The World Today

The World Today
Earth in 2013

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Galapagos Mountains

Siting near the southern coast of the Sunspot Desert is a rather tall mountain range, with some peaks exceeding ten kilometers above sea level. The mountain range is divided into four main plateaus, each over six kilometers high and covering over a hundred thousand square kilometers. From northwest to southeast, the plateaus are named Attenborough, Darwin, Hanzhou and Coppin. What makes the Galapagos Mountains of special interest is that at their altitude, the air is drastically cooler. Despite being in perpetual sunlight, the Galapagos have a relative comfortable temperature, something a kin to the Ethiopian Highlands.

They get their name from the islands on Earth, where life is extremely diverse over a small area. Like their namesake, the Galapagos Mountains are a workshop for evolution. They are oases in an otherwise inhospitable environment. Any lifeforms that can climb their steep slopes to the flatter area above the heat of the desert, quickly adapt and thrive. Parts of the mountains have surface water, mostly in the form of springs bubbling to the surface. Winds, which blow out from the desert, make rain extremely rare. Aside from the springs, the land is still rather arid.

The environment is mostly steppe in nature, with vast fields of purple spread out before the observer. Where water is plentiful, forests of drought-resistant plants grow. Several of the desert species’ seed were blown up the side of the Galapagos, but not all adapted. Some of the Sunspot Desert’s plants are so specialized, that too much water can kill them. Hunting pods will not be found in the Galapagos. For those plants that did survive, they grow far larger than the desert plants, and over the course of millions of years, one desert species can evolve into an entire family, with numerous genera and species.

Desert Sloths

Pseudosloth (Pseudosloth family)

Description: The name is derived from the knuckle-walking feature of the animal, which protects long claws. The arms of the creature are parallel to the fossilized remains of Terran ground sloths. They are one of the large animals that can be found in the Sunspot Desert, nearly the size of a bison.

Head: They have a powerful beak that can slice through tubers and roots, and jaws that can grind them. Their teeth are lined with a thick enamel that prevents degradation by sand. Their long nostrils allow them to smell food through several meters of soil, as well as springs from kilometers away.

Body: Their short tail serves as a fat reserve, with it swelling up large enough to simply look like an extension of the torso. The rest of the torso is rotund, with thick skin to protect them against dust storms and predation.

Limbs: Their rear limbs are unremarkable, but their forward ones make up for this deficiency. Their forward limbs are longer than their rear limbs, as their fingers are twice as long as their toes. At the tip of each finger is a claw that can measure up to thirty millimeters in length. These powerful claws can be used for digging, as well as grasping at cliff faces and even trees in the Galapagos Mountains. To protect these claws, the animals walk on their knuckles. They shuffle along at a surprising speed for such an ungainly animal, with short bursts of 30 KPH.

Color: Various from species to species, though types of brown tend to dominate.

Internal Structure: Their stomachs are complex and multi-chambered. Given their size and the rarity of plants in the open desert, pseudosloths must utilize every scrap of food they can find.

Diet: Plants of all types. They eat leaves, roots, tubers, and anything their jaws can grind. They even feed upon hunting pods, whose spears can not penetrate the hides of adults. In return, hunting pods can feed on any young that stray too close.

Lifecycle: Pseudosloth of the desert live nomadic lives, constantly on the move. As such, they can not stay behind to protect their young. Eggs are laid in mass, and hatch around the same time. Thousands of hatchlings can emerge within an hour, overwhelming the stomachs of any predators in the area. Once free of their nests, the animals begin a lifetime of wandering. They reach full size in five years, and can continue grazing the desert and highlands for upwards to forty years.

Reproduction: Each female can produce up to fifty eggs. Their reproduction strategy is much like a sea turtle, in that they lay many eggs so that a handful can reach maturity. Females will lay all their eggs in a large, communal nest. The nest is surrounded by round rocks, that look very much like the round eggs. Large rocks in the ground make reaching the eggs more difficult for burrowing animals.

Sociability: Depending on the species, the size of the herd can range from twenty all the way to one hundred. Their size and sparseness of food limits the size. Given their friendly and docile nature, pseudosloth could form herds as large as those that roam East Africa. The instinct to herd is strong, and formed as hatchlings. Since the eggs are abandoned, the young must band together to increase their odds of surviving.

Habitat: Pseudosloths range across the desert, and have climbed into the Galapagos Mountains. Given the steep terrain leading to these mild plateaus, the pseudosloth is the dominate large animal in the region. The species evolved into a dozens of new species and genera to fill the vacant niches in these high mountains. Their development parallel the finches in Earth’s Galapagos Islands, and thus is why the mountains share the name.

Communication: Pouches in their noses inflate to produce a loud, honking noise. The noise is surprisingly high-pitched for an animal of their size. The calls are used more for locating each other than any form of information transfer.

Enemies: As adults, they have only a few; that being the largest predators. As young, all the predators feed upon them. If a pseudosloth can survive hatching and run the gauntlet of predators on the first day, their odds of long-term survival increase greatly. They grow larger every day, which means that many fewer predators can threaten them.

Salamander of the Sand.

Sanphibian (Humupiscis serpentor)

Description: Sanphibians derive their name from the fact that they swim through the sand in the less rocky regions of the Sunspot Desert. They are between 1 and 2 meters in length and mass about fifty kilograms. They look much like salamanders and newts of Earth, though the appearance is superficial.

