Beasts in clouds

 

Tour to Neocene

 

16. Beasts in clouds

 

 

 

Himalayas not for nothing had been named “the roof of the world”: they are highest mountains of the Neocaenic Earth. Probably, in the future on the planet higher mountains will appear also but while any mountain ridge has not challenged to Himalayas. Here seven months inclement frosty winter reigns, but only for two months the real warm summer lasts. Himalayas are majestic highland. Here at the big heights there are only few valleys where herbivore animals can live. Vegetation of mountains is presented by undersized bed grasses and small bushes. This thin vegetation is covered from herbivores among cracks of stones and on abrupt slopes where not all animals can walk. And nevertheless there is a life here. And mountain live beings are adapted to survive in mountains at any season.
Inclement Himalayan winter is the real test for durability for local animals. Icy wind, snows and fogs make mountains very uncomfortable place for life. Some animals had adapted simply to keep off these difficulties. Under thick layer of snow there is not too coldly. As fluffy blanket it covers the ground, not allowing to freeze to poor bushes. Each shrub is the real Noah's Arc for numerous insects and spiders. They are hidden under the bark, in layer of dead leaves and ground, keeping by roots of plants. But their hibernation is not so quiet, as it seems. Snow is burrowed by set of tunnels. In strong frosts they still empty, but in thaw on them their owners run - shaggy strange creatures. They are not rodents, but very original bats - rock pipistrelles. These bats do not like to fly, but well run and swarm up rocks. Flight is the expensive pleasure at scarcity of resources: it demands big energy expenditures. Therefore, not having left with ability to fly, these chiropters reluctantly rise in air. They prefer to get catch on the ground, hunting beetles and spiders. Besides rock pipistrelles had included in the diet berries and seeds. In winter small mammals burrow by thumbs of wings and by muzzle courses under snow in which they reach bushes of plants. Here they also search to themselves for livelihood. By sharp teeth small mammals easily tear off layers of dying off bark and stir rotten leaves, pulling out hibernating insects from their winter refuges. And by claw on thumb easily it is possible to get an insect from narrow crack in stones.
But such impetuous life is in full swing in holes during the thaw. When in mountains the wind amplifies and because of frost stones are ready to burst, rock pipistrelles hide in deep cracks of rocks and fall asleep. They in general spend most inclement time of winter in hibernation - so it is easily to live, using only saved up stocks of fat.
But other animals are awake even in the most severe frost. When clouds hide mountain ridges, and the ice cold wind knocks down, they have no opportunity to hide under snow. They are snowloppers - one of the largest species of animals in Neocaenic Himalayas. Snowloppers keep in mountains by small herds. They try to choose the most blown by wind slopes for life. Here it is possible to dig out snow to eat last year's grass or sprouts of evergreen bushes.
When the blizzard abates, animals begin to search food. Within last three days the bad weather did not allow them to make it, forcing snowloppers to hide in rocks. Snowloppers dexterously dig snow out by hairy legs until tops of bushes are shown. Animals famished for last days greedy fall upon the forage. By sharp incisors they browse branches very accurate, and the narrow muzzle allows one of animals squeeze between stones and to get therefrom a bunch of faded grass. Certainly, this is not first-rate meal, but it allows to satisfy famine.
While one animals are sated, others look round and listen. You see not only they are hungry. Snowloppers have dangerous enemy - it is the animal similar to the wolf, who steals to herd, being hidden behind stones. The predator is crawling from above to frighten herd and to force even one of animals to panic and to make an unsteady step. This predator is not the wolf, but the predator similar to it from other family, the wolfneumon. This descendant of tropical animals had resettled to mountains for favorite catch - rodents and hares. And when natural conditions became more stable and favorable, catch had increased in size. The predator too had grown up, and had turned from small short-legged mammal to the long-legged running hunter. But habits of the mongoose had not changed - as against the wolf, it hunts alone. This circumstance allows the predator to live more easy - only it gets all catch; but on the other hand it complicates hunting as the animal can expect only for itself.
The wolfneumon creeps to herd. It examines animals occupied with getting of food, dropping to the ground when any snowlopper holds head up and listens. The predator had chosen catch - the young male who though grazes far from the hunter, but had carelessly approached to edge of precipice. Now the most important thing is the good throw.
