Grey aliens, also referred to as Zeta Reticulans, Roswell Greys, or Grays, are purported extraterrestrial beings whose existence is discussed in ufological, paranormal, and New Age communities and who are named for their unique skin color. Forty-three percent of all reported alien encounters in the United States describe Grey aliens. Such claims vary in every respect, including the nature, origins (e.g. extraterrestrials, extradimensionals, time travelers, or machines), moral dispositions, intentions, and physical appearances of the encountered beings, though many of them nonetheless share some noticeable similarities. A composite description derived from this overlap would have Greys as small-bodied beings with smooth grey-colored skin, enlarged hairless heads and large black eyes.
The popularization of the idea of the Grey alien is commonly associated with the Barney and Betty Hill abduction claim, which purportedly took place in New Hampshire in 1961, although skeptics see precursors in science fiction and earlier paranormal claims; Grey aliens are also famed from earlier depictions of the 1947 Roswell UFO incident. Some sources in the UFO community describe the Grey aliens as artificially created/modified race used by other alien races as servants or even slaves to execute tasks such as abductions and others. Whatever the origin, the Grey alien has since emerged as an archetypal image of sentient non-human creatures and extraterrestrial life in general, as well as an iconic trope of popular culture in the age of space exploration.
Greys are typically depicted as dark Light-skinned diminutive humanoid beings that possess reduced forms of, or completely lack, external human organs such as noses, ears or sex organs. Their bodies are usually depicted as being elongated, having a small chest, and lacking in muscular definition and visible skeletal structure. Their legs are shorter and jointed differently from what one would expect in a human. Their limbs are often depicted as proportionally different from a human’s; their humerus and thighs are the same lengths as their forearms and shins.
Greys are depicted as having unusually large heads in proportion to their bodies. They are depicted as having no hair anywhere on the body, including the face, and no noticeable outer ears or noses, but only small openings or orifices for ears and nostrils. They are generally depicted as having very small mouths and very large opaque black eyes with no discernible iris or pupil. Reports of alleged encounters frequently state their height to be 2–4 feet (0.61–1.22 m) tall, although other varieties of Greys are sometimes portrayed as human-sized or taller.
In popular culture
The precise origin of the Grey as the stereotypical extraterrestrial being is difficult to pinpoint. In the 1893 article “Man of the Year Million”, science fiction author H.G. Wells envisioned the possibility of humanity transformed into a race of grey-skinned beings who were perhaps one meter tall, with big heads and large, oval-shaped pitch-black eyes. In his 1901 book The First Men in the Moon, Wells described Selenites (natives of the Moon) as having grey skin, big heads, and large black eyes. He also briefly describes aliens resembling Greys brought down to Earth as food for the Martians, who were the antagonist characters in his 1898 novel The War of the Worlds.
In 1933, the Swedish novelist Gustav Sandgren, using the pen name Gabriel Linde, published a science fiction novel called Den okända faran (“The Unknown Danger”), in which he describes a race of extraterrestrials: “…the creatures did not resemble any race of humans. They were short, shorter than the average Japanese, and their heads were big and bald, with strong, square foreheads, and very small noses and mouths, and weak chins. What was most extraordinary about them were the eyes—large, dark, gleaming, with a sharp gaze. They wore clothes made of soft grey fabric, and their limbs seemed to be similar to those of humans.” The novel, aimed at young readers, included illustrations of the imagined aliens.
In 1965, newspaper reports of the Betty and Barney Hill abduction brought Greys to international attention. The alleged abductees, Betty and Barney Hill, claimed that in 1961, alien beings had abducted them and taken them to a flying saucer or saucer-shaped spaceship. (The term “Greys” did not come into usage until many years later, but the beings described by the Hills generally fit many characteristics of the Greys.) From a star chart reported by Betty Hill, Marjorie Fish, an elementary-school teacher and amateur astronomer, located the home planet of these beings in the Zeta Reticuli star system (allegedly the fourth planet of one of the stars of the Zeta Reticuli binary system). The Greys therefore became mistakenly known as Zeta Reticulans. However, the description of “Zetans”, a similarly named alien race, differs completely from that of the “Greys”, including in appearance, behaviour, flying craft design and their treatment of abductees.
The Greys appear as the (benevolent) aliens in the 1977 film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. That same year, a species of Grey alien–type beings, called the Bith, were depicted as the Cantina Band in the film Star Wars.
