The Tyranids, also known as the Great Devourer or Nids, are a parasitic and powerful alien life form from the Warhammer 40,000 or 40k franchise. Together with the Forces of Chaos (both human and demon), the Dark Eldar, Necrons and Orks, they are regarded as one of (if not the) most villainous factions throughout the entire 40k lore.

Out of all the Imperium of Man's countless enemies, it is said that the Tyranids are the most alien. They travel across the void of space in great fleets, eating almost everything in their path. United under the indomitable will of the Hive Mind, the exact origin and ultimate goal of the their species remains a mystery. All that is known, is that they can't be intimidated nor reasoned with. All they seek is the continual expansion of their own species.

The Tyranids are one of the playable factions from the popular tabletop-game but have also featured across other sources of media. They feature as prominent antagonists in several Warhammer 40k books. They made their video game debut in Dawn of War II as the stories over-arching antagonists. The Tyranids subsequently returned as a playable faction in Dawn of War Retribution. In the latter game, the Hive Mind was voiced by Lani Minella.

Origins

Out of all the species present within the Warhammer 40k setting, the Tyranids represent an enigma. In contrast to all of the other factions they are not endemic to the galaxy. They are an invasive species, encroachers that are emerging from beyond the galaxies border in great swarms. Travelling across the stars in a series living vessels, which combine to form Hive Fleets, they appear from any direction and can attack from anywhere. No two fleets are ever identical, utilizing different strategies and bringing with it new monstrosities to fight against.

As a result nobody can say for certain where the Tyranids came from, how long their species has existed or what caused them to come about. Are they a naturally evolved creature? Were they the final product of some insidious God or scientific mind? Is this their first incursion into the galaxy? Are they fleeing in the wake of some greater threat? These are just some of the many hypotheses and questions that are unlikely to ever be unanswered. What can be said with absolute certainty is that the servants of the Hive Mind have no name for themselves or their Hive Fleets. These are provided by their enemies. Their species keeps no records of their history or accomplishments, and their true name (if they even have one) has long been forgotten.

According to Imperial records, the Tyranids original appeared along the galaxies eastern fringes in the late 41st millennium. The first true engagement between the Children of the Emperor and the Great Devourer occurred upon the great Ocean World of Tyran. By the time help arrived, the planets garrison, inhabitants and native fauna had all been destroyed. The planet had been stripped bare, leaving no trace of life, a fate shared by many other planets in close proximity. From the few surviving recordings, the Imperial Inquisition realised that they had a new enemy at hand. Such was the significance of what had happened that the Inquistor at hand, Kryptman, named the new species the Tyranids.

The fleet that destroyed Tyran was later dubbed Hive Fleet Behemoth. It continued its advance directly towards the center of the galaxy, consuming all worlds in its path, as one great united fleet. Fortunately for the inhabitants of the galaxy, Behemoth was defeated, albeit barely, by the efforts of the Ultramarines Chapter of the Space Marines at the Battle of Macragge. Despite this, tendrils of the fleet survived and the Ultramarines suffered devastating losses.

Following this defeat, it was believed that the Tyranid threat had been eliminated. It turned out to be a false hope. Decades later, the Tyranids returned in the form of a new Hive Fleet called Kraken which, instead of throwing one mass of troops against the Imperium, split into countless smaller fleets. Each small fleet enveloped whole star systems before reinforcements could arrive. The brunt of this new attack was borne by the Space Marine Chapters Scythes of the Emperor and the Lamenters; with the former Chapter being almost completely destroyed. Though the backbone of the Hive Fleet was broken by its defeats at Ichar IV & at the Eldar Craftworld Iyanden, just like Behemoth, Kraken survived. The damage wrought upon the Imperium and Eldar's forces was great, leaving the victory a very hollow one.

Once again, though the respite would be short lived. Almost immediately after Kraken's defeat, the largest Tyranid Fleet to date began its assault upon the galaxy. Hive Fleet Leviathan unexpectedly appeared from "below" the plane of the galaxy (in a 3D sense, on the Z axis) and attacked from two points, cutting off large portions of the galaxy from reinforcements. Just as it seemed the defenses of Segmentum Solar would be tested, the Tyranids were distracted by a powerful Ork empire through the intervention of Inquistor Kryptman. While the Orks are managing to stall the main Tyranid Hive Fleet's advance, they are likely to reemerge from these battles, victorious and stronger than ever after having absorbed potent Orkoid genetic material into their own genome pool.