As if slacken spring, the wolfneumon jumps out from the ambush. It does not try to chase possible catch, its task is only to frighten it. The predator touches down in the centre of herd and rushes to the chosen male, cutting off its way to others. And reaction does a bad to herbivore: being in panic the male jumps wrong side, stumbles and broken from precipice. The wolfneumon had excellently seen it. Now it does not have an affair up to herd escaping on slope, the predator searches for safe and easy slope to catch.
The male of the snowlopper is hardly wounded: at it the waist is broken and the forward leg is wrenched. When the wolfneumon had come nearer, it only could slightly crawl away, using one healthy leg. The herd bunched on the slope, had heard only plaintive shout of the animal which has got in a trouble which had sharply interrupted in the come silence.
Winter in mountains lasts more than half-year, but nevertheless sooner or later seasons vary. Spring and autumn pass very quickly - only for some weeks. But this is the time of fast changes.
In the spring slopes of mountains thaw out. Southern slopes do it very quickly, but in deep northern gorges snow can remain hardly probable not prior to the beginning of summer. On thawing snow dark stains are appreciable: there are ice flies (Boreus), cold-resistant insects, gathering before egg laying. Snowloppers can have a pleasant variety to the menu: they willingly lick off these insects from snow. Rock pipistrelles leave holes and also join a feast.
Every day the sun is hotter and hotter. And soon on the free of snow ground the grass starts to grow. Perennial grasses for short time restore the frozen slightly crowns and sprouts, and then become covered by caps of bright flowers - pink, yellow, white and red. Poppies, carnation, saxifrage, cinquefoil and other grasses are very similar against each other: it is the result of life in inclement mountain conditions. On flowers thousands of insects woken up after winter are fed. Sleepy bugs and flies creep out on the heated up stones and take in the sun heat.
Some stones look very strange, as if on them someone had laid out a shaggy skin and had forgotten it. This is the big colony of rock pipistrelles have climbed out to get warm. Small mammals try to take the warmest place on the stone, they constantly push neighbours and peep. However they should be circumspect - the wolfneumon is not asleep. It waits for an opportunity for attack, having hidden in bush nearby. When this predator rushes on heated animals, they are escaped from it. Some of them have time to whisk in crack between stones, others are got rolled in a bush, and few animals fly up in air and fly, as if chickens: they frequently flap wings, but soon fall in bushes and are hidden. The predator has remained with empty stomach.
And in the sky shining wings of small birds are appreciable - flights of wiskered lustrers, unsurpassed flyers are come back from wintering. They catch tiny insects, flying highly above mountain ridges. They waited inclement mountain winter above tropical rainforests of South-Eastern Asia. Now birds have a rest after flight and are eaten off.
But soon lustrers start to build nests. They make it, choosing the most unapproachable and steep slopes. With the help of sticky saliva birds build of flying dust and rests of insects small nests in which at once two eggs appear - summer is short and it is impossible to waste time. Both birds hatch the clutch in shifts, in intervals between duties being fattened by insects.
Other birds search for more considerable catch - midges and mosquitoes do not satisfy them. Above mountain tops huge birds like large vulture in size soar. They are tanatoses - predators and scavengers of mountains. Keen sight allows them to look for cubs of snowloppers and the rests of wolfneumon’s catch. Tanatoses are strong birds, but they prefer to eat carrion or to catch weak-resisting prey. When snowloppers have cubs, tanatoses fly by turns all herds of snowloppers in the extensive area, finding weak, ill and dead cubs.
Pair of giant birds soars in the sky above herd of snowloppers. They see, that near to females there are some cubs, and now try to prey even one. Tanatoses divide: the female flies out behind the mountain ridge, and the male frightens away herd. He gathers speed and flies by above heads of snowloppers, compelling them to run away. Animals scatter in different sides, and the huge bird starts to drive herd, as if the huge sheep-dog. The tanatos male bunches herd densely, and then drives them on narrow track on the mountain slope, breaking on the one hand in deep precipice. Willy-nilly the herd is stretched in file. And at this moment there comes a tragic outcome. From behind of the mountain ridge the female of tanatos appears. She quickly gathers speed limit, swoops on file of scared snowloppers and by impact of the wing tries to bring down one of them. But in last instant the animal has evaded, and the female comes on the second circle. The effect of unexpectedness is lost, and animals already are on the alert. Tens eyes watch to the sky and to huge tanatos male flying near herd. When birds come nearer, snowloppers bare powerful incisors and try to bite them for a wing or a leg. Now at them there is one way to receive desirable prey - wearisome siege and numerous exhausting attacks. Of times behind time birds rush by turns on catch, not giving snowloppers to run out to the rocky plateau where among sticking up sharp stones they will be impregnable for huge wide-winged birds.
