45

In the episode Elogium in Star Trek: Voyager, Kes, an Ocampa, enters into what we later find out is a false elogium, which is essentially like entering puberty. This happens once in a lifetime for Ocampa and if they are to mate, it must be within a limited time period after the elogium.

It's clearly stated the elogium happens once in a female Ocampa's lifetime and the talk and reference is to Kes deciding if she will have a child. There's no indication of her having multiple children, but just one. Even the episode Before and After still references one child, indicating this is a normal ocurrance.

Obviously female Ocampas would need to have at least two children in their lifetime just to replace each generation, assuming there are no accidental deaths. But these two episodes give us every reason to believe that the average number of children an Ocampa female can have is one per lifetime.

Is this addressed in any other episodes, or is it addressed any non-canon media? It'd be interesting to know how a species where the average number of offspring per female is one per lifetime can survive more than a few generations.


Note/Addition: Please note I ask if it's addressed on screen or in other media. I am not asking* if the writers made a mistake or if that was the need of the story. It's obvious that was the situation. I want to know if the poor math involved in this was ever addressed and that's what I asked.

  • 6
    well, we could just go with You Fail Biology Forever on behalf of the writers - but it would be interesting to see if there was even any attempt to retcon this - although, memory alpha gives no hint of this – HorusKol Jan 22 '12 at 8:01
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    Perhaps someone raised the question halfway through the writing process and they decided to intentionally leave the species' history and origins a mystery so they don't fail entirely! At least it's better than Paris becoming a lizard after traveling at Warp 10. – HNL Jan 22 '12 at 8:21
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    @HorusKol No, Memory Alpha sticks to canon (basically the TV shows). Memory Beta was created for everything else. – Izkata Jan 22 '12 at 15:38
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    @NHL - Paris was an amphibian - salamander like, NOT a reptile (lizard)!!! With such a knowledge of biology, I suspect you must be a Star Trek writer! :)))) – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jan 23 '12 at 1:35
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    @DVK Reminds me of the scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail with replaced characters - Paris: Janeway turned me into a newt! Crewman: A newt?! Paris: ... I got better. – CJ Dennis May 27 '15 at 11:24
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From Memory-alpha:

To explain how the Ocampan population could be maintained despite each female only giving birth once, the Star Trek: Myriad Universes novella "Places of Exile" (in Infinity's Prism) suggests that twin and triplet births are common among Ocampa. In the acknowledgments, author Christopher L. Bennett credits Bernd Schneider's Ex Astris Scientia website for the idea

Ex-astris Scientia website:

Female Ocampa may give birth to just one child in her life during her elogium or to none at all. If we assume that 50% of all new-born Ocampa are female, this would halve the population or reduce it even more with every generation. They would become extinct rapidly

As we know from before, here come the interesting bits:

A reason for the built-in reduction of the Ocampa species may lie in the ecological disaster that the Nacene had caused on their planet and that may have forced the Caretaker to keep the population in the underground city low.

So The author of the website suspects the same as @KyleJones however:

The Caretaker may have made unknown provisions or may clone more Ocampa when they are needed.

A more plausible explanation is that there could be a considerable natural surplus of women on Ocampa. With more than two thirds of all inhabitants being female and polygamy being culturally endorsed, the population could be maintained. But there is no hint for such a surplus of women, much less for polygamy. On the contrary, from Kes' accounts it seems much like the small families of three people usually stay together for what little time they have left together. Finally, unlike it was with Kes herself and her alternate-reality daughter in VOY: "Before and After", maybe multiples are very common on Ocampa. With twin births being the average, the population could be maintained, although once again there is no evidence to support the theory.

It's entirely possible, that Kes was different in her expected singlet birth either due to her physiological differences, or her circumstances. It may also explain the false elogium which would be wasted if she wasn't in the right 'situation' to sustain two or three kids.

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    But even with polygamy, there's still the problem that they only enter the elogium once in their lifetime, meaning females can only reproduce once. – Tango Jan 22 '12 at 17:08
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    You raise a good point... – AncientSwordRage Jan 22 '12 at 19:24
  • @TangoOversway I thnk the point that is being raised is that, if there were a surplus of men, they would be 'wasted'; the more skewed towards females, the male:female ratio is the more efficiently the race can keep the population going, i.e. decrease in numbers more slowly. – AncientSwordRage Nov 3 '12 at 20:15
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    If the ratio between male and female is approximately 1:1 each Ocampan female must produce more than 2 children during her lifetime to merely balance the population. More than 2 are needed because of Ocampans dying before having children, whether by accident, infertility, etc. Some insect species mate only once yet store the sperm and produce thousands of offspring almost continuously until they die. Perhaps Ocampans can get pregnant multiple times from mating once. Maybe Ocampan females can only ever have one child but the males can get pregnant too and have more than one? – CJ Dennis May 27 '15 at 11:32
12

You are right. Voyager-era Ocampans simply cannot sustain their population through natural reproduction only, even if they had occasional twins and triplets.

