Would you believe that one of the most iconic aliens in all of Star Trek is one that has only made a handful of appearances? Whether you’re a consummate congoer or only watch occasional reruns of Captain Kirk’s alien adventures, you’re probably familiar with tribbles, the cute little balls of fluff that nobody can resist (except the Klingons).
If you’re ready to learn more about these cutesy creatures and their surprise history both on- and offscreen, we’ve got enough info to satisfy even Commander Data’s prodigious curiosity.
The Behind-the-Scenes Origin Of The Tribbles
For as strange and silly as Star Trek’s tribbles look, the fuzzy mascots of Paramount’s flagship franchise are rooted very firmly in reality. David Gerrold (who wrote The Original Series episode “The Trouble With Tribbles,” which marked their first appearance) was inspired by the problems that rabbits caused in Australia thanks to their aggressive overpopulation and the tribbles Kirk and crew face cause major trouble thanks to their rampant reproduction.
The tribbles look nothing like rabbits, though, and that’s largely because Gerrold wanted something that could be cheaply transformed into a convincing alien prop.
Incidentally, Star Trek’s tribbles very nearly had a name that was much more on the nose: fuzzies. However, H. Beam Piper had written a novel just a few years prior to this episode’s airdate called Little Fuzzy, and Gerrold didn’t want any confusion or legal troubles.
Therefore, in the finest tradition of the franchise, he came up with a nonsense word that was both simple and memorable…and thus, the goofy-sounding tribbles had the name that would make them famous.
Weirdly enough, Star Trek might have faced legal issues with Starship Troopers author Robert Heinlein because the tribbles were a bit too much like his fictional Martian flatcats. Rather than purchasing the rights to the novel, Trek producer Gene Coon called Heinlein and got him to verbally waive away any potential legal challenges.
Heinlein did so because he thought the Tribbles would be a one-episode gag, but he regretted his decision when the franchise just kept bringing these cutesy critters back.
In The Original Series episode “The Trouble With Tribbles,” these creatures end up being the key that proved the so-called human Cyrano Jones was actually a genetically altered Klingon. In The Animated Series episode “More Tribbles, More Troubles,” Jones ends up creating giant tribbles (who were really more like that giant ball from Critters 2) that Dr. McCoy had to restore to normal.
In that same episode, we see that the Klingons hate Tribbles so much they bred a predator named the glommer to hunt the tiny creatures down, but this predator proved inept at his job.
David Gerrold (who wrote The Original Series episode “The Trouble With Tribbles,” which marked their first appearance) was inspired by the problems that rabbits caused in Australia thanks to their aggressive overpopulation.
To help celebrate Star Trek’s 30th anniversary, DS9’s episode “Trials and Tribble-ations” brought Captain Sisko and a disguised Jones back to the past, where Jones tried to blow Captain Kirk up by attaching a bomb to a tribble. Sisko and his crew foiled this plot, but the tribbles ended up making the trip into the 24th century, which is how DS9 was temporarily overrun with the purring creatures.
In many Star Trek movies and TV shows, tribbles are merely in the background as visual Easter eggs, though Picard took this further by showing a genetically modified tribble at Daystrom Institute that tried to attack Worf.
This prompted Riker to jokingly call it an “attack tribble,” but these tiny creatures have legitimate beef with the Klingons. The Klingon Empire sent warriors out to fight and kill these creatures across the galaxy and blew up the tribble homeworld sometime in the 23rd century.
In many Star Trek movies and TV shows, tribbles are merely in the background as visual Easter eggs…
Aside from the attack tribble and the occasional Easter egg, our last significant tribble appearance came from the Short Treks episode “The Trouble With Edward.” In this episode, idiotic science officer Edward Larkin tried to turn tribbles into a food source, going so far as splicing some of his own DNA into the creatures.
This splicing is alleged to be the reason that the tribbles breed so fast, and this speedy breeding eventually leads to the destruction of Larkin’s ship.
Even though fast-breeding tribbles had appeared canonically before this in the Enterprise episode “The Breach,” we long ago made our peace with the fact that Star Trek’s retcons have one major quality in common with the tribbles. As any Strange New Worlds fan can tell you, the retcons are reproducing faster than anyone could have predicted.