What are Tyranids?

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Collectively the Tyranid "species", is a space-faring ecosystem that collectively forms a monstrous super-organism which travels across the universe in Hive Fleets, systematically consuming all other bio-matter to enable its own rapid evolution and reproduction. All Tyranid organisms are synaptic (psychically-reactive), and each Tyranid creature within a Hive Fleet shares in a communal Hive Mind, granting the ability for trillions of beings to communicate and organize instantaneously on a staggering scale.

The mentality of the Tyranid approach to warfare can be described with the phrase "quantity has a quality all its own". From the "lowly" Ripper, to the deadliest Hive Tyrant and beyond, the signature of the Tyranid force is that they overwhelm their foes, reproducing massive numbers of highly virulent organisms in record time and travelling almost exclusively in large groups known as swarms that possess specialized bio-mechanical creatures for destroying and consuming a wide variety of prey life forms. Tyranids have evolved sophisticated methods for facilitating genetic transfer across species boundaries, and a significant element of any invasion is the goal of deliberately acquiring useful new biological traits at the discretion of the Hive Mind.


Description

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The Tyranids are actually an extragalactic species, born somewhere beyond the void that separates the galaxies of the Local Group. Tyranid Hive Fleets travel through space by using gigantic, organisms genetically engineered to travel through a vacuum known as Hive Ships, which move in groups which can be likened to very large locust swarms. Typically, Tyranid Hive Fleets move in various groups known as Tendrils, migrating to nearby inhabited planets after consuming all the biological and organic material on a recently invaded planet and breeding, often reproducing many times their original number.

Hive Fleets travel through the galaxy and presumably the intergalactic void through the use of sophisticated sensor node ships called Narvhals which allow the Hive Fleets to travel by manipulating the gravitationalc forces of distant stars to create a compressed-space transit corridor, however close proximity to stars and their overpowering gravitational forces makes this form of travel impossiple within a solar system and the tyranids are restricted to sub-light speeds. The current collection of Tyranid Hive Fleets have migrated to the Milky Way Galaxy, presumably after overpopulating or overfeeding in other nearby galaxies of the Local Group. Given that each Tyranid Hive Fleet has approached the Milky Way from a different direction, this may imply that the Tyranids have consumed a disturbingly large number of nearby galaxies.

Tyranid Hive Fleets consist of millions of biomechanical craft, each serving as host to an untold number of symbiotic organisms. These creatures evolve and spawn from a variety of geno-organisms in the ships' reproductive chambers. All these creatures are born to service the ship, and the ship in turn exists only to service the needs of the Hive Fleet.

Whereas other armies like those of the Imperium and the Tau fight for conquest or self-defense, and the forces of Chaos and the Ork clans battle merely for the chance to wreak violence and havoc, the Tyranid Hive Fleets are driven by the will of the Hive Mind, which itself is motivated by the ineradicable instincts inherent to all life forms - reproduction, and through reproduction and the acquisition of new genetic traits, evolution.

A fully mobilized Tyranid Hive Fleet strikes shock, awe, and terror into even the most stalwart of humanity's defenders. Even when the xenos threat is eliminated (at great cost), it will not be long before another Tyranid migration emerges to take advantage of the situation. This is what makes the Tyranid species such a threat: it is an evolved metapredator capable of out-producing, out-consuming, and out-lasting all other species it encounters, having done so on a disquietingly unknowable number of prior occasions across a vast swathe of intergalactic space.

The Organism

All Tyranids possess a common psychic bond, known as the Synapse. This bond enables the Tyranid swarms to think, perceive, and act as a single great organism, providing nearly seamless co-ordination and control within an invasionary force so numerous and extensive as to have been totally unwieldy otherwise.

