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Speculative Biology Sunday: Pachyodoben

6 Feb

A lone Pachyodoben sleeps on a riverbank. Person to scale.

Pachyodoben (meaning thick walrus-face) was the largest genus of the herbivorous amphibians from the Mid-Triassic. They were semi-aquatic, inhabiting rivers, swamps and estuaries. They foraged for browse and roots during dawn and dusk, keeping cool in the water during the heat of the day and sleeping by the riverbank at night. Easily recognisable by their armoured backs, short tusks, stubby tail. For its time it was the largest herbivore ever, weighing in at two to three and a half tonnes.

There ancestry seems to come from the big headed, squat bodied Dissorophidae of the early Permian, but where in their evolution they switched to herbivory is unclear. One of their key adaptations for herbivory is their stunning ability to fake heterodonty, having both tusks and grinding ‘molars’ made from bone. Their only teeth as small and peg-like, used for stripping foliage.
The ‘molars’ seem to have been a key adaptation for switching to herbivory, as only the larger species otherwise use gastroliths to facilitated the breakdown of vegetable material.

Most of the larger species of Pachyodoben fed more on roots than low browse, and dug for them with their tusks. There is even evidence of them using their bulk to topple trees to unearth the fossial fare.

Adults were too large to be bothered by predators, even the young were well armoured enough to keep terrestrial carnivores at bay, but there is evidence of the young being preyed upon by Xenacanthidan sharks, tearing at their vunerable underbellies from beneath the surface; Mothers always putting themselves between their young and the deeper water, with red spots on their belly warning of violent retaliation should the sharks be willing to try anything.

Speculative Biology Sunday: Fruiting Larch

19 Dec

The Fruiting Larch is a frost hardy tree native to the plains of Siberia. It is a medium-size to large deciduous coniferous tree reaching 20-50 m tall, with a trunk up to 1 m diameter. The crown is conic when young, becoming broad with age; the main branches are level to upswept, with the side branches often pendulous. The male and female cones are borne separately on the same tree; pollination is in early spring with the cones taking around 7 months to ripen.
The female cones are consistently reddish to purplish through maturity and don’t harden off like other pine cones. The seed scales stay somewhat swollen and contain relatively high amounts of starch and thus are somewhat palatable, though still taste distinctly of fresh cut pine.
The seeds of the fruiting larch are not dispersed by wind as their ancestors were, but remain firmly attached to the seed scale of the cone. This way the seed is passed through the digestive tract of the birds when the cones are picked apart and eaten and thus spread further than the wind dispersal employed by other conifers.
The fruiting larch has become an important food source for the animals in the coniferous ecosystem. Many birds and mammals feed on the seed scales which ripen at the beginning of autumn and are important for animals building up food reserves before migrating south or going into hibernation.
Most notable of these is Grims Cuckoo, who feed almost exclusively on the cones throughout autumn and will only migrate south once they run out which is usually almost midwinter, making them very important seed distributors.
Fruiting Larch are almost dominant in areas recently cleared by fire or permafrost thaw, but are gradually out-competed by other evergreen conifers over time.


Speculative Biology Sunday: Woolly Chelon

12 Dec

This weeks SBS comes to you from a niche filling competition on the spec forums that I am a member of. The niche to fill: The largest herbivore or carnivore in the northern or southern reaches of the world (land, sea, or air), had the Earth started cooling 90 MYA and 65 MYA was a large Ice Age.
I chose therizinosaurs as my ancestor.

The Mid-Cretaceous ice ages struck the Mesozoic world hard. After hundreds of millions of years in tropical balminess a lot of the dinosaurs were caught off guard and their ranges shrunk rapidly. The only herbivores really fortuitously pre-adapted to this change were the Therizinosaurs with their coats of dinofuzz thickening and billowing as the worlds mercury dropped and quickly spread throughout the northern hemisphere, increasing in number and size.
The most successful species of therizinosaur, the Woolly Chelon, is also the largest. Reaching up to 12 metres long and 6 metres long they have returned to quadrupediality to help support their amazing bulk. They walk on their knuckles, retaining the raking claws of their ancestry, which the often use to sweep snow off of buried vegetation.
Travelling in herds throughout the year, but in winter the smaller herds coalesce together and move far into the coniferous forests which dominate the frigid norths. They mate before these megaherds disperse and eggs are laid in early spring, hatching in mid spring. The females must survive on the last of her fat reserves from the last summer while she incubates the eggs and so females are often larger than males.
Predation usually occurs during spring and summer, picking off the young, the weak, or the mothers struggling to hatch eggs. Social bonds are strong within the subherds, and matriachs will be often seen greeting other matriachs when the subherds coalesce in early winter.

