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This short story concerns an alien creature of some kind that is slowly feeding on the surface of its home planet. It must stay "in its lane" so to speak because others of its species feeds on either side of it. It encounters something in its path which turns out to be a probe from somewhere. The creature can't go around (due to the feeding rules) it so it attempts to go OVER it and ends up inside and is amazed to find itself immersed in "liquid food" (a formula culture provided to sustain any alien samples collected). It suddenly reproduces, even though the alien concedes it was not the right time to do so. AND the food bolsters its intelligence. It argues with its spawn, explaining that "they" must get to the planet's surface. One does but the other does not! Any ideas?

marked as duplicate by Organic Marble, Rand al'Thor May 9 '18 at 19:15

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This is J. F. Bone's "On the Fourth Planet". It's based on an early NASA probe concept called Project Gulliver. The probe shot out sticky strings and reeled them back into nutrient-filled analysis chambers. The story describes the Martians encountering such a probe.

"It was the edge of a huge metal disc fifty raads in diameter. And that wasn't the end of it. Three thick columns of metal extended upwards...."

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This story was also offered up as an answer to the following questions.

Looking for the title/author of story about snail-like creatures (accepted answer)

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