To preface, this is a hypothetical alien creature unrelated to Earth life.

I want my aliens to have a mechanism similar to some caecilians, where upon giving birth, the mother grows a layer of nutrient dense skin specifically designed to be eaten by her offspring. The only difference is I want this kind of skin to only be on the abdomen and chest, and the species must be as intelligent as dolphins at the very least (but human intelligence is ideal). I'm concerned that the layer(s) of skin that grow would not be able to satisfy the caloric demand of growing a large brain and/or body.

Details about the species:

  • They give live birth
  • They are horse sized on average
  • They are facultative omnivores, but have a primarily herbivorous diet
  • They are herding animals and the young must know how to walk within the first week of birth
  • They occasionally practice communal parenting
  • The adult female to adult male ratio in a herd is 5 females to 1 male
  • A female will usually only birth one child, and the dominant male will try to impregnate any willing female in the herd (so you can end up with 1 male, 5 females, and 3 newborns in a herd, all with the same father)

Conditions for the question:

  • They can take a relatively long time to mature mentally (think about the inverse of human development; rapid body growth but slowed mental development). All that matters is they do reach intelligence at about the age a human would reach sexual maturity.

  • They can wean when what their mother can provide is not enough/when they have grown the teeth and gut biome needed to eat adult food (their planet has extremely defensive plant life, so plants are hard to break down), but what their mother provides should be enough to meet their developmental demands at first.

  • The males can nurse young if it is necessary for this scenario to be feasible.

  • $\begingroup$ The two concepts (choice of means for nourishing young, and maximum potential intelligence) are orthogonal. You could skin-nursing for milk-nursing, and reach the same endpoints for intelligence. $\endgroup$ – Jasper Aug 24 '19 at 0:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Jasper You don't think how fast skin regenerates will be a problem? I'm sure that skin itself is enough caloricly especially if it's mostly adipose tissue, but what is a way it could replenish quickly without causing scar tissue? The fastest healing tissue on a human seems to be the inner mouth lining, I just can't find a source about how fast it actually heals. $\endgroup$ – Tardigreat Aug 24 '19 at 3:40
  • $\begingroup$ You might want to ask a reality-check question about the regeneration issue. $\endgroup$ – Jasper Aug 24 '19 at 4:01
  • $\begingroup$ You might also want to ask your question in the sandbox, and refine the question before posting it on the main site. $\endgroup$ – Jasper Aug 24 '19 at 4:02

I see no problem with this. The key to developing a large brain via parental nurturing simply requires some means of the parent passing on nutrients to the child. The means by which these nutrients are passed on doesn't really matter.

Scarring will not be an issue. Humans scar because we don't maintain stem cells used for regrowing skin properly. Obviously an animal that evolved to grow extra skin and lose it will retain the cells necessary for regrowing that skin.

Milk seems to be a bit more efficient of a mechanism for passing on nutrients (since it's pure nutrients, with none of the extra stuff used to hold the cells together) but not to such a significant degree as to make this method non-viable. Plus, shedding skin is a good way of getting rid of ectoparasites (which is probably why amphibians do it) so this provides benefit to the parents as well.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.