Heh, it’s funny because I named them from a chunk of a species name of therizinosaur before realizing that the chunk meant “turtle”. Heh, woolly turtle.

Speculative Biology Sunday: Seacad

5 Dec

Hooray for a new SBS! Don’t you all just love reading the massive slabs of text I write out under these things. I got the idea for this one when I was at the coast, there were cycads everywhere and I enjoyed that fact very much. And of course I began to wonder what cool things cycads could or could have done throughout their evolutionary history. I’m not sure whether the seacad is alternative evolution or future evolution, because it could actually be both; either a future evolutionary development or an extinct form from the height of their diversity which we haven’t found fossils for. Anyway, on with the show.

The Seacad
Seacads are a monophyletic group of cycads which thrive in sandy soils and are highly tolerant of salinity. Found in tropical and subtropical regions throughout the world their origins are clouded due to their ocean spanning dispersal mechanisms, though most botanists agree they fit into the family Zamiacea.
They are perennial, evergreen, and dioecious.
They have tall and erect, usually unbranched, cylindrical stems, and stems clad with persistent leaf bases.
Their leaves are simply pinnate, spirally arranged, and interspersed with cataphylls. The leaflets are sometimes dichotomously divided. The leaflets occur with several sub-parallel, dichotomously-branching longitudinal veins; they lack a mid rib. Stomata occur either on both surfaces or undersurface only.
These traits however, are not what characterize the seacad. They produce drift seeds.
The seeds and the expanded thickened lamina (the outer part of the cone; the lighter brown bit) of the the seacad are highly buoyant and sealed against seawater. This allows them to disperse over staggering distances using ocean currents.
Seeing that the best chance for the seed to grow to maturity is to colonise a new beach the seed will sit in the cone of the parent plant until a rain event or storm when they have the best chance of being washed out to sea. When the lamina are wetted, they swell up and this sudden increase in volume pops them from the cone to be washed down the beach and out to sea.
As they are diecious (having seperate male and female plants seperate) the male and female seeds alternate spirally throughout the cone, assuring where there are two seeds attached to a lamina they will be able to reproduce should they both germinate on some foreign shore.
They grow best in partial shade. If you’ve read through this far then you are a very special person indeed.
If you enjoy speculative biology and evolution, you should check out this forum. Lots of great people with unique ideas. Also the competitions are pretty fun. Be sure to vote for my entries in the competitions if you do sign up, it would be muchly appreciated.


Speculative Biology Sunday: Lowland Panidaru

14 Nov

The Lowland Panidaru is both the largest and most widespread species of Panidaru. They inhabit most lowland areas in and around the Indo-Papuan Plateau. They reach their densest populations in riverine areas where forests meet the floodplains of the North Eastern Australia.
They are descendant from the subfamily of New Guinea Spiny Bandicoots and since then have evolved and atrophied scansoriality and arboreality and become strictly herbivorous.
The maximum size of a male Panidaru can be over 2500 kilograms, though females rarely exceed a weight of 1800 kilograms. They are knuckle walkers and use their hands to manipulate and collect food, with their syndactyl second and third digits opposing the forth and fifth digit with the first digit being atrophied into obscurity. Their coats are a dark shade of brown with lighter undersides, males often black. The sport modified hair which form a spiney barricade across their hindquarters, often with stray pieces of litter that get lodged there when an individual squats down to feed.
Their domed head mistakenly suggests a large braincase, however this is merely due to a pronounced sagittal crest and attached jaw muscles which allows the Panidaru to grind up tough vegetation with ease.
They prefer feeding mainly on soft browse, leaves, shoots and fallen fruit, though are not unknown to take tougher vegetation or dig for tubers. Occasionally when deficient in certain minerals or salts they can be observed eating leaf litter and soil. The floodplain Panidaru have a particular daily migration and feeding behaviour. Spending the night in the forested areas they forage around the jungle they spend their mornings foraging through the forest, mostly searching out their favourite fruits. One particular fruit is so favoured by them it has earned their namesake, Panidaru apples.
After spending their mornings foraging in the forest they will move out into the wet floodplains to graze on the lush grasslands. They also take part in all social interaction in the grassland, such as females strengthening social bonds with other females, searching for mates and males settling territory and mating disputes. They also excrete the now inoculated and scarified seeds of the Panidaru apple, which are important for the colonisers for the forest ecologies.
Panidaru have two key adaptations which have allowed them to outcompete placental analogues.
The first being that they taste terrible, which deters predators. On their necks and running down their chest they have two large modified sweat glands that secrete a mild toxin which tastes terrible and induces vomiting when injested and occasionally death in smaller carnivores.
The second being that they can have different sets of offspring in development. At the same time a single female can simultaneously be raising one almost independent offspring out of the pouch which still may be suckling, one suckling “jellybean” neonate young sucking and one fertilized egg developmentally halted until the “jellybean” young has started to leave the pouch. Which means that populations can bounce back from hard times faster than their placental competitors.
It is colloquially known as the Marsupial Gorilla, though ecologically more analogous to the modern Indian rhinoceros.