One possibility (Note: speculation)

Before the Caretaker's species (the Nacene) came along, the Ocampans' mental abilities were an integral part of their lives, which probably included reproduction and longevity. Under the care of the Caretaker, these abilities atrophied and were forgotten. Then it's only natural to assume that the Caretaker intervened in maintaining the population, perhaps by altering the physiology of Ocampan females to allow for more than one child, or by some other artificial means of fertilization and maturation.

Other possibilities:

  1. The Ocampan population has in fact been dwindling ever since the the Caretaker's arrival and would not last much longer.
  2. Ocampan biology has multi-generational cycles (which humans do not have) where every N generations the species undergoes some sort of metamorphosis resulting in a population surge.
  • perhaps by altering the physiology of Ocampan females to allow for more than one child - Not that one. If it were, then Kes wouldn't have spoken of "a child", since the Caretaker has been there for generations – Izkata Jan 22 '12 at 15:40
  • Perhaps the Caretaker gets around to the alteration post-elogium. But yes, given that Kes never spoke about such a thing, it seems rather unlikely. – HNL Jan 22 '12 at 15:51
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I have begun wondering about this myself in the last few days. I will point out, though, that the polygamy idea is unlikely. I remember during one episode (I've been watching through them recently), Neelix was acting quite jealous of Tom's attentions toward Kes, and she sought counsel from the Doctor. She told him something along the lines of, "Our people take a mate for life and there's no such thing as betrayal or jealousy." It really sounds to me like polygamy isn't part of their culture.

Hopefully we can find a better explanation, though. I'd hate to think that it was just a goof on the writer's part and they just hoped we wouldn't notice, LoL.

ETA: It was suggested on another website that perhaps Kes' daughter and grandson were single births partially due to the introduction of human DNA. I hadn't thought of that, myself, so that might explain things a bit more clearly. As for Kes herself, she may have just been the exception to the rule. She also had an uncle, which supports the "multiple births" theory. I'm thinking this is the best explanation I've heard so far.

3

The average birthrate per woman to sustain a species should be 2.1.

Given that some Ocampan woman would not have children, the ones that would have them would need to have even more children.

  • It is genetically possible that the percentage of women might be higher than the percentage of men (if males are XXXY and woman XXXX, 75% would be female)

  • Triplets or even quadruplets would need to be commonplace (not uncommon in many animal species)

  • Male Ocampa could be able to change gender (not uncommon in some amphibian species)

But my guess is:

Ocampa, when on their natural planet, could become much older, and their mental abilities could allow them to increase the number of fertile moments (plausible since one is activated in Kes by a psychogenic field). Perhaps the apocalypse of their natural world destroyed some natural environmental factors that allowed multiple pregnancies in the Ocampa population.

So my guess is, Ocampans had the factors to sustain themselves (so they could evolve) but now have no longer.

  • The Ocampa loosing their ability to sustaim themself is a quite interesting idea. May I ask where you get the factor of 2.1 from? I'd love to read something about this. – Marcus Bitzl Apr 28 '14 at 21:05
  • Your genetic argument only works if there are three woman and one man per mating, each giving one sex chromosome (unlikely: how would the three female gametes meet?). Otherwise, like in humans, gametes would be produced by splitting a genetically complete cell into two with exactly half of the chromosomes going into each gamete to ensure viability of the embryo, giving a 50/50 chance of Y. The only other way that could work would be if Ocampan women released three ova which merged with a single sperm to produce an embryo (unlikely, too complicated to occur in nature). – CJ Dennis May 27 '15 at 11:50
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Personally, I find the theory about the Ocampan women regularly bearing multiples the most plausible. Never, in my knowledge, is this denied in the series and although Kes and Linnis only have one child each, this may well be caused by the human DNA that plays a part in their pregnancies.