From the smallest feeder organisms, to the microbes that decompose new biomass; from the sessile and rooted flora-like forms, to the huge tendril-like shoals of the Hive Fleets, every Tyranid organism has a place within the will of the Hive Mind. The lesser and smaller creatures are mindless and instinctive animals, plants and bacteria, performing functions with no conscious oversight or commitment, while larger and more complex creatures can make decisions appropriate to the situation and form an integral if minuscule part of the Hive Mind's distributed sentient awareness.

Synaptic Web

Functioning in perfect unison, coordinated by powerful psychic imperatives transmitted through the Tyranid communal sentience, Tyranid fleets, swarms, and broods do not have a singular command structure, but rather form a Synaptic web of psychic influence and feedback. Situated within this tangled web are specialised Synapse creatures whose brains function as psychic routers, buses, and hubs, co-ordinating and policing the riotous cacophony of the collective brain power of a mass organism that is sometimes larger than most planets.

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Without the localized control provided by these organisms, the swarm can quickly falter, and some Tyranid creatures may revert to seemingly animalistic behaviors, when individual volition and situational instincts come into conflict. Often swarms will subdivide into smaller packs of creatures still capable of consensual behavior among themselves.

The creatures that channel the commands of the Hive Mind are mostly, if not all, potent individual Psykers. How any of this is done without drawing countless of the daemons of Chaos or the other predatory entities of the Warp into the midst of the swarm is unknown and possibly unknowable.

Growing War Machines

The Tyranids do not build their starships and weapons from metal and plastic like the other intelligent races of the Milky Way Galaxy; instead, they use gene-splicing and bioengineering to grow them from the organic biomatter harvested from the planets they consume.

Every weapon, gland and projectile used in their armies is a bioengineered Tyranid organism in its own right, from the spores polluting the atmosphere, to the grotesque spires that burst from the tortured ground during an invasion.

Stages of Planetary Consumption

Generally, contact with the Tyranids occurs when a Hive Fleet invades a star system for the purpose of harvesting its inhabited worlds' biomass. A Hive Fleet contains an enormous number of Tyranids, and they are brought to bear against resistance in the most efficient manner possible. Below is a general outline of a typical Tyranid planetary assault (in particular, this data is collected from the Tyranid invasion of Dalki-Prime):

  • Day 01: Mycetic spores are dropped, mostly containing Lictors and Genestealers. As soon as they hit the ground, the reproduction of Tyranid creatures likely begins immediately.
  • Day 09: By now, the Tyranid infestation will have expanded to around 250 km around the drop point, and will likely present a significant threat to planetary defense force troopers and the resident Imperial Guard.
  • Day 13: Tyranids have expanded to 700 km from the drop point; some may begin infesting local water sources.
  • Day 37: Tyranids completely control the area within 2,000 km radius of the drop point and basolithic infestation has begun to reach a 5,000 km radius from the drop point of the first mycetic spores.
  • Day 48: Tyranid population growth becomes exponential, with population doubling approximately every 3 days.
  • Day 50: The main Hive Fleet arrives, with the number of Tyranid craft in the swarm generally numbering around 1.5 billion. All psychic contact with the planet through the Warp is cut off by the Warp shadow of the Hive Mind. Any attempts to escape are quickly stopped by the Hive Fleet. Any remaining surface life is eliminated by Gaunts.
  • Day 51: Primary consumption of planetary biomass begins (any sentient resistance has generally been eliminated by now). Brood ships land, releasing Ripper swarms, which consume all organic material (even the other Tyranids) and deposit it at the reclamation pools. Capillary towers (and the Brood ships) send the material into orbit for use by the Hive Fleet.
  • Day 80: Ripper swarms board the Brood ships and return to the Hive Fleet. The hive ships descend into the upper atmosphere and begin collecting it. Reduction in atmospheric pressure causes oceans to boil away, which are also collected so that their free water can beused by the fleet. The loss of ocean mass causes plate tectonic shifts, dramatically increasing volcanic activity across the victimized world. Upon completion, the Hive Fleet reenters the Warp, in search of fresh prey.
  • Day 100: The Imperial Navy arrives in response to the planet's original Astropathic distress call, only to find a destroyed, lifeless, uninhabitable planet.