Speculative Biology Sunday: Painted Ramph

10 Oct

It is set within my unpublished future evolution project. I use the term project uselessly. Its mostly something I ponder vaguely when procrastinating and all the work I’ve got towards it is a phylogenetic tree of my greenworms (Veriscoriftia) which is pretty much what it is solely based around.

During the Great Killback the only decapods crustacean group to survive was the Infraorder Anomura. The niche space opened up was divided mostly between the forementioned Anomurans and the Amphipods, with a smaller portion of the vacant niche space being colonized by the Isopods.
The Painted Ramph is representative of the group of Amphipods that took up the niche space left by lobsters, as well as being one of the larger. In ecology however, it is somewhat of an oddity.

Physiologically the Ramphestera are very similar to their amphipod ancestors, simply scaled up. The main difference is in the arrangement of their legs. The first pair of gnathopods are relatively smaller and are used solely for feeding while the second have been been scaled up with the rest of the animal if not more and are used as the main tools for interacting with their world, however they are articulated more like that of a mantis’ claws than that of a lobsters. The middle pereopods are the primary crawling appendages, while the rearmost pereopods have been adapted for swimming much like the rearmost legs of the extinct Eurypterids. However they are often secondarily used for crawling, especially on dry land.
The Pleopods are much atrophied in Ramphestra and in some cases are completely absent. The Uropods however are flattened and spread in a way akin to the ramus of many of the decaopod groups. The telson is often enlarged and used as a secondary defensive mechanism.

The Painted Ramph is one of the larger species of Ramphestera, reaching sixty centimeters in length, though there are species that can reach eighty-five centimeters. When young they are opportunistic omnivorous scavengers, becoming more and more predatory as they grow; They are completely carnivorous by the time they reach maturity. Mostly dwelling on the sea floor, but often swimming up into the water column in pursuit of food or to escape predators.

In the Painted Ramph the telson provides a second function which is the key to its unusual ecology. It is used in a way similar to an ovipositor, to pierce the trophosome of the Verifossus species that it’s life history revolves around. This dependence of course means that the distribution of the Painted Ramph is restricted to the clear and relatively shallow marine environments in which Verifossus prosper.
During the mating season the males will fight over territories amoung the fields of Verifossus, the biggest and best males claiming the densest patches of the greenworms. The females will then swim down to court the worthy suitors who will then lay her eggs on the epidermis of a selected greenworm to be fertilised by the male. The male will then puncture the greenworm and sweep the eggs into its trophosome before sealing the hole with a sticky secretion to stop scavengers swimming in after them before the puncture heals. Females judge males on the quality of their patch, and by how many of his greenworms are already occupied. It is rare for females to mate with any less than 4 males.
The eggs then hatch inside the trophosome and the young feed on the inner layer of the trophosome being mainly soft, highly vascularised flesh as well as its symbiotic algae. This puts a lot of stress on the worm of course, which then puts all of its resources into reproducing as a last ditch effort to get in as many extra progeny as possible. After a remarkable three weeks the young Ramphs are usually around two thirds the adult size and large enough to take care of themselves. By this time they greenworms are usually dead and the remains are devoured by the emerging Ramphs.
So intrinsically linked are these two organisms that Verifossus will bloom their gametes even if they aren’t infected with the young amphipods, though not to an extant which seals their fate.