Also there comes an outcome - the old female stumbles and falls in gorge. In one second indistinct stroke of the body which had fallen on the bottom of gorge is heard. Two huge birds slowly start to fly downwards, not paying attention to the frightened herd of snowloppers. They have too got tired to try to prey one more animal.
At the bottom of gorge pair of huge birds sits on stones and looks around: the carcass of the snowlopper lays among stones, and if the predator will appear, tanatoses at once can not fly up and they can turn from hunters to prey. But in gorge there is nobody, and birds by clumsy jumps from stone to stone go down to catch and start to tear it by sharp beaks. They will eat only a part of catch, but the part of meat and soft plucks will get in their craws.
When on bones of the snowlopper only a little of meat remain, birds rise on stones and with some efforts fly up. Having passed through a ridge, they get in current of warm air and easily rise higher. Their way lies through mountain range on which other side, in rocky niche under a stone eaves there is the nest arranged of branches and boughs, covered by moss and lichens. In it the unique large nestling waits of them. It is covered with grey down, but eyes of it have not opened yet. Almost all summer parents will carry food to it while it becomes fledged and will leave the nest.
Summer is short time of abundance. All inhabitants of mountains try to save up more fat during the summer, grow, give birth to posterity - to make what cannot be made in inclement winter months.
Cubs of snowloppers grow and study to live in an adult way. They constantly play with each other and with adults, competing in dexterity: jump through stones, swarm up slopes, race one another. It is useful to them very much when predators will threaten their life from the sky or from the ground. And one such predator already grows up in huge nest in rocky niche. At the young tanatos eyes for a long time have opened, and now it looks prickly, as if the porcupine: through down feathers have grew up, but they were not developed yet. It does not sit any more on same place, and walks in the nest and studies to flap still underdeveloped wings. If the lustrers occasionally flying by the nest of tanatoses, had sense of humor, they with all the heart would laugh at these clumsy attempts to fly. And they are virtuosos of flight.
Wiskered lustrers catch insects, dexterously using ascending air streams. To find ascending streams of air in warm areas simply: practically all ground surface is heated under beams of the sun and heats up air above itself, as frying-pan. But in cold mountains it does not occur. But ascending streams are formed here with lay of land: streams of the southern winds hitting in mountain ridges, willy-nilly change direction and rise upwards. The wind brings from tropics masses of insects - flies, winged plant louses, mosquitoes and midges. It also is main food of lustrers. Birds try to search for the air streams rising abruptly upwards before hillsides - here it is easier to them to catch food. Besides passing above mountains, the air stream sharply cools down, and tropical heat-loving insects freeze because of cold, becoming only a toy for the wind... and food for lustrers.
The lustrer hunts insects with the help of original "basket" formed by the mobile feathers environment the mouth. But this adaptation prevents it to fly, showing the frontal resistance. However the bird hunts by special way, when natural forces help it to overcome this contradiction. Lustrers fly up by flight to top of mountain ridge where they line up forming the long rank overlapping all air stream. As if on command, they simultaneously rush to this stream of air and swoop in it in parallel slope, slightly helping themselves by wings and driving by tails. And if the wind is heavy, birds can feed without dive: they simply "hang" in air above the ridge of mountain, keeping themselves on the spot.
The hunting bird opens wide mouth. Insects, hitting against feathers of "basket", inevitably get in it. From time to time the bird closes mouth and swallows insects which have collected in it. Keen sight and fine reaction in good time help the lustrer to notice appetizing insects carrying away by wind, and to put under them the mouth in time.
Chitin of insects is not so good additive to food. The lustrer is not able to digest chitin, but also in mouth of the bird the mass of flying seeds with dense peel and hairy "parachutes" constantly gets. Therefore the lustrer from time to time belches the pressed vegetative rests and shells of insects as dense balls - castings. Nests of these winged children of mountains and wind also are built of them.
