The Horta is a silicon-based life form from the Star Trek episode “Devil in the Dark.” The Horta lived Janus VI, tunneling through rock for nourishment. The Horta lifecycle included all but one Horta dying off every 50,000 years. The remaining Horta protected thousands of Horta eggs in the Vault of Tomorrow in the Chamber of the Ages.

All was going along according to the 50,000 year lifecycle until the miners of Janus VI discovered the Chamber of the Ages and unknowingly destroyed thousands of eggs. The Horta responded by protecting its nest, killed over 50 miners and one Red Shirt, and stole the nuclear reactor pump for the station. Without the pump to prevent the station from going critical, the invasive species of humans would be forced to abandon the planet.

Would the Endangered Species Act protect the Horta, provided the Federation had a similar law? Would Starfleet have to create a Horta habitat for the species to recover?

The Endangered Species Act was passed to protect species that are “endangered” or “threatened.” A species is “endangered” if it is “in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.” 16 U.S. CODE § 1532(6). A species is “threatened” if it is “likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.” Id. § 1532(20); Conservation Force, Inc. v. Jewell, 733 F.3d 1200, 1202 (D.C. Cir. 2013). A species is considered “endangered” because of “natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence.” 16 USCS § 1533(a)(1)(E).

RedShirt_Horta

Chief Engineer Vanderberg’s miners killed thousands of Horta gestating in eggs. Furthermore, only one adult Horta was left alive to raise the soon-to-hatch Horta. The manmade mining operations placed the entire Horta race “in danger of extinction throughout all” of its range.

Protecting eggs of threatened or endangered species has been done many times under Federal and State law, from fish to sea turtles. See, State v. Davis (Fla. 1990) 556 So.2d 1104) and Beatty v. Fish & Wildlife Comm’n (2015) 185 Wn.App. 426. It is only logical that the law would also protect Horta eggs to prevent the extinction of the species.

The fact only one adult Horta was left alive highlights the danger to the survival of the species. The equivalent Federation agency to Fish and Game could determine that the fact there was only one “Mother” to the species, and that thousands of eggs had already been destroyed, that the Horta was indeed definitely endangered. Granted, the time listed as an endangered species might be for only until the young hatchling Horta mature.

One of the highlights of this episode is the miners go from a pitchfork wielding mob wanting revenge, to the horrified realization of “Oh Dear God, we killed thousands of them.” Neither the Horta nor the humans showed any ill will to each other after communications had been made, thus finding a way to coexist in mutually beneficial cooperation. The episode represents the best qualities of Star Trek where “new life and civilizations” come together in peace after a rough start.

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Josh Gilliland
Josh Gilliland is a California attorney who focuses his practice on eDiscovery. Josh is the co-creator of The Legal Geeks, which has made the ABA Journal Top Blawg 100 Blawg for 2013 to 2016, and was nominated for Best Podcast for the 2015 Geekie Awards. Josh has presented at legal conferences and comic book conventions across the United States. He also ties a mean bow tie.