I should probably post up the different greenworm groups that I’ve come up with at some point. I will probably update the art when I have more time also.


Speculative Biology Sunday: Greater Trygen

4 Oct

The Greater Trygen is one the largest species of the amphibious descendants of the Potamotrygonid freshwater rays of the modern day.

What were once the gill slits have completely closed up, all breathing is done through the spiracles behind the eyes. The gill arches are reinforced creating essentially book lungs capable of breathing air, but unfortunately means it is incapable of breathing air. They are capable of some vocalisations, mostly buzzing but they’re also capable of whistling.

Their pectoral fins are separated into several paddle like fins, two cephalic lobes and five smaller feeding appendages. All end in large claws derived from dermal denticles which are constantly being replaced as they wear down. The claws on the cephalic lobe are serrated. Their main weapons for dispatching their prey though are the tail stings they inherited from their modern ancestors.
They are surprisingly strong besides durable for their size. Unlike modern elasmobranchs (sharks and rays) they have a ribcage derived from the pectoral girdle and basibranchial element and is “upside down” compared to tetrapods with the “ribs” not attaching directly to the notochord.
Like most elasmobranchs, they don’t rely soly on their internal skeleton for muscular attatchment. Their skin is made of a thick corset of criss-crossed collagen fibers to which a great deal of muscles involved in movement attach, making them quite powerful for their size and also forming protective armour along with their covering of tiny tooth-like dermal denticles.

Trygens are a lot more social compared modern elasmobranchs and hunt in small groups, usually five or six. These hunting groups consist of a central mating pair and satellite individuals. These satellite individuals can be the young of the mating pair that haven’t moved on yet, or unrelated young adults moving from group to group looking for their own mate. Their hunting strategies usually consist of an ambush prey items coming down for a drink, or exploding out of the undergrowth sheparding the prey item into the water where they are a lot maneuverable. The satellite individuals usually do most of the work with the mating pair coming in for the kill. Only one will ever attack with the poison stinger and this duty is passed around, and only ever used when the kill is a sure thing. This is to conserve their precious venom.
Young are born live in litters of two or three and stay with their parental group until they reach a certain size, as opposed to a certain age.

Very few of the terrestrial or arboreal predators of the South American rainforests will ever agitate a pack of Greater Trygens, though each group is usually constantly tailed by a carrion specialist of one kind or another.


Speculative Biology Sunday: Arse weed

4 Jul

You have you’re very own flora, made up of thousands of species of organisms and thousands of individuals, most microscopic others less so. Kingdom Plantae, for the most part, seem to be missing out on this particular niche space. It only ever seems to be alga that grow on more slow moving animals such as sloths (if anyone knows any other examples, let me know.)
So here is a plant that live in and around an animal. From some undetermined point in the undetermined future.

Arse weed

The above plant is representative of the genus of plants colloquially known as “arse weeds”. Little is known about their evolutionary history, though their modern ancestors are definitely from somewhere in the Liliaceae family.
They are a bulb based plant and have long fairly broad leaves with parallel venation dominant but not exclusive.
There are usually three or four dominant “anchor roots” growing from the bulb as well as numerous other more short lived roots. These anchor roots are thick and spongey which allows oxygent to travel down to the tips of the roots. These roots also spiral around the wall of the large intestine of the animal it inhabits, and are quite springy. This is the mechanism by which the plant prevents itself from being excreted with the rest of the animals waste product.