Relations with the Other Factions

The Tyranids relationship with the other factions is best described as a case of predator and prey. To the Great Devourer, the inhabitants of the galaxy are nothing but food and obstacles to overcome. Their only true allies within this setting are the Genestealer Cults. Hidden and cultivated over many generations, the purpose of these genetically altered humans is to sow confusion and turmoil amongst the planets native populations in the wake of an invasion. This deviates vital resources, whilst keeping the planets population blind to the advancing Hive fleets, which makes the Tyranids victory all the more certain. Once all is said and done everything on the planet, including the cultists are consumed. The sole exception is the Ygmarl Genestealers, who for reasons unknown are neglected and abandoned by every Hive Fleet they encounter.

Meanwhile, the Tyranids reputation proceeds them. Human and xeno population's alike generally fear the children of the Hive Mind, probably due in part to the Tyranids absolute aggressiveness. Those that face the insectoids know that they must either completely destroy them or face extermination in turn. Historically, many extreme measures have been implemented in a desperate bid to either halt or at the very least delay the Hive Fleets advance.

The Imperium has been known to subject worlds in the midst of an invasion to exterminatus, rather than let its resources fall into the service of the Hive Mind. Indeed, Inquisitor Kryptman, the man who first alerted the Imperium to the Tyranid threat, once undertook a massive scorched earth campaign, subjecting numerous worlds to exterminatus. Despite the backlash, his plan managed to delay the Great Devourer's advance long enough for him to come up with an alternative solution. Capturing a squad of Genestealers, Kryptmans forces deliberately dropped them into a bountiful Ork Empire. In time this diverted the fleets attention away from the human colonies, to an even more bountiful food souce. This has given the Imperium valuable time to prepare for the inevitable counterattack from the victor.

Usually however, such resources and options are not available. In extreme situations such as these it is not unheard of for imperial, traitor and xeno forces alike to unify in face of a common enemy. No matter how short lived, are a further demonstration of the desperate lengths needed to combat the alien invaders. Tragically, few of these alliances are successful and most of the combatants do not live long enough to face reprimand.

Surprisingly however, there is one species that the Tyranids will try to avoid conflict with if possible; the Necrons. Both Imperial and Tau records have observed Hive Fleets deviating away from what later emerged to be active or inactive Tomb Worlds. It is not understood as to why this happens, but one hypothesis suggests that since the Necrons will phase out in the event of a defeat, they leave behind little for consumption. Since the Tyranids sole purpose is to consume matter, it would thus be detrimental rather than beneficial for any tyrannic fleet or splinter-fleet to attack a Tomb World.

In general, the Tyranids are considered to be one of, if not the greatest threat to the galaxies survival. The Children of the Hive Mind do not care about material gain or expanding their territory like the Imperial or Tau forces. They do not seek to preserve their ancestors legacy as the Eldar do or revive their genocidal dynasties like the Necrons. The Tyranids do not kill for sadistic pleasure as the Dark Eldar and some Chaos Forces do. Nor do they fight for fun like the Orks or reward like the other Chaos hosts. To put it simply, the Tyranids fight simply to survive, reproduce and evolve into stronger life-forms. For that reason they cannot be bought off, intimidated or negotiated with. The Great Devourer, lives simply to consume.

Tyranid Species

Tyranids appear in a multitude of genera, and all have an extremely rapid rate of evolution directed by the Hive Mind, adapting to threats in direct response to their presence. Tyranid matter is constantly reabsorbed into biomass reclamation pools to create new species and adapt existing ones to suit the Hive Mind's immediate purpose.

Hive Tyrants

Large and enormously strong Tyranids, who act as the leaders of the swarm and a synaptic conduit for the smaller creatures. They are highly psychic and highly mutable, and have a closer connection to the Hive Mind than most other genera of Tyranids. They are skilled at both close combat and ranged attack, more so than most other Tyranid organisms. Sometimes they are spawned with wings. Imperial Techno-Magi believe that Hive Tyrants are the repository of a Hive Fleet's collective consciousness, which means they completely embody the Hive Mind, yet their destruction does not in any way diminish its presence.

