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(This article is part of a series on realistic and interesting aliens)
The Davlash are a species that evolved an ability that boosts the effectiveness of evolution itself: They can consciously activate and deactivate parts of their genes. All genes in their DNA are available to them and can be saved and loaded, kind of like computer programs (very poorly written, completely undocumented computer programs).
This makes the Davlash an incredibly diverse species, since they have the ability to modify their genotype at will, leading to arbitrarily different phenotypes as well. For example, if a tribe of Davlash migrates and reaches the sea, they may simply activate genes for growing fins and gills in order to become aquatic.
The Davlash reproduce asexually. They have the ability to exchange genes with other Davlash, even while they are still alive.
It takes some time for changes to their genes to take effect, and changing genes is by no means simple, because genetics is complicated. The same genes that cause them to grow fins might also weaken their arms muscles, or increase their risk of cancer, or cause any number of seemingly random side effects.
Collecting genes, as well as experimenting with and cataloguing all the myriad effects of each gene, and combination of genes, is very important for the Davlash. They also have an ability that allows them to create new genes by splicing existing ones or by inducing random changes. Practicing scientifically well-founded eugenics on themselves is as natural to them as breathing.
This combination of abilities means that evolution gives very different incentives to the Davlash than it does to animals that reproduce sexually:
As an individual's genetic makeup changes over time, a Davlash may die as a totally different being than it was born as.
This concerns the set of genes that are active and determine its phenotypes, the set of genes the individual has access to (which can be acquired by interacting with other Davlash or through own experimentation), and its understanding of which genes have which effects.
In harsh times, Davlash will focus on survival and reproduction. In times of plenty, they use their excess energy to experiment with their genes, hoping to discover new useful phenotypes.
All Davlash will spread useful genes around to other Davlash, who in turn will adopt any useful genes. This happens out of evolutionary self-interest from both parties: Adopting useful genes makes you more likely to survive, while giving your genes away causes the others around you to be more genetically similar to yourself.
Individuals will often undergo pilgrimages to distant lands in order to spread their genes and to acquire any useful genes discovered by the natives. In this way, useful genes spread rapidly throughout the entire planet.
Because their genetic expression is under their conscious control, they do not experience any genetic divergence over time. They do not split into families or tribes, nor do they give preferential treatment to close relatives. The evolutionary reason for treating your relatives better than strangers simply does not apply when those strangers are likely to quite literally become as close as family once you have exchanged genes with each other.
Because of their ability to load different genes to adapt to changing circumstances, they are able to cover virtually all ecological niches. All other animals on their home planet were driven into extinction by the Davlash, who were able to outcompete all of them by adapting to their respective ecological niches. All animals on their home planet are therefore technically the same species, including the plants.
However, many Davlash are simple, dumb beasts. They have to be, since some ecological niches can be filled more effectively by creatures that don't waste energy on large brains.
Davlash culture recognizes these creatures as being the same species as them, but does not consider them important. This is because Davlash discover new genes mostly through conscious experimentation and the small brains of these creatures mean that they are unlikely to discover any useful genes to share, so they are not worth interacting with very much.
Group Selection is a contentious theory for most species. The evolutionary pressure between groups is often weaker than the evolutionary pressure between individuals within a group. As a result, group selection is not a very powerful force.
Due to the nature of Davlash reproduction and the fact that genetically inferior Davlash will usually just copy the genes of their genetically superior group members, the balance of evolutionary pressures is vastly different among Davlash. Group selection is a powerful force, especially among sapient Davlash.
This is strengthened even more by the fact that the Davlash developed a strong understanding of evolution only a short time after gaining sapience. They both understand and deeply care about group selection and have deliberately designed their culture to encourage genes that are of benefit to the group and to shun selfish genes.
Davlash will sometimes kill and eat each other when phenotypical differences are great, e.g. if one individual is specialized for photosynthesis while another is specialized for grazing (the first might basically look like a plant and the second like a cow, but they are still actually the same species).
However, this is not a frequent occurrence: As mentioned above, group selection is strong among Davlash. A peaceful genetic loadout using photosynthesis to feed is more efficient for the group as a whole, and since they all share genes that matters more than individual reproductive success.
