Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ballerina Forest 3: Making Things Different

When I come up with ideas for nereid species there are several goals I try to reach:

- Each species is reasonably plausible given current scientific understanding. Given my limited knowledge of biology I think I've had varying degrees of success in this category, but I leave it to you, the reader, to make your own judgment on that account.

- Each species is conceptually unique. While I occasionally explore incidents of convergent evolution I also want to reflect the diversity of both ecological niches and the strategies that life can use to fill them. If every nereid I drew was basically a super-cool apex predator that could kick the butt of all others then Nereus just wouldn't be that believable or interesting.

- Each species is visually unique. There will always be resemblance based on evolutionary relations and convergent similarities, but I hope that each nereid can be a visually engaging addition to the list. I mean, who wants to look at a dozen pages of artwork that are essentially the same thing.

Sometimes these three criteria work against each other, and I have to make decisions that fulfill one at the expense of another. This post talks about two nereids that have given me such challenges.

The snow kytta is a heliavian: radially symmetrical flyer. I already have two heliavians (the spur and cliff whistler) that exhibit wildly different methods of powered flight; I knew this one would be like the spur, using two of its wings while the third is held behind as a stabilizing tail. The question I then had was how to make this flyer different. Apart from the habitat, which is much colder than that of the spur, I wanted to show an example of specialization that could make the snow kytta stand out from the crowd; given the carnivorous nature of its clade I looked to vultures, hawks, and other birds of prey as inspiration for behavior, but it turned out that the cold setting would prove to be a familiar obstacle.

Almost a year ago I faced a similar problem, putting hair on several nereids that were previously bare. I chose another route with the snow kytta, setting aside the opportunity to make nereid hair an even more paraphyletic feature in favor of a more nebulous explanation for an ectothermic creature's survival in a high altitude climate. A goal may suffer for the sake of others, but I still think it's an interesting enough nereid.

The other nereid of this post, and the featured apex predator of the ballerina forest is the manticore. I had come up with the basic concept of this creature long ago, so the manticore has a relatively old vintage. At least the idea of the manticore has been around for a while; there were two major changes that came about in the process of its inception.

The first change was one of habitat. I had originally placed the creature in the savanna biome, a clear reflection of its lion inspiration, but when I was looking for a place to put my flag raptor I realized that two apex predators would be too much for that group, at least for the first 100 nereids (the "expansion pack" will see additions to that biome). So I shifted the manticore to the ballerina forest to fill the apex slot here.

The other change was the name. I may still use the original name for another nereid, so I'm not going to go around blabbing it here. ;) But as I started looking around for images of Earth animals I could use as visual reference I came across the manticore. Not only is it visually close to my nereid but it has an interesting set of mythological luggage that I can mine for my own creature. The discovery of a catchy Greek name for the mythological creature (baricos) was the clincher, so I started shuffling around the names, details, and concocted a scenario of xenobiologists making a connection between a fascinating new predator and a mythological template.

And that's it for the ballerina forest nereids. I really didn't expect to write that much about two nereids that only have about 600 words of "official" explanation between them. Next time I'll cover the biome itself so I'll see you next time! Same Nereus-time, same Nereus-channel!

1 comment:

  1. The Manticore is one funky lookin' mojo.