Head: Sanphibians have a strange head. At the very top of their head, upon small mounds, are a pair of eyes that only look directly above them. These eyes stick out of the sand and are sensitive to motion, though poor in resolution. They have very wide mouths, more than twice the width of the rest of their bodies. These mouths are tipped with equally long scent-receptors, capable of detecting scents at least ten times better than a vulture. Their mouths are lined with sharp teeth for grasping prey. Once caught, the powerful jaws crushes the life out of the prey before it is swallowed whole.

Body: Their bodies are a tan to red color, blending in with the sands where they are native. They are built much like a fish or an amphibian, best adapted to ‘swimming’ through the loose sand. Their backs are lined with poisonous spines, an evolved defensive mechanism. They do not work against their own species, and many smaller sanphibians can fall prey to cannibals.

Limbs: Limbs are stout and strong, used to propel the animal through the sand. They are also strong enough to support the animal on rockier lands, for when the sanphibian lays eggs.

Internal Structure: Sanphibian lungs are proportionally larger than most desert animals, suggesting they tend to burrow deep enough to require oxygen reserves.

Diet: Anything they can catch that will fit in their mouths. They are ambush predators, waiting for more active desert animals to stumble across their path. All their water is acquired from their prey.

Lifecycle: For the first Earth year after hatching, sanphibians stay in their rocky nurseries. While this small, they are easy prey for pretty much anything. While in the protected areas, the young feed on small desert bugs, either ambushing them, or burrowing after the subterranean arthropods. Once large enough to risk life in the open sands, they abandon their nursery, but do not head into the deep sands. They will continue to hover around rocky areas for the next two years, growing larger and stronger. If they survive these years, then they will head into the deeper sands. Sanphibians live for upwards to twenty years.

Reproduction: Though they might look like newts, they do not spawn. Mating takes place out of the sand in more rocky areas. Here, the eggs are laid in crevices to protect them from both sun and predation. The eggs are colored and textured the same as the rocks, and take two months to develop.

Sociability: They are neither friendly nor aggressive. Aside from instances of cannibalism, sanphibians are largely indifferent of their own kind. No truly social interactions have been observed.

Habitat: Loose, sandy areas of the Sunspot Desert, usually near rocky areas.

Communication: Communication is not understood. They do not communicate by sound, and being buried most of the time, not by sight. It is theorized they communicate by scent.

Enemies: The desert being extremely unforgiving, enemies of the sanphibian include anything large enough to eat them.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Desert Duck-bills

Grover (Ansersaurus fossura)

Size: The grover is the largest animal to call Hypnale’s Sunspot Desert home. They are ten meter long herbivores, massing up to seven tonnes. In Earth-terms, they largely resemble extinct hadrosaurs in shape.

Head: The general layout of the grover’s head is streamline enough to allow them to burrow through the sand with minimal resistance. Their eyes and noses have flaps that close tightly while the creature is pushing through the sand. The nostrils are at the tip of the snout, which will stick out of the ground while they sleep out of the sun. They have powerful jaws that can grind any plant matter, including needles and thorns. Teeth are not replaced, but rather grow constantly. The act of chewing the tough, and often sandy food wears them down. Their lower jaw juts down into a plough-shape. It is not used for digging, but is rather a pouch in which the female stores the eggs.

Body: Their bodies are stout and rotund, with a large hump sticking out of their backs.

Limbs: Grovers have long, slender limbs, excellent for moving over great distances. Their rear legs are strong enough to allow the grover to rear up on their hind legs, and even to allow them to run for short distances. They have stubby feet that are tipped with hoof-like claws on their hind feet, and large bear-like claws. They use these to tear into the ground

Their hides are tan with brown stripes. They are covered in rough, sand-like scales, thick enough to protect them from the harshest duststorms and to allow them to blend into the ground when they burrow.

Internal Structure: Their skeleton has a series of spines protruding from the backbone These support a fatty hump that can store twenty days worth of water.

Diet: Eating whatever plants they can find. They burrow into the sandy ground to escape the sun, and to root for roots and tubers.

Lifecycle: Both parents carry the share, and as soon as the eggs hatch, they are released to join the small herds of grovers. The hatchlings stick to the middle of the herd, sheltered from the worst of the duststorms and from any predators. If a grover can survive their youth, then are almost certain to live over fifty years, and even as far as eighty. Genetic material is exchanged between herds during the grover’s youth, when the hatchlings wander to far from their home herds and are adopted by passing herds.

Reproduction: As stated before, after the female lays the eggs, she scopes them up with her mouth and they drop into the characteristic pouch on their chins. Grovers mate for life, only taking on a new mate if their previous one dies. Their lifespan is long enough that old females will cease fertility around the age of sixty.

Sociability: Grovers travel in herds of up to fifty, mostly to protect the young. Grovers have a strong parenting instinct, where unrelated adults will care for another’s young. So strong is it, that should one herd’s young be separated and come into contact with a rival herd, that herd will take in the young.

Habitat: They do not range completely over the desert, but rather along the subterranean rivers that exist there, and bubble up into springs. They will move between these oases, or follow the underground rivers, never straying far from reliable food sources.

Communication: Grovers communicate with loud honks.

Enemies: Adult grovers have no natural enemies, but adults will compete over grazing lands. The young will be picked off by any predators capable of handling them.