Sunday, October 21, 2012

Curious Creatures

The Wampus Country has no shortage of unusual creatures; some are dangerous to man, while others merely pique the curiosity of scholars.  We turn to one such scholar, the renowned naturalist Mr. Harcourt Runcible, for today's selection.

No living man or woman outside a sanatorium could be expected to say with any resolve that they had witnessed with their own eyes all of the myriad species which thrive on the frontier.  So numerous are they, and so elusive in many cases, that it may take a clever man much of his life to see only a quarter or a third of the panoply of animals native to this region.  More the fool, I, for such is precisely my quest.  Although my magnum opus of naturalism, the Vivacious Vorarium, is far from completion, I am pleased to share with the readers of the Gazette several short selections regarding creatures most curious.

Surely even readers of the Gazette are aware of the owl-creatures which dot the countryside, but perhaps rarest amongst these is the reclusive and deadly owl-fish.  Should some drunken lout of a trapper tell you he has seen an owl-fish, then go on to describe its fins and tail, know that surely you may label this unwashed bumpkin a liar; for the owl-fish takes its name not from a piscine form, but from its natural resemblance to a jellyfish or man-o-war.  In fact, from a distance, through the river-murk, the owl-fish may seem a normal stinging jelly; but on closer approach the owl-like skull atop the trail of tentacles can be seen, and indeed, it may be the last thing an incautious swimmer ever sees.  The owl-fish are quite vicious, and associate in small packs of six or seven, swarming their prey, snapping at fingers, eyes, and Achilles' tendon with their sharp little beaks whilst stinging with their tentacles.  The nematocysts of the owl-fish contain a kind of neurotoxin which acts very rapidly to scramble the brain [1] and reduce a man to a gibbering fool, once swarmed.  Most victims of the little owl-fish drown, as they forget they are underwater, or lose track of which way is up.

Not nearly as impressive as its cousin, the lyre-bird, whose tail is a harp, the hand-bell bird is a uniform dun color and resembles a rather frumpy quail.  Its only distinguishing characteristic is its tail, which resembles a hand-bell thanks to a certain conical bony protrusion surrounding the actual tail, which is ratlike with a bone 'clapper' at the end.  The hand-bell bird can indeed ring its tail like a bell, and each bird has a slightly different tone, allowing them to communicate with one another over long distances or recognize family members and potential mates; it is only a matter of time before some fool takes it upon himself to train a group of hand-bell birds to play a song, perhaps.  Many university students are introduced to the hand-bell bird, as they are easy to capture and relatively stupid, thus good in captivity.  I recall my own biology class at university, in which a male hand-bell bird was used as an example for our study of avian structure, in which we were tasked with sketching the rear of the bird, including the musical tail, cloaca, and near-mammalian sexual organs (the top-to-bottom order of which generated the chorus of that now-infamous collegiate drinking song, "Ding, Dung, Dong").

Another musical creature found in nature is the keyboard lizard, which resembles a monitor or other large, languid herptile, save for the presence of a rather obvious piano keyboard running the length of its back.  They keys themselves grow from the lizard's spine, and act as a second ribcage in many ways; pressing the keys triggers nerves within the spine and creates a musical tone, either from the lizard's mouth or one of several sound-generating bellow-like organs in the pneumothorax.  The keyboard is rarely longer than two octaves, and is typically left-facing (that is to say, one plays it with the lizard's head to the left) with the lower-note keys near the neck and the higher notes near the tail.  A rare mutation causes some keyboard lizards to be right-facing, but as the low notes are still at the head end, these freakish things are of no use to any civilized man who understands how a piano ought to be built.

[1] - Save vs poison or take 1 point of temporary damage to INT or WIS (50/50).  A pack of owl-fish can easily reduce the average swimmer to a drooling vegetable in under two rounds.

We'll do some more curious creatures later this week, but I wanted to point out that the above animals were all invented by my seven-year-old.


  1. I am so so so looking forward to the bestiary

  2. I had a keyboard lizard as a child. I think it was called pianosaurus.