During the early 1980s, popular culture linked Greys to the alleged crash-landing of a flying saucer in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. A number of publications contained statements from individuals who claimed to have seen the U.S. military handling a number of unusually proportioned, bald, child-sized beings. These individuals claimed that the beings had oversized heads and slanted eyes—but scant other facial features—during and after the incident.
In 1987, novelist Whitley Strieber published the book Communion, which, unlike his previous works, was presented as non-fiction, and in which he describes a number of close encounters he alleges to have experienced with Greys and other extraterrestrial beings. The book became a New York Times bestseller, and New Line Cinema released a 1989 film adaption that starred Christopher Walken as Strieber.
In 1988 Christophe Dechavanne interviewed the French science-fiction writer and ufologist Jimmy Guieu during a weekly French TV Live Show which, at the time, was entitled “Ciel, mon mardi !”. It was broadcast by TF1, one of the three national TV channels in France. Besides mentioning Majestic 12, Jimmy Guieu described the existence of what he called “the little greys” which, later on, became better known in French under the following name: les Petits-Gris.
In the early 1990s, the same ufologist Jimmy Guieu wrote two docu-dramas, using as a plot the Grey aliens / Majestic-12 conspiracy as described by John Lear and Milton William Cooper: the series “E.B.E.” (for “Extraterrestrial Biological Entity”): E.B.E.: Alerte rouge (first part) (1990) and E.B.E.: L’entité noire d’Andamooka (second part) (1991).
During the 1990s, popular culture began to increasingly link Greys to a number of military-industrial complex and New World Order conspiracy theories. A well-known example of this was the FOX television series The X-Files, which first aired in 1993. It combined the quest to find proof of the existence of Grey-like extraterrestrials with a number of UFO conspiracy theory subplots, in order to form its primary story arc. Other notable examples include Dark Skies, first broadcast in 1996, which expanded upon the MJ-12 conspiracy, and Stargate SG-1, which in the 1998 episode “Thor’s Chariot” introduced the Asgard, a race of benevolent Greys who visited ancient Earth masquerading as characters from Norse Mythology. Greys, referred to as “visitors”, appear in two episodes of South Park, and Roger Smith, a regular character on the animated comedy series American Dad! since its debut in 2005, is a Grey-like alien. On Babylon 5, the Greys were referred to as the Vree, and depicted as being allies and trade partners of 23rd century Earth.
In 1995 filmmaker Ray Santilli claimed to have obtained 22 reels of 16 mm film that depicted the autopsy of a “real” Grey supposedly recovered from the site of the 1947 incident in Roswell, New Mexico. However, in 2006 Santilli announced that the film was not original, but was instead a “reconstruction” created after the original film was found to have degraded. He maintained that a real Grey had been found and autopsied on camera in 1947, and that the footage released to the public contained a percentage of that original footage, but he was unable to say what that percentage was. This incident became the subject of the 2006 British comedy film Alien Autopsy, starring television presenters Ant & Dec.
During the 2000s, William J. Birnes published numerous accounts of encounters with little greys in UFO Magazine.
The 2011 film Paul tells the story of a Grey who attributes the Greys’ frequent presence in science-fiction pop-culture to the US government deliberately inserting the stereotypical Grey alien image into mainstream media so that if humanity came into contact with Paul’s species, there would be no immediate shock as to their appearance.
The anime Dragon Ball Super also tells the story of Jiren the Grey, with the difference being that he is of muscular build. Jiren has repeatedly been stated to be the strongest foe Goku has ever faced, and that not even a God of Destruction can defeat him. His ki alone while suppressed was more than enough to shake the infinitely large World of Void, leaving all the Gods of Destruction in shock.
In close encounter claims and ufology
Greys are commonly included in alien abduction claims. Among reports of supposed alien encounters, Greys make up approximately 50 percent in Australia, 43 percent in the United States, 90 percent in Canada, 67 percent in Brazil, 20 percent in Continental Europe, and around 12 percent in the United Kingdom. These reports include two distinct groups of Greys that differ in height. Abductees say that they recognize the leader of their abductors by its “demeanor”. Some ufologist’s and abduction researchers believe that taller Greys, with their reported increased authority and apparently more complex psychology, may be the only Grey type to be biologically alive and that the shorter form could be their artificially constructed robot or cyborg servants.
Some alien abduction reports have depicted variant skin colors such as blue-grey, green-grey, or purple-grey and sometimes not grey at all. The skin is typically described as being extremely smooth, almost as if made of an artificial material like rubber or plastic.