In nests of wiskered lustrers nestlings by now sit. Parents feed them with "packages" of insects stuck together by saliva. Because of high-calorie diet nestlings grow quickly, and complete a nest, belching castings and pasting them on edges of the nest. They are in full safety from large predators, but nevertheless there are some animals, which are fond of eating of small fat nestlings and succeed to prey these dainties. On a rock the small black shaggy creature clambers to the colony of lustrers: the rock pipistrelle has going hunting. It uses claws of thumbs, as if first-rate climber, quickly rising on almost steep slope. While wiskered lustrers are occupied with catch of meal highly in heaven, it can plunder their nests unpunishedly. And the small rock-climber reaches the bottom nest in the colony. In it only one nestling is sitting.
When the pipistrelle gets too much closely to the nest, the disturbed nestling starts to call parents by ultrasonic peep. In breaks between shouts it pecks and bites the predator. Its stings are not so harmless: the nestling produces in plenty viscous saliva which thickens on the muzzle of the bat. And instead of dinner the rock pipistrelle gets trouble: it is difficult for it to breathe, its nose is practically stuck. The small mammal is desperately cleaning, and at this moment on it lustrers fly and attack. Impacts by beaks are raining down on its head, and then one bird sits on its back, having seized by sharp claws, and starts to peck head of the pipistrelle. And the bat is compelled to seek safety in flight. Hardly having thrown off from the back the feathered rider, the rock pipistrelle flies, desperately flapping wings. At this moment it is similar to giant moth.
During flight lustrers pursue the pipistrelle, but they stop prosecution when the bat falls in bush and crawls out. Day time hunting of the rock pipistrelle is unsuccessful, but at night these creatures fearlessly attack colonies of wiskered lustrers, biting to death even adult birds. But about one month passes, and young wiskered lustrers leave nests and include to infinite flight above mountain ridges together with adult birds.
The autumn quickly replaces warm summer. In the beginning in the morning it becomes colder, though in the afternoon the sun is rather hot. But first morning fogs creeping in gorges, banish flights of lustrers to the far south, to tropical rainforests. The fog hinders from the flight of aeroplancton - tiny insects, the basic food of lustrers. Therefore fast-winged silvery birds fly out to the area where flights of these dainties are formed. They will spend winter above tropical rainforests, practically not sitting on the ground. Only occasionally birds sit down on tops of highest trees to have a rest.
And other animals prepare for inclement mountain winter. Snowloppers move on hillsides, eating grass turning yellow. The young growth any more does not suck milk, and eats forage of adult animals. And getting of such food is impossible without dexterity and mobility. Easier and mobile young animals can rise on the slope higher, than old ones. They eat the thickets of climbing saxifrages and mountain cushion carnation absolutely not eaten by other herd. But such behavior though gives benefit, is fraught with danger. One young animal has risen too highly on the slope and now it is trapped: from behind the stone the wolfneumon had jumped out. The young snowlopper has made that usually predator waits: it was separated from the others. From above to it an abrupt slope does not allow to escape from the wolfneumon, and in the bottom teeth of the predator wait of it. When the snowlopper tries to move along the slope, the wolfneumon easily runs from place to place, not allowing the snowlopper to come down. It waits, while the snowlopper will grow weak. And in some hours of expectation it occurs: from under legs of the herbivore the stone flies, the animal doesn’t keep its feet and slides downhill. Before it jumps up on legs, the wolfneumon throats and strangles the young snowlopper. When the predator starts to eat catch, in the sky silhouettes of three huge tanatoses had appeared: two adults and their offspring forever left parent’s nest.
In autumn clouds float low, right through mountain gorges. Therefore sometimes it is possible to see the amasing picture: directly through clouds animals walk: herd of snow-white graceful snowloppers, or the wolfneumon had changed motley summer wool for the magnificent winter fur coat.
Life in mountains is inclement: the cold, famine and mountain slopes get the tribute among inhabitants of mountains. But always there are animals for which mountains are the unique habitat.

Bestiary

Snowlopper (Lepotragus nivalis)
Order: Hoofed lagomorphs (Ungulagomorpha)
Family: Lagolopidae



This mammal is large representative of lagomorphs adapted to an inhabiting in high mountains. The animal weights up to 30 - 40 kg, its growth at a shoulder is up to 1 meter, legs are long, forward legs are shorter than hinder ones - the back is appreciably inclined forward. This is the adaptation for grazing on mountain slopes – it is easier for animal to eat grass. Legs are digitigrade, on tips of fingers there is