Another possibility is in my opinion that the Elogium lasts long enough for an Ocampan woman to have two or more children one after the other. If I remember correctly, in the episode Kes only explains how the Elogium is the only time (meaning period of time) when Ocampnas can get pregnant, not the only occasion (at least in the synchronization I watched). Assuming Ocampans already have found their mate when the Elogium begins (what's likely, considering Kes and Neelix have been together long before her premature Elogium) and just generally hurry and only carry the child for a short time, they could give birth to a child and then get pregnant again within the short duration of the Elogium.

My third theory (I repeat, just a theory) is that they can get impregnated simultaneously in more than one places. What I mean is that they could have several wombs on their backs, next to each other, which can, through repeating the mating process as it was described in the Elgium episode, all get fertilized so that Ocampans can control how many babies they carry at once, i.e. how big their bunch of multiples is.

  • Do you have anything solid or what would have been indicated, or are you only working with guesses? – Tango Jun 24 '16 at 3:20
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Life in a closed underground society under the Caretaker would have to include ruthless population control, otherwise the Ocampa would be living under hellish conditions due to overpopulation within a few years. Imagine unspayed domestic dogs living in an enclosed environment for a few decades and you'll get the general idea. So if the Ocampa birthrate were limited, it was likely artificially imposed out of necessity as a temporary measure by the Caretaker. Hopefully the Caretaker twiddled the Ocampa chromosomes back to normal before he died, otherwise the Ocampa must have soon followed him into oblivion.

  • You're not doing your math. If the average litter is one per mating, and each female can only mate once, then a generation of 32 Ocampa will produce 16 Ocampa for the next generation and the next will be 8, then 4, then 2, then one, which will be unable to reproduce. As I pointed out in my question you need an average of 2 offspring per female just to replace the current population. – Tango Jan 22 '12 at 16:52
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    Yes. Which means (and I should have written out) that the Caretaker was trying to get Ocampa numbers down by imposing a "one child" policy for a while. Too bad God died before flipping the genetic switch back to "be multiple and fruit." – Kyle Jones Jan 22 '12 at 17:37
  • Edited the answer to clarify. – Kyle Jones Jan 23 '12 at 5:58
1

There are some good answers here. I think we have to challenge the assumptions we make about procreation to answer this.

First, Tuvok mentions that it is equally likely that neelix and kes would have a girl as a boy. There is no indication that this is true between two ocampa, so one might hypothesize that on the ocampa home world a high percentage (.999 etc) of Ocampa are born female, and therefore there population would decrease only slightly. In the Caretaker episode on the home world we see roughly 19 Ocampa male and 14 Ocampa female (feel free to dispute the exact numbers, i did my best, but it is clear there are more males than females). This gives us a 95% confidence interval for the proportion of males to females of .263 to .601. This makes it extremely improbable that this solution will explain the population problem.

Based on the MLE, if the Ocampa started with 100 billion population, they would have died out within 30 generations if all the females had a single child.

Thus it seems that the most likely of the suggested explanations are that either the Ocampa males also bear children, or that the rate of multiple births might be significantly higher (this doesn't come up in any of the dialouge but I don't think it is expressly denied either).

0

The relationship described in the episode actually seems to suggest that the Ocampa must be mated in order to "ever have children." (My emphasis is on the plural used throughout) There's a hard mating system that occurs in several stages. It does not mean that they may only have one child in a lifetime, only that they must setup, mate and have a child during this puberty period.

The puberty period seems to enforce a mating period that provides for a several day relationship. 1 child would probably be produced in this relationship, but later children could be born after the initial child was born.

-1

The Caretaker, though, knew he was dying and may have been planning to let the Ocampans die out since he had supplied them with enough energy to exist for a certain number of years beyond his death. Does anyone know how many years the Ocampans might have lived beyond the Caretaker's death? Kes may not know of their prior ability to have more than one child in a lifetime. Just because she knew of their mental abilities, and a way to the surface, doesn't mean she knew everything.

  • Hey Trekpands, how do you know the caretaker was planning on letting the Ocampans die out? You're really asking for more information than answering the question. Have you read the faq? – AncientSwordRage May 4 '12 at 19:17
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    @Pureferret I would call that a misunderstanding of the Caretaker's goals. He was attempting some sort of clone/reproduction in VOY 1x01-02 due to being near the end of his life. But, he was failing at finding a compatible living being, and was increasing the amount of energy sent to the Ocampans until he died, at which point someone estimated they could last for about 5(?) years from the stored energy. – Izkata May 5 '12 at 2:15

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