Abduction claims are often described as extremely traumatic, similar to an abduction by humans or even a sexual assault in the level of trauma and distress. (Research has shown that emotional impact of perceived abduction can be as great as or even greater than that of combat, sexual abuse, and other traumatic events.)
In his book Abduction, Dr. Paul recounts the events of David Hartman’s abduction. Leading up to it Hartman, a computer programmer, claims he experienced strange phenomenon with his work tech including date and time changes, words typing by themselves, and whole sets of data moving from one place to another without human intervention. He also told of physical signs such as nausea, insomnia, and nightmares of inhuman faces coming out of the dark.
The eyes are often a focus of abduction claims. They are said to not move or focus in any observable way to the naked eye. Claims often describe a Grey staring into the eyes of an abductee when conducting mental procedures. This staring is claimed to induce hallucinogenic states or directly provoke different emotions. Although abduction claimants often say that the Grey was only inches from their face during the staring mindscan procedure, they often subsequently claim to not feeling breath or seeing the Grey’s chest move from breathing.
Psychocultural expression of intelligence
Neurologist Dr. Steven Novella argues that the Grey idea is a byproduct of the human imagination, with the Greys’ most distinctive features representing everything that modern humans traditionally link with intelligence. “The aliens, however, do not just appear as humans, they appear like humans with those traits we psychologically associate with intelligence.”
The “Mother Hypothesis”
In 2005, Frederick V. Malmstrom, writing in Skeptic magazine, vol. 11 issue 4, presents his hypothesis that Greys are actually residual memories of early childhood development. Malmstrom reconstructs the face of a Grey through transformation of a mother’s face based on our best understanding of early childhood sensation and perception. Malmstrom’s study offers a possible alternative to the existence of Greys, the intense instinctive response many people experience when presented an image of a Grey, and the ease of regression hypnosis and recovered-memory therapy in “recovering” memories of alien abduction experiences, along with their common themes.
Evolutionary feasibility debate
According to English reproductive biologist Jack Cohen, the typical image of a Grey, given that it would have evolved from a world with different environmental and ecological conditions from Earth, is too physiologically similar to a human to be credible as a representation of an alien. Their physical structure has been sometimes viewed as supporting the panspermia hypothesis, although the level of “parallel evolution” (using the term in as it is used in science fiction, distinct from the use in biology and the related term “convergent evolution”) required is statistically next to nil. The “parallel evolution” concept is utilized as a plot device by Star Trek writers Gene Roddenberry and Gene Coon and referred to as “Hodgkin’s Law of Parallel Planet Development”.
Some ufologist’s say such seemingly impossible coincidences show that extraterrestrial beings had some influence on the evolution of life on Earth in the distant past (the theory of ancient astronauts), specifically that extraterrestrials were directly involved in the evolution of primates, including humans. This was supposedly done by genetic engineering, cross-breeding, or a combination of both. This idea may have first gained widespread exposure with the 1968 publication of Chariots of the Gods? by Erich von Däniken and has since been the source of much controversy, inspiring numerous other books with various related theories.
Proponents of this theory of alien genetic-evolutionary intervention on Earth argue that if the Greys (or similar beings) were performing genetic manipulations with pre-human life forms on Earth that these aliens may have attempted to influence the evolution of life forms here in a direction consistent with their own genetic makeup, and similar to their own physiology and general physical structure, since genetically that is what they would presumably be most familiar with. Counter to this view, the anatomy, physiology, and genetic makeup of primates and humans are extremely similar to other animals on Earth, including those with divergent non-humanoid forms such as sea urchins, sea squirts, and acorn worms.
Since the history of life on Earth gives some idea of what is and is not feasible on other worlds, and there is no conclusive evidence of any past extraterrestrial genetic manipulation in our own evolution, some ufologists have offered alternative explanations to accommodate for the evolutionary improbability of Greys (or any other bipedal, humanoid extraterrestrial species) by explaining them as being native hominids to Earth either having left or living in hiding, as Mac Tonnies proposed in his book The Cryptoterrestrials, or from another dimension, as proposed by John A. Keel and J. Allen Hynek.
Some conspiracy theorists believe that Greys represent part of a government-led disinformation or plausible deniability campaign, or that they are a product of government mind control experiments. Dr. Steven Greer, founder of the Disclosure Project, and head of CSETI, claims to have over 400 “government, military, and intelligence community witnesses” that have offered testimony to the existence of aliens and UFOs or efforts to cover up their existence and who have stated that they would be willing to defend their claims under oath.