Broodlords

Another Tyranid synaptic organism, regarded as the epitome of the Genestealer breed. The Broodlord is one of the first Genestealers to make planetfall on a victim world. They are devastating in combat and are specifically adept at infiltration on the battlefield to get closer to the enemy. They are very adaptable and highly intelligent. Broodlords are also the center of Genestealer Cults, and they coordinate the cult's attacks. If the Broodlord is killed, then one of the purestrain Genestealers will eventually evolve into a new Broodlord after a period of time.

Tyrant Guard

A special species of Tyranid spawned in small broods for the sole purpose of defending the Hive Tyrant. They are large, tough, and difficult to harm, and it is nearly impossible to surpass their defense. Tyrant Guard are completely blind, utterly controlled by the synapse creatures they protect. On occasion Carnifex also benefit from the Tyrant Guard's protection. Tyrant Guard are believed by some Adeptus Mechanicus Magi to contain the DNA of the defeated Space Marine Chapters, but the Imperium considers this blasphemy and denies its very likely possibility.

Tyranid Warriors

Synaptic foot troops for the swarm. In between the size of a Hive Tyrant and a Gaunt, they serve as psychic resonators and assist in guiding the lesser Tyranid troops into battle. They are fast and powerful, with the capability to be strong at ranged combat or in close quarters in a similar fashion to the Hive Tyrant.

Lictors

Large, deadly organisms bred for their stealthy qualities. A Lictor is basically chameleonic in nature, allowing it to blend with its surroundings to hunt and later kill its prey. Lictors are usually only seen when the Tyranids are springing a deadly ambush onto an unsuspecting army, unleashing a bio-engineered killing machine within their own ranks. They range ahead of the swarms, performing commando raids of sorts, and gathering information by devouring their victim's brains. The Lictors possess stealth and cunning of an unprecedented scale - to a point where they can best the famous Catachan fighters in jungle combat. Many Imperial Guard commanders have lost their troops in the shadows as they blink for a second; that is the terrifying undetectable Lictor at work.

Gaunts

The basic staple combat unit of a Tyranid swarm. They are smaller and less physically powerful than most other Tyranid organisms, but they are extraordinarily adaptable and always attack in large numbers. They are a fully mutable species, and some are grown with extra wings, adrenaline/venom sacs, and even bizarre biomechanical weaponized symbiotes, including the dreaded spike rifle.

Gargoyles

Essentially a winged variants of the Gaunt genus. They possess many similar traits, including a smaller size and physical prowess than most Tyranid organisms. Gargoyles retain most of the physical traits of Gaunts, however, and their lower legs have atrophied to little more than stumps. Like their cousin, the Gaunt, they are capable of being armed with a large host of biomechanical, symbiotic weaponry.

Rippers

small, snake-like organisms designed to devour biomatter so that new DNA and nutrients can be absorbed by the Hive ships. They are released in the final stage of a Tyranid invasion.

Genestealers

Ferocious humanoid creatures, supposedly derived from human DNA, that are used as a vanguard to the Tyranid invasions of the Imperium. They infiltrate human societies, creating Genestealer Cults. They are also used as shock troops on the battlefield, where their sharp claws and instinctive close combat skills allow them to tear heavily armed opponents to shreds.

Carnifexes

Huge, hulking, living battering rams, armed with a variety of biomechanical, symbiotic weaponry. Even stronger than the Hive Tyrants, they are used for assaulting fortified positions and as armor formations, such as during boarding actions. Carnifexes are the Tyranid equivalent of tanks or Space Marine Dreadnoughts - and the monstrous creatures can be mutated into a multitude of different sub-species, some designed for tank hunting, others built to produce acid and toxins ideal for anti-infantry combat.

Raveners

Appear to be related to both Rippers and Tyranid Warriors. These large beasts are designed for fast assaults against lighter enemies, and dig through the ground to perform surprise raids.

Zoanthropes

A type of psychic artillery, whose highly evolved brains swell out of proportion with their bodies. Through their use of psychic powers they can perform a number of roles on the battlefield. Some evidence points to later incarnations of Zoanthropes being improved by the Hive Mind's assimilation of Eldar DNA following the Hive Fleet Kraken Tyranid assault on the Craftworld Iyanden.

