It’s Cooler in Italian

SG-1 S01E13 Spirits

This week, Stargate approaches Native Americans better than Star Trek, and we get important feedback on Goa’uld reproduction.

Listener Markus Kindly wrote in with this excellent information:

Let’s go through the evidence:
Goa’uld have “queens” which are the only ones to produce offspring.
Apophis (and I think a couple other system lords) have offspring but are not queens.
Martouf states that symbiotes (specifically within the Tok’ra) do not have gender.
The Tok’ra queen Egeria continued to produce offspring after centuries of isolation.

Goa’uld are NOT like bees. Mostly because they are made up by people with no regard for real biology (how dare they!). However, my completely made up sex determination system for the Goa’uld is inspired by Bees.

Sexual organisms use a couple different systems to encode sex into their offspring. Mammals use the XY system, where we have a bunch of “normal” chromosomes with two copies each (one from each parent) as well as one sex chromosome from each parent (X always from mom, X or Y from dad). Point is we always have two copies, which is why we are diploid (di = two, ploid = chromosomes).

Bees have a fun system because they have colonies with one reproducing queen and many, many non reproducing worker daughters as well as sons. What happens if a queen ends up on her own? How does she make a colony? Well, luckily they are haplodiploid (Haplo = half, di = 2, ploid = chromosomes) meaning they can either be diploid, with two copies, or haploid, with only one copy of each chromosome. All bee females are diploid, while all bee males are haploid. So.. if a queen is on her own and needs workers, she lays eggs. These eggs are unfertilized and thus have half her genome (haploid!!) so every egg is male. The sons can then mate with the queen. Now all her eggs are fertilized and make diploid, female worker bees. Suddenly you have a hive!

***My made up system to deal with SG-1’s writing is a mix between the mammalian XY and bee haplodiploid systems, where Goa’uld are either XX (fertile queens), XY (fertile males), or X (infertile gender-neutral). Mating between XX and XY produces more queens and fertile males, but non-mated queens can still produce infertile X’s to do her bidding.

***Goa’uld society appears to be highly segregated and servile with very, very few “High society” Goa’uld that may be the fertile individuals (XX queens and XY males). The rest of Goa’uld society is not so well off, with most of them juicing up millions of Jaffa or working for system lords with very little chance of vertical career growth. I think these are X (infertile, neutral) individuals that queens can produce without mating.

If we pretend to know anything about Goa’uld society before space travel, we can imagine a scenario where warring queens would lose their followers or be otherwise isolated. No big deal! With no fertile males around, she could quickly produce hundreds of infertile X offspring to build up her “colony” again.

***In the case of Egeria, after she fell out with Ra there was no way for her to get another willing XY mate to pass on her ideas through more fertile queens (XX) and males (XY), but what she could do is produce hundreds of infertile X Tok’ra to continue her work. Since every Tok’ra but Egeria is X, they are infertile and thus unable to continue the line.

One additional side note that I want to add for the pedants:
Queen bees really don’t mate with their own drones in order to make new colonies, but they technically could to start a new hive.

And one giant caveat:
The biology is real, the show isn’t. Therefore I’m automatically wrong and take liberties with the biology, but it’s a fun thing to think about.