After the plant is excreted it is anchored by the anchor roots, and after the animal has finished its business the roots recoil, pulling the plant back into place.
Arse weed is found solely in large ruminant herbivores. Seedlings have been found or observed in other herbivores and occasionally in canids, but for whichever reason these plants never thrive. The small berries produced by these plants are a remarkable white colour and highly aromatic to attract the attention of the colour blind herbivores which the plant inhabits. These berries contain a large, thick coated seed which is scarified during digestion and then germinates in the large intestine. Setting down its anchor roots is the plants first priority and only once these are set will it put any of its resources into poking photosynthetic leaves into the outside world.
Once the plant is established and thriving, a third player arrives to take part in this quirky like symbiosis, though this new arrival is somewhat more malicious. A fly seeks out arse weeds which aren’t yet flowering and takes advantage of the fact that the anus is obstructed by the plant to crawl inside and lay its eggs. These eggs hatch into parasitic larvae which feed on the flesh of the herbivore, much to its irritation. Trying to alleviate this irritation, the herbivore with try and scratch the itch against whatever it can find, usually trees, being knocked about and damaged triggers the plant to begin flowering. By the time the flowers are fully developed and ready for pollination, the fly larvae are fully developed and emerging as fully grown mature flies which then go and receive their first meal from the flowers of the arse weed.
Arse weeds are usually and annual plant as they are often dislodged after long enough.


Speculative Biology Sunday: Marsupial Chameleon

27 Jun

So I was thinking about marsupials the other day, and how uncreatively so many of them are named. Quite a few species are named after their placental analogue: Marsupial Mole, Marsupial Tapir, Marsupial Lion, Tasmanian Tiger, Marsupial Cat ect.
Why isn’t there any marsupial animals named after analogues that aren’t placentals? Probably a bit of a stupid question, I’ll admit, but it gave me a challenge to spec* out. So may I present…

The Marsupial Chameleon

Deep in the jungles of New Guinea, in a few secluded previously uncharted valleys a new species of cuscus was recently discovered and is more likely than not an entirely new genus. Most individuals observed are the size of a small cat, rarely over the size of 35cms or so in length.
In appearance this new species seems somewhat unremarkable compared to other species of cuscus, but what sets this new discovery apart from others is its diet, and how it goes about aquiring its food. For the Marsupial Chameleon is almost entirely insectivorous, like its namesake and captures its prey in a similar sticky way. But instead of a long projectile tongue this small marsupial employs the use of a thick mucousy saliva which it spits with great accuracy at any sizable enough insect that gets close enough, which becomes trapped and can be eaten at this strange cuscus’ leisure.

So yeah, there you go. Hopefully you like it.
*Yeah, “spec” is a verb in my vocabulary now, get over it.


Speculative Biology Sunday: Camursuchus

13 Jun

Yes, so SBS* this week is another competition entry for the monthly competitions on the Speculative Evolution forums that I partake in, but oh well. I enjoy the competitions, and they help me come up with ideas that I probably wouldn’t have had otherwise.
This month competition was to come up with a descendant of a ThalattosuchianMetriorhynchid or Teleosurid set in the Cretaceous, which doesn’t leave much room for creativity, but oh well.
I have a few new concepts floating around in my head, so next week won’t be another competition entry like all my SBS posts have been since Gympie Crab.

*I only just realised that the acronym for Speculative Biology Sunday is SBS


Descendants of Pelagosuchus, these are one of the smallest marine crocodylimorphs in the cretaceous oceans, not usually exceeding 1.6 metres in length but can 2 in favourable conditions if they live long enough. Living exclusively in and around coral reefs, these crocodiles are mostly opportunists, feeding on whatever fish, crustaceans, molluscs and carrion. Specailising on plucking out fish and cephalopods from the very crags, crevices and caves which they themselves use to hide from larger predators, using their hooked snouts to get at particularly well hidden prey. They have also been seen digging up and swallowing brachiopods whole when under stress, seeming hopeful that their powerful stomach acid will cope with the hard calcium carbonate shells.
Mostly hiding amoung the reefs to avoid predators, they are also adorned with bony armour on their back, and will cling to the reefs to protect their relatively softer bellies, they also seem to be found to be quite distasteful to some predators, but these claims have not been substantiated.
Despite living their entire lives in the reefs, these crocodiles must return to dry land to lay their eggs and do so in much the same way that sea turtles do. So much so infact, that they do so in the very same beaches as sea turtles, and laying is timed so that their eggs hatch at the same time. This is for two reasons, the first is that there is less of a chance that they will get picked off by small dinosaurs, lizards or birds, and the second being that when they arrive in the water, they will have something to eat, as the hatchling camursuchus will kill and eat the hatchling turtles as soon as they reach the water.


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