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The Lorting are a very strange race. Not only are there multiple genders (the actual term for which is more like 'castes' or 'classes'), but when any member of their species is 'born' it is born at it's full size with exactly the same configuration and number of cells as its peers (similar to Tardigrades). All Lorting have incredibly similar genetic code, much closer than humans.

Some of the castes are capable of 'giving birth', and any other caste (including other breeding castes) can induce a pregnancy with the potential outcome in gender being determined by the combination of parents (in the same manner as some bacteria). Asexual or homosexual reproduction is not possible.

The castes of the Lorting capable of birthing may be smaller than the largest caste they need to give birth to, so rather than internal gestation or laying eggs they instead create a biological substrate onto which they 'print' (though it's actually far more complex than that) the child. This substrate is attached to a solid surface and can maintain the child for short periods while the parent feeds. Not only that but multiple Lorting can (if they've recently 'given birth' to the right caste) work on the same child as the substrate maintains their genetic integrity.

The question is what set of circumstances could possibly give such a species an evolutionary advantage leading to the selection of such strange and complex behaviour?

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  • $\begingroup$ Some parents are known to cannibalize it's young but in this case I suppose they would think twice about it! $\endgroup$ – user6760 Jan 18 '17 at 10:10
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Extremely hostile environments and scary predators.

Look at marsupials. They produce very very tiny offspring but keep them outside their body. The offspring remain in the pouch until they're capable of fending for themselves fairly well. If the food supply runs out or disaster strikes they simply abandon the offspring and cut their losses.

So, your species develop their young in some kind of a chrysalis external to themselves which they can connect to to nourish. That could be a more extreme version but not too crazy.

Make the environment extremely hostile with predators which can easily kill anything less than a full size adult so they need to come out full size.

Pregnant individuals would also suffer too much from being slowed down.

The chrysalis is placed somewhere remote/high/barren/hidden and multiple adults help feed it, perhaps family, perhaps other adults the parents have made deals with each other to feed it until grown and if predators find the chrysalis before it's grown they abandon it.

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  • $\begingroup$ "if predators find the chrysalis before it's grown they abandon it." I hadn't even thought about this as a potential advantage, but it makes perfect sense for a eusocial r strategic species. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Jan 18 '17 at 15:01
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If multiple of your creatures can work on the same "child" they could be faster at "giving birth". This could come in handy when you think about different seasons. Normally there is a certain time for animals to become pregnant, so that they and their offspring can survive the pregnancy and the first year. For example there has to be enough food.

The size is very strange... Maybe this way they can adapt their society to a fast changing environment, so that sometimes they need many large and strong individuals and sometimes they need a small number of little individuals. Again I am thinking about food.

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Very short life expectancy

It is possible that your creature's reproduction method has its root in evolutionary past during a far more dangerous time. Back when they were more primitive they tended to die at a rather young age, whether it was from a hostile environment, hostile/hungry predators to lack of food. As a result they needed to be fully capable of reproducing as soon as they were born, after all they might not live that long. Lastly, since they tended to die rather easily having multiple adults capable of working on growing a child is beneficial since it provided redundancy in case one of them dies.

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    $\begingroup$ This also provides a good secondary reason for why multiple castes are required and could influence the gender ratios. If the threat is environmental then every caste dies evenly, leading to an increase in the number of breeders, if the threat is predation then the breeders that are susceptible to that predator get picked off, leading to an increase in the right warrior caste needed to combat said predator. I like. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Jan 18 '17 at 13:31
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This is a fine scheme for a high SF concept. It is very close to what actually happens in several scenarios. There are 2 strategies for offspring: many offspring, each with a minimal investment of resources by parents (like barnacles or dandelions) or few offspring, each with a big investment, like humans or coconuts. For example of the latter consider collective breeding where the resources of many related animals are devoted to one or more offspring; mole rats, wolves, humans do that. Consider the maximal resource investiment: matriphagy scenarios where the hatchlings feed on the body of the mother. Scenarios like salmon where the entire generation of parents dies after laying eggs, their decaying bodies feeding the invertebrates that will feed the new generation.

Your described scenario is actually pretty close to that of social insects. Many closely related individuals belonging to several castes team up to raise the young. In the case of a young queen, more resources are necessary and it is very much the "imprinting" you describe: special food and attention produces a queen.

For your story this could be very cool: the human observers note the activity and efforts to raise new, extra large, extra resource intensive individuals. At the end they realize that these are the new queens, which means this species is entering the population expansion phase - possibly with consequences for the humans.

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