Bandersnatch (Known Space)

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The Bandersnatch (plural bandersnatchi) is a fictional alien species in Larry Niven's Known Space universe.[1] The species is named for Lewis Carroll's Bandersnatch.


Niven's first story to discuss the Bandersnatchi was World of Ptavvs, published in 1966.[2] That story relates the way that they were named as follows:

Winston Doheny, our biologist, took one look at these monsters and dubbed them frumious bandersnatch. This species name is now in the goddam log.

— World of Ptavvs, Larry Niven

Bandersnatchi are described as enormous herd animals, twice the size of an Apatosaurus with a slug-like shape and completely white, slick skin. A sauropod-like neck, with no head, extends about as high as the bandersnatch's body. The tip is thick and rounded, entirely featureless, other than two tufts of black bristles (sense organs). At the front of the body, low to the ground, is a large mouth adapted to scooping a form of mutated yeast out of shallow ocean-like yeast colonies.

Niven's works describe Bandersnatchi as one giant cell with long chromosomes as thick as a human finger, rendering them impervious to the mutagenitive effects of radiation and therefore unable to mutate.[3] As single cells, they reproduce asexually by budding. Their nerves have no cell body and no nuclei; nothing to separate them from other specialized protoplasm. The Bandersnatchi also have 6 large hearts, each weighing about 11 pounds. The brain is large, shaped long and narrow, and is encased in a bony cage. The skull is one end of this jointless, flexible, very strong cage that keeps them from ever shifting position.

In the Known Space universe, the Bandersnatchi were created by the Tnuctipun during the Thrintun empire (~1.5 billion BCE) as a food source with a nearly irresistible taste to the predatory Thrintun. As such, the Thrintun had no objection to their large size. While the Thrintun believed that the Bandersnatchi possessed no intelligence, they were actually sentient beings resistant to their telepathic mind control abilities[4] and were used by the Tnuctipun to spy on the Thrintun until a slave rebellion. This immunity to the Thrintun psychic abilities also allowed them to survive the mass-suicide command used at the end of the Tnuctipun-Thrintun war. However, because Bandersnatchi chromosomes are so thick and resilient that they never mutate, they therefore cannot evolve, and have remained biologically unchanged for the past two billion years.

Bandersnatchi are portrayed as surviving on the planet Jinx, with isolated populations also scattered throughout the galaxy, including the planet Beanstalk and the 'Maps of Jinx' in the Great Oceans of the Ringworld. On Jinx, Bandersnatchi allow themselves to be hunted in exchange for specialized tools and devices, such as mechanical 'arms' specifically designed for their massive bodies, along with keeping the Bandersnatchi population in check and providing the humans with something to fight. The Hunter's equipment is restricted by agreement to make things more equal; about 40% of the hunters do not return.

Along with Grogs and Dolphins, Bandersnatchi are described as a "Handicapped" (with a capital "H") race, in that they are sentient but do not possess any prehensile limbs.


  1. ^ John J. Pierce (1987), Great themes of science fiction: a study in imagination and evolution, Greenwood Press, ISBN 978-0-313-25456-7 
  2. ^ Larry Niven. "Known Space Bibliography". 
  3. ^ Niven, Larry (1968), "A Relic of the Empire", Neutron Star, New York: Ballantine Books, pp. 29–50 
  4. ^ Peter Nicholls (1978), Foundation, Gregg Press, p. 52, ISBN 978-0-8398-2442-8 

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