding on the discarded outer shell. Most farm dolls have the nose neutered away to save on resources and control the overall doll count of each ranch.

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    $\begingroup$ I have no idea which question you are answering. $\endgroup$ – Mr Lister Feb 1 at 8:18
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    $\begingroup$ Me neither, but I love it. $\endgroup$ – Zimano Feb 1 at 15:40
  • $\begingroup$ Now I think about it, this is the most plausible answer so far. I think some details are missing but I can see how it would work. P.S. I assume that by 'neutering away', you mean that the outer doll has its nose somehow cauterised to prevent it reproducing and that this will cause it to put all of its resources into growing. (?) Maybe some more detail would be helpful. $\endgroup$ – chasly from UK Feb 2 at 9:39
  • $\begingroup$ Yes chasly that's exactly what I meant. $\endgroup$ – Guest Feb 2 at 9:57
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    $\begingroup$ This would explain why the dolls don't have sticking-out noses when on sale. $\endgroup$ – chasly from UK Feb 2 at 16:25
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Each layer is actually two organisms

The top halves and bottom halves of the dolls are the species' equivalent for male and female organisms; when they join together they remain together until the child is formed, protecting and feeding it internally.

Matrioshkas always produce children in male-female pairs; siblings can be identified because the colors and designs (formed partially through genetic influence but also through prenatal conditions) line up. In the wild, this serves to prevent inbreeding; Matryoshkas instinctively avoid combining with partners whose pattern lines up with their own, but when humans kill them for sale they generally discard the outer parent, keeping only the nested siblings. It is not uncommon, however, for prenatal Matrioshkas to mate with their siblings prior to birth; and if the outer parent has enough food multiple generations of Matrioshkas can form inside a single body. However this means that the further in one goes, the more inbred the Matrioshkas tend to be, which is why birth defects are not uncommon in the smaller layers.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is highly plausible. There are mites that mate before birth, Adactylidium, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adactylidium $\endgroup$ – chasly from UK Feb 6 at 9:18
  • $\begingroup$ I'm glad I scrolled all the way down. I like this even better than the top answer. $\endgroup$ – Wildcard Feb 6 at 20:08
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My theory would mean that the population could only stay the same or decrease. In fact accidents would mean that the population would decrease until the species became extinct.

Your theory is mistaken. In fact if it were not for the harsh Russian winter and predation by humans, a single Russian Doll "stem mother" or fundatrix could produce billions of descendants in one season, all of which would be clones of herself. Their ability to give birth by parthenogenesis means that population can increase exponentially without the need for the presence of male Russian Dolls. To this already formidable capacity to breed must be added the strange phenomenon of "telescoping of generations": Russian Doll nymphs can be born pregnant with an embryo that is itself pregnant.

Fortunately for humanity this Doll population explosion is limited by environmental factors (and according to some observers, voracious cannibalism). The coming of winter both kills off much of the swarm and induces hormonal changes in the surviving Dolls, causing a new generation to be born that contains both males and females. The males are genetically identical to their mothers apart from having one fewer sex chromosomes. Both the males and females of this generation are of the rarely seen sexual type of Russian Doll. Like aphids, mayflies and many other insects, the sexual forms die soon after mating. Their corpses can be recognised by the lack of any mouthparts in their colourful "painted" carapaces, and of course the presence of the sexual organs. Their shed shells fetch high prices in the more specialised type of souvenir shop.

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I was under the impression that the outermost doll was the mother and that the inner dolls were children of varying sizes. The split halves of the dolls are an evolutionary trait that allowed mothers to protect their children, guaranteeing a higher survival rate to adulthood. Alternatively, the mother can sacrifice herself to predators by ejecting the offspring so that they can flee. In this case, the second doll becomes the new mother. Otherwise, offspring move out once they are mature enough. Nesting dolls are, by default, hollow, but we are used to seeing them layered, and empty nesting dolls are mistaken for a different species.

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Their reproduction cycle includes a symbiotic/parasitic/viral phase

Just like a Terran virus (a virion, actually), they can transfer their "DNA/RNA" (their "building plan") into an organism which then becomes a host. This host, of suitable, then produces new Russian Dolls. Naturally, of all the infected organisms, many are dead-end or intermediate hosts, which do not reproduce Russian Dolls.

Just like Terran aphids, they pursue more than a single reproductive strategy ("born pregnant").

Surprisingly, several Russian Dolls can simultaneously infect the same host, leading to a fusion of different "building plans" to produce, through meiosis, offspring which is potentially genetically diverse from the parent virions.

Naturally, mutation also increases genetic diversity of the Russian Doll population.

Some hosts actually have a symbiotic relationship with the Russian Doll species. Their infection stays at a level where the life of the host is not threatened, but allows the host to actually make a living by selling newly spawned Russian Dolls. As Monty Wild observed, Russian Dolls have evolved to be pleasant to the host of predilection species.

Surprisingly, there actually is a Terran species whose viral reproductive phase is exactly like that of the Russian Doll: the Матрёшка ("Matryoshka Doll").

The Матрёшка, which also evolved to pleasant to the host species (the so-called homo sapiens), infects hosts optically. The "building plan" is injected into the host's brain through optical pathways ("eyes"), and possibly causes Матрёшка reproduction, if the host is suitable. The suitability of a host seems to correlate with its woodworking skills. Mutation and meiosis are also at work here, increasing genetic diversity and supporting Матрёшка evolution.

Матрёшка are also born pregnant.

Sources:

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I always believed that the dolls you can buy are all dead (presumably killed by the ruthless doll farmers and poachers). The ones in the wild are soft and cuddly, but when they die, their skins harden into something similar to wood. When discovered by humans, make-up is applied to make them more aesthetically pleasing.

As for reproduction, my belief is that the inner most doll is a newly formed one. It grows up somewhat hollow, and eventually grows a new doll inside itself (a little like a tree forms a bud, which turns into a flower or fruit or whatever). As the (now) innermost doll baby grows, it stretches all the other dolls outside it and they get bigger and bigger. However, the outer-most doll is the oldest, and it cannot withstand the stretching forever, and eventually splits around the middle (which kills it) and it falls off, leaving the next largest to be the outermost doll. Somewhat sadly for the dolls, they only see daylight when they're 'next in line' to die.

Edit: As for propagation of the species and avoiding dying out... How about twins? Every once in a while, two buds form in the centre, and gradually form dolls around them both. As the outer layers age, eventually the 'single' layers break off, revealing two (now separate) dolls.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for your answer. I'm not sure how this explains them not dying out. $\endgroup$ – chasly from UK Feb 8 at 18:24
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I point you to the common aphid. They are known to reproduce asexually. In fact, they are all female. Sex just gets in the way of creating more aphids. That's why an infestation happens so quickly. And much like tribbles they are born pregnant. In fact, they have granddaughters developing inside their unborn daughters all the way down like Russian dolls.

However, when food becomes scarce in the fall this triggers the birth of males, and then they produce sexually and lay eggs.

Russian dolls do much the same, at some point in the season, the inner most dull is a Male, but it cracks open immeadiately releasing spores into the wind for fertilizing russian doll eggs, likewise at the end of the season the dolls that end their chain with a female, cracks open revealing a clutch of eggs to survive the harsh russian winter. The Male spores land on and fertilize the egg clutches, and thus there is a genesis of more Russian dolls.

The russian dolls that are smart and strong enough to survive to the breeding season guarantee that the breeding population is the most fit of the other russian dolls.

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