Grey alien

Grey aliens, also referred to as Zeta Reticulans, Roswell Greys, or Grays are purported extraterrestrial beings. According to journalist C. D. B. Bryan, seventy-three percent of all reported alien encounters in the United States describe Grey aliens, a significantly higher proportion than other countries.[1]:68 Such claims vary widely, but typically Greys are described as being human-like with small bodies with smooth grey-colored skin; enlarged, hairless heads; and large black eyes. The Barney and Betty Hill abduction claim, which purportedly took place in New Hampshire in 1961, popularized Grey aliens.[2][3] There are precursor figures described in science fiction and similar descriptions appeared in early accounts of the 1948 Aztec UFO Hoax and later accounts of the 1947 Roswell UFO incident.

Grey alien
Illustration of an archetypal Grey alien.
GroupingAlleged extraterrestrial or being of other origin.
Similar entitiesReptilian humanoid, Little green men
First attested
  • (in fiction) Meda: A Tale of the Future by Kenneth Folingsby (1891).
  • Entered folklore with the Barney and Betty Hill abduction case (1961).
Other name(s)Zeta Reticulian, Roswell Grey, Roswell Alien, Grays.
DetailsHumanoid with small body, grey skin; large head and eyes; small nose and lips.

The Grey alien has emerged as an archetypal image of an intelligent non-human creature 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 grey-skinned diminutive humanoid beings that possess reduced forms of, or completely lack, external human body parts such as noses, ears or sex organs.[4] Their bodies are usually depicted as being elongated, having a small chest, and lacking in muscular definition and visible skeletal structure. Their legs are depicted as being shorter and jointed differently from humans with limbs proportionally different from a human.[4]

Greys are depicted as having unusually large heads in proportion to their bodies with no hair on the body, and no noticeable outer ears or noses, sometimes with small openings or orifices for ears, nostrils, and mouths. In drawings, Greys are almost always shown with very large opaque black eyes. They are frequently described as shorter than average adult humans.[5]

Association with Zeta Reticuli

The association between grey aliens and Zeta Reticuli originated with the interpretation of a map drawn by Betty Hill by a schoolteacher named Marjorie Fish sometime in 1969.[6]

Betty Hill had, under hypnosis, claimed to have been shown a map which displayed the aliens' home system and nearby stars.[7] Upon learning of this, Fish attempted to create a model from a drawing produced by Hill, eventually determining that the stars marked as the aliens' home were Zeta Reticuli.[6]


The origins of the grey alien may go back to the late 19th century. In 1891, the novel Meda: A Tale of the Future was published by Kenneth Folingsby, in which the narrator encountered small, grey-skinned aliens with balloon-shaped heads. In 1893, H. G. Wells presented a description of humanity's future appearance in the article The Man of the Year Million, describing humans as having no mouths, noses or hair, and with large heads. In 1895, Wells also depicted both the Morlocks and the Eloi – successor species to humanity – in very similar terms, in the novel The Time Machine.[8]

"...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."

Gustav Sandgren, The Unknown Danger (1933)

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 who wore clothes made of soft grey fabric and were short, with big bald heads, and large, dark, gleaming eyes. The novel, aimed at young readers, included illustrations of the imagined aliens. This description would become the template upon which the popular image of grey aliens is based.[8]

The conception remained a niche subject, until 1965, when newspaper reports of the Betty and Barney Hill abduction made the archetype famous.[7] The alleged abductees, Betty and Barney Hill, claimed that in 1961, humanoid alien beings with grayish skin had abducted them and taken them to a flying saucer.[9][10][7]

In his 1990 article "Entirely Unpredisposed," Martin Kottmeyer suggested that Barney's memories revealed under hypnosis might have been influenced by an episode of the science fiction television show The Outer Limits titled "The Bellero Shield" which was broadcast twelve days before Barney's first hypnotic session. The episode featured an extraterrestrial with large eyes who says, "In all the universes, in all the unities beyond the universes, all who have eyes have eyes that speak." The report from the regression featured a scenario that was in some respects similar to the television show. In part, Kottmeyer wrote:

Wraparound eyes are an extreme rarity in science fiction films. I know of only one instance. They appeared on the alien of an episode of an old TV series The Outer Limits entitled "The Bellero Shield." A person familiar with Barney's sketch in "The Interrupted Journey" and the sketch done in collaboration with the artist David Baker will find a "frisson" of "déjà vu" creeping up his spine when seeing this episode. The resemblance is much abetted by an absence of ears, hair, and nose on both aliens. Could it be by chance? Consider this: Barney first described and drew the wraparound eyes during the hypnosis session dated 22 February 1964. "The Bellero Shield" was first broadcast on 10 February 1964. Only twelve days separate the two instances. If the identification is admitted, the commonness of wraparound eyes in the abduction literature falls to cultural forces.