Biovores

Sluggish, sessile creatures, whose only task is to grow and launch Spore Mines towards the enemy. The Spore Mines grow inside the Biovore's body, and are then hurled across the battlefield through a muscle spasm. Biovores are supposedly evolved from Orkish gene-stock.

Bio-Titans

Enormous organisms, evolved as a response to other races' Titans and other super-heavy warmachines. They are (as of yet) the largest land-based Tyranid creatures encountered. They range from nine to thirty feet tall, and can single-talonedly take out an entire squad of Space Marines.

Norn-Queens

Gargantuan organisms that are essentially biomechanical wombs that give birth to all of the other known Tyranid life forms. They can biochemically and genetically manipulate biomass in infinite ways to create new organisms to serve any function the Tyranid race requires. The Norn Queens are housed in huge rooms aboard the Hive Ships. Each room is hundreds of metres high, filled with a single Norn Queen.

Dominatrixes

The Norn-Queen's link to the Tyranid ground forces. They are huge monsters, almost as large as a Bio-Titan and the stronger, more psychically-powerful female Hive Tyrant. They are symbiotically fused with a smaller (Warrior-sized) entity which acts as a psychic, synaptic link to the linked Norn-Queen aboard her ship.

Trygons

Powerful serpentine organisms that tunnel behind enemy lines. Towering over even a Carnifex, Trygons are one of the most powerful Tyranids breeds in existence. Trygons can also become synapse creatures to control other Tyranids. Trygons can lead a force of Tyranids known as a 'Tunnel Swarm'. This swarm is usually comprised of Lictors and Hormagaunts. The armor of a Trygon vibrates as it moves, thus creating a bioelectric current which can be released at will on a group of foes.

Mawlocs

A subspecies of the Trygon. They are worm-like and blind, though they are incredibly agile despite their size. Their short claws are not suited for close combat, rather to tunnel efficiently under the battlefield, although they are by no means defenseless. They prefer to swallow their prey whole to be digested alive for several days. Despite being blind, the Mawloc can gather information of the surface through pressure waves since they can travel through solid and fluid objects below ground. When a Mawloc begins to home in on the enemy, severe tremors erupt on the surface, which can tell the Mawloc where its prey is with more accuracy. If the sound is regular and rhythmic, it is easier for the Mawloc to home in on. Even a heartbeat will tell it where its next meal is.

The Hive Guard

Tyranids charged with protecting Tyranid structures and are capable of unleashing salvo after salvo of intense firepower. Essentially gun-beasts, they are heavily armored in a shell-like carapace and have a body designed to be a stable firing platform for the massive impaler cannon bonded to their forelimbs. Physically linked to the shard-beasts that comprise the ammunition of their cannons, Hive Guard can target enemies with unerring accuracy - even those who they cannot see because they can receive sensory impressions from the shard bests in mid-flight.

Trivia

  • The Tyranids have no true counterpart in the Warhammer Fantasy or Age of Sigmar franchise branch. They are most similar to the Skaven, who like them breed in large numbers and will destroy anything in their path.
  • In some ways, the Tyranids can also be seen as the living counterpart to the Necrons. Both are innumerable and genocidal, able to strike from anywhere in the galaxy. Yet the Necrons are mechanical, trapped in a perpetual state of undeath, unable to develop or advance their culture. The Tyranids in contrast are always changing, using the knowledge from their defeated adversaries to create new life forms and develop new ways to overcome their enemies.
  • The Tyranids bear many similarities to the xenomorphs from the Aliens movie series, such as their hive mentality and the appearances of some of the creatures. They are also similar to Zerg species from StarCraft series.
  • Tyranids were first described in the first edition of Warhammer 40,000 (Rogue Trader), with their basic form not too different from today. Their only additional troop type was an enslaved race, the Zoat. At that time they were not an emphasized race in the 40,000 universe. In later editions they became a playable race in their own right, and it was revealed that the Genestealers (popularized in Space Hulk) were in fact part of the advance reconnaissance element of the Tyranid Hive Fleets.

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