For comparison, imagine a meeting between two groups, one of which is composed of hunters, the other of grazers. The latter will be more numerous due to less infighting and a stronger focus on growth. At the same time, their weapons are no less deadly than those of the predators. Real-life prey animals on earth don't evolve weapons because evolution works in little steps and having a weak weapon doesn't help against dedicated predators. Davlash however can just load the genes for a weapon when they notice there are predators in the area.
The result is that peaceful genetic assimilation is the norm among sapient Davlash. Only non-sapient Davlash are routinely eaten as food, simply because they are not smart enough to consciously participate in the deliberate exchange of genes. A Davlash killing another Davlash without eating it is virtually unheard of, since there simply is no evolutionary incentive for such an act.
There are hyperspecialized Davlash that are essentially enormous brains and living biology laboratories. They do nothing but experiment to create new genes and to analyze and understand the interactions between existing genes.
More normal Davlash will often trade resources with these specialized Davlash in exchange for access to their improved genes.
Over the millenia, these Davlash have made great progress, and due to these individuals the Davlash as a whole have excellent genes for virtually every situation.
Truth-in-advertising about the effects of your genes is extremely important in Davlash society. Lying about the phenotypes caused by the genes you give to others, or about their genetic fitness as a whole, is the Davlash equivalent to rape.
While the Davlash can easily swap out and replace bad genes, they first need to recognize them as such and so any gene that falsely advertises itself, or that causes its host to falsely advertise any other gene, is effectively like a virus and poses a danger to the entire species.
On the galactic stage, the Davlash are an odd outlier.
They possess virtually no civilization at all, because they never developed a need for hierarchy and organization. Their home planet has long been conquered by another species, and many Davlash have been enslaved or are used as food stock. Surprisingly, they do not mind this at all.
The Davlash are not able to integrate the genes of other other species that are too different, but that only makes them perceive those genes are more valuable. They like being surrounded by other species, in the vain hopes that one day they will be able to integrate those vast amounts of untapped genetic potential into themselves.
Due to their odd nature, they possess no racial or familial loyalty and have no sense of organization, nor do they have a drive to conquer and dominate like more aggressive species do. Peaceful assimilation always worked much better for them, after all.
Davlash can be found all over the galaxy, integrated into the societies of many other species. If someone declared war on their species, they would just be confused, because they do not even view their species as a unified entity in any way.
The Davlash have odd values, although of course from their point of view everyone else is odd. They do not care about being enslaved. From their point of view, being a slave in a slave-owning society means filling an important ecological niche, and that makes it fine. In extreme cases, some species have been known to breed Davlash as food stock. Upon realizing this, the Davlash involved deliberately redesigned their own genes to become more delicious, correctly reasoning that this would cause them to become a popular delicacy and would make the other species deliberately export them to other planets and mass-breed them for food. While this idea is horrifying to humans, to a Davlash that is pretty much the definition of evolutionary success.
However, the one thing that you must never do when interacting with Davlash is to espouse your superiority or otherwise lie about the quality of your genes. The Davlah do not care about being eaten so longas their genes are being spread. But if you insinuate that you are superior to them just because you have enslaved them, then that is an insult to the quality of their genes. They will meekly allow themselves to be eaten by a brutal slave driver, but the moment that slave driver claims he is better than them they will rise up as one and kill him.
If the Davlash were at all motivated to organize themselves and fight back against everyone else who is exploiting them, they would conquer the galaxy in a heartbeat. Their vast array of abilities and incredible adaptability would make them very dangerous. All those Davlash that are being bred as foodstock and have optimized themselves for deliciousness still carry all the genes of their ancestors and could adapt themselves to become dangerous predators in a matter of days.
As it is, they are an afterthought in galactic politics. They are fine with that though, since seeking dominance is not one of their drives, and the idea of killing other species disgusts them. After all, that would mean that their genes are permanently lost. As far as they are concerned, they are doing perfectly fine, and if the other species think that being able to enslave and eat them is a sign of their superiority, then those species are simply delusional.