Martin Kottmeyer, Entirely Unpredisposed: The Cultural Background of UFO Reports[11]

Carl Sagan would echo Kottmeyer's suspicions in his 1997 book, The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.[7]

Depictions of grey aliens would go on to appear in a number of films and television shows, such as the benevolent aliens in the 1977 film Close Encounters of the Third Kind.[12]


A Grey as popularized from the cover of Communion, by Whitley Strieber. The portrait was painted by Ted Seth Jacobs to Strieber's description and approval.

During the early 1980s, Greys were linked 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, during and after the incident, that the beings had oversized heads and slanted eyes—but scant other distinguishable facial features.[13]

In 1987, novelist Whitley Strieber published the book Communion, which, unlike his previous works, was categorized 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 name: les Petits-Gris.[14]

In the early 1990s, the same ufologist Jimmy Guieu wrote two docu-dramas, using as a plot the Grey aliens / Majestic-12 conspiracy theory 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).

1992–present day

During the 1990s, popular culture began to increasingly link Greys to a number of military-industrial complex and New World Order conspiracy theories.[15] A well-known example of this occurring as a form of entertainment 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 the X-COM video game franchise (where they are called "Sectoids"), 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.[16]

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.[17][18] 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.[19]

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.[20]


In close encounter claims and ufology

Greys are often involved in alien abduction claims. Among reports of alien encounters, Greys make up approximately 50 percent in Australia, 73 percent in the United States, 48 percent in Continental Europe, and around 12 percent in the United Kingdom.[1]:68 These reports include two distinct groups of Greys that differ in height.[1]:74[4]

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 the emotional impact of perceived abductions can be as great as that of combat, sexual abuse, and other traumatic events.[21]

The eyes are often a focus of abduction claims. Claims often describe a Grey staring into the eyes of an abductee when conducting mental procedures.[4] This staring is claimed to induce hallucinogenic states or directly provoke different emotions.[22]

Psychocultural expression of intelligence

Neurologist Steven Novella proposes that Grey aliens are 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."[23]

The "Mother Hypothesis"

In 2005, Frederick V. Malmstrom, writing in Skeptic magazine, vol. 11 issue 4, presents his idea 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 another alternative to the existence of Greys, the intense instinctive response many people experience when presented an image of a Grey, and the act of regression hypnosis and recovered-memory therapy in "recovering" memories of alien abduction experiences, along with their common themes.[24] It has also be proposed that the "Greys" are actually distorted memories of traumatic experiences, faded with time, especially according to studies by Malmstrom and similar researchers. "It's easier to imagine being abducted by alien creatures than to face the traumatic memories of being bullied by peers or assaulted by an aggressive man."

Evolutionary implausibility

According to biologist Jack Cohen, the typical image of a Grey, assuming 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.[25]

Conspiracy theories

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.[26]

