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The Gonarch is the final phase of the lowly Headcrab's life-cycle.[1] It is encountered in a boss battle taking place in one of the last chapters of Half-Life, Gonarch's Lair. Only a single Gonarch is encountered by Gordon Freeman during the game.


Little is known about how and when the metamorphosis from Headcrab to Gonarch takes place, as few Headcrabs ever reach that stage.[1] The Gonarchs boast thick exoskeletons, powerful legs and a large sack dangling from their underbelly. Their exoskeletons hardness is strong enough to easily withstand massive amounts of projectile and explosive damage, taking even more explosive damage to kill than a Gargantua.

Headcrab baby

Baby Headcrab model.

The large bag of flesh which hangs from the creature, commonly referred to as its "sack", seems to be a reproductive housing. During the battle with Gordon, it releases undeveloped baby Headcrabs at a rapid rate with no apparent limit to the quantity of these, as long as there is an enemy to keep breeding them on. Small and soft-looking, these Baby Headcrabs are not very dangerous, but they can walk a bit faster than full-grown Headcrabs and are usually found in large groups.

Though not as dangerous as full-grown Headcrabs, Baby Headcrabs' rapid attack rate makes them a real pain at the moment of finishing them, not just for their continuous movement, but also for their small size (almost a third of a full grown Headcrab). While Gonarchs appear to be mindless breeding machines, they make loud, mournful-like sounds when a Baby Headcrab is killed. Gonarchs are known to make other noises as well. The most notable, when they are angry or injured, they will emit a loud cry, very similar to that of an Elephant.

Just as with Headcrabs, Gonarchs seem to have an apparent lack of sensory organs, which suggests that their movement is based on touch and sensing vibrations. During the attack on Gordon by the Gonarch known as "Big Momma", it never comes close to running off the edge of its platform. This suggests that Gonarchs may retain memories of their surroundings, or perhaps lay scent markers to warn themselves of obstacles or edges. Even without any apparent sensory organs, Big Momma manages to detect Gordon within seconds, further suggesting that perhaps vibrations and scents play a key role in a Gonarch's life (much like a spider which lays webbing and feels vibrations from the web to catch prey). While no Gonarch has been observed ingesting any material, it does not appear to have a mouth of any sort, which brings into question its diet and method of eating. It might be that the Headcrabs store nutrients during their life until their metamorphosis and then using them to reproduce and feed their offspring until it eventually dies of starvation.

Entering a Gonarch's lair results in an immediate attack, suggesting they are extremely protective of their territory and offspring. They attack by charging at their victim, then attempting to puncture them with their massive legs. They also have somewhat of a ranged attack, by forcing yellowish balls of acidic material from the top of their shells, which they hurl through the air like mortars, raining down upon the victim. With all their traits combined, Gonarchs prove to be skilled at defending themselves and their young, and are one of the toughest enemies Gordon faces in Xen. Upon death, a Gonarch explodes violently.

Behind the scenesEdit

Gonarch concept

Concept art.

  • The creature was originally known under the nickname "Big Momma".[1] Its model is also named "big_mom.mdl", while its entity is "monster_bigmomma".
  • The Gonarch was apparently born very simply, when someone at Valve asked, according to Gabe Newell, "Why don't we put a giant testicle on a 20-foot-tall armored spider?".[1] Therefore the name may be a portmanteau of the words "gonad" and "monarch". A "gonad" is another name for the reproductive organ of mammals, the male gonad being the testicles. The "monarch" part would refer to the creature's hierarchical status in headcrab society, or simply its "boss" status within the game.
  • According to Ted Backman, the Gonarch was a strongly contested design around Valve's office during the development of Half-Life, considered by some to be too graphic, a thing Backman did not agree with. However Gabe Newell liked it, which greatly influenced its inclusion in the game.[1]
  • Strong art direction and clear goals were set for the Gonarch from the start, but the AI proved to be very complicated due to the size of the creature and how different it was from the more common game monsters of that time.[1]


  • Alien Swarm's Boomer bears a strong resemblance to the Gonarch.
  • The Gonarch appears to be very weak if spawned directly through the console using commands, and usually ends up dying after being hit with a single magazine of the Glock pistol ammo, and will not explode after death. However, in Half-Life: Source, the Gonarch cannot be killed.




List of appearancesEdit


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