See also


  1. Bryan, C. D. B. (1995). Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind: Alien Abduction, UFOs, and the Conference at M.I.T. (First ed.). NY, US: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. ISBN 978-0-679-42975-3. OCLC 32390030 via Internet Archive. This work is based on the author's experience of a five-day UFO conference at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  2. Fox, Margalit (23 October 2004). "Betty Hill, 85, Figure in Alien Abduction Case, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 April 2021. Mrs. Hill was not the first person to tell of an alien encounter. But her account was the first to capture the public imagination on a grand scale, defining a narrative subgenre that has flourished in the decades since. ... They recounted many times that a group of short gray-skinned beings stopped their car and took them aboard a waiting spaceship.
  3. Lambie, Ryan (10 November 2010). "9 Alien Abduction Movies That Changed The Genre". Den of Geek. Retrieved 16 April 2021. Ever since the case of US couple Betty and Barney Hill became widely publicised in the mid-60s, hundreds of people have come forward with similar claims of extraterrestrial abduction, missing time, strange medical examinations and grey-skinned extraterrestrials.
  4. Jacobs, David M. "Aliens and Hybrids." In: Pritchard, Andrea & Pritchard, David E. & Mack, John E. & Kasey, Pam & Yapp, Claudia. Alien Discussions: Proceedings of the Abduction Study Conference. Cambridge: North Cambridge Press. Pp. 86–90. ISBN 9780964491700
  5. Smith, Toby (2000). Little Grey Men. USA: University of New Mexico Press. p. 110. ISBN 9780826321213. Retrieved 25 April 2021. ...three and a half feet tall, had large slanting eyes, diminished noses, spindly bodies, long arms and webbed fingers.
  6. Dickinson, Terence. "The Zeta Reticuli (or Ridiculi) Incident". Astronomy Magazine. Kalmbach Media. Retrieved 25 April 2021.
  7. Sagan, Carl (1997). The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. Ballentine Books. p. 102. ISBN 0-345-40946-9. The Hill case was widely discussed. It was made into a 1975 TV movie that introduced the idea that short, gray alien abductors are among us into the psyches of millions of people.
  8. Levy, Michael M.; Mendlesohn, Farah (22 March 2019). Aliens in Popular Culture. ABC-CLIO. pp. 135–137. ISBN 978-1-4408-3833-0.
  9. Spraggett, Allen (10 January 1972). "The Unexplained (column)". York, Pennsylvania: York Daily Record. p. 22. Retrieved 24 April 2021. Betty and Barney Hill claimed to have been taken aboard a flying saucer for two hours by 'humanoids' with grayish skin and wrap-around eyes, subjected to physical examinations, and then released unharmed with the suggestion that they would remember nothing of what had transpired. ... 'The humanoids were about five feet tall,' Betty Hill told me when I asked what they looked like. 'They had gray, metallic-looking skin. No noses, just nostrils. And their mouths were only slits. The eyes extended right around to the sides of their heads.'
  10. Chatenever, Rick (19 January 1978). "Betty Hill Recounts 'The UFO Incident'". Santa Cruz, California: Santa Cruz Sentinel. p. 14. Retrieved 24 April 2021. She describes the beings as 'about four and a half feet tall, humanlike in body appearance, with large eyes, small noses and no lips, ears or facial hair.' They had thin slits for mouths, she goes on, and their skin had a gray tone to it.
  11. Kottmeyer, Martin (January 1990). "Entirely Unpredisposed: The Cultural Background of UFO Reports". Magonia Magazine. Archived from the original on January 2000. Retrieved 5 March 2021.
  12. Kallen, Stuart A. (August 2011). The Search for Extraterrestrial Life. Capstone. pp. 53–. ISBN 978-1-60152-382-2.
  13. Berlitz, Charles; Moore, William (1980). The Roswell Incident (1st ed.). Grosset & Dunlap. ISBN 0-448-21199-8.
  14. Guieu, Jimmy; Dechavanne, Christophe (1988). "Les E.T. et les contactés". Ciel mon mardi ! (in French). Paris, France: TF1. Retrieved 15 January 2013. L'émission se déroule dans le contexte de l'époque, en 1998. Si, aujourd'hui, parler de conspirations et d'OVNI, du MJ-12, des "Petits-Gris" et de bases souterraines ou même d'incriminer la famille Bush semble (relativement) familier, l'enregistrement de cette séquence se déroule en 1988, soit bien avant Internet et même bien avant " X-Files ", l'affaire de la créature de Roswell, etc. Avec ces déclarations de Jimmy Guieu lors de la diffusion en direct de cette émission "Ciel, mon mardi!" par la chaîne de télévision TF1 avec Christophe Dechavanne comme animateur, c'était la toute première fois que le grand public français – voire européen – entendait parler de ce dossier. Jimmy Guieu emploie d'ailleurs le terme "Little Greys" pour désigner les "Petits-Gris" qui, par la suite, deviendront rapidement plus connus sous l'appellation de " Short Greys ".
  15. "Grey Aliens Bite The Dust". Retrieved 30 December 2016.
  16. Christy Marx (6 July 1994). "Grail". Babylon 5.
  17. Wingfield, George (1995). "The 'Roswell' Film Footage". Flying Saucer Review. 20 (2).
  18. Alien Autopsy: (Fact or Fiction?) at IMDb
  19. Eamonn Investigates: Alien Autopsy, British Sky Broadcasting. First shown on Sky One, April 4, 2006.
  20. Simon Pegg; Nick Frost (14 February 2011). Paul.
  21. 1. McNally RJ, Lasko NB, Clancy SA, Macklin ML, Pitman RK, Orr SP. Psychophysiological Responding During Script-Driven Imagery in People Reporting Abduction by Space Aliens. Psychological Science. 2004;15(7):493-497. doi:10.1111/j.0956-7976.2004.00707.x
  22. Jacobs, David M. "Subsequent Procedures." In: Pritchard, Andrea & Pritchard, David E. & Mack, John E. & Kasey, Pam & Yapp, Claudia. Alien Discussions: Proceedings of the Abduction Study Conference. Cambridge: North Cambridge Press. pp. 64–68.
  23. Novella, Dr. Steven (October 2000). "UFOs: The Psychocultural Hypothesis". The New England Skeptical Society. Archived from the original on 15 September 2010. Retrieved 2 February 2010.
  24. Malmstrom, Frederick (2005). "Close Encounters of the Facial Kind: Are UFO Alien Faces an Inborn Facial Recognition Template?". Skeptic. The Skeptics Society. Retrieved 18 September 2008.
  25. Jack Cohen; Ian Stewart (2002). Evolving the Alien. Ebury Press. ISBN 978-0-09-187927-3.
  26. Peter Knight (2003). Conspiracy Theories in American History: An Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. pp. 880–. ISBN 978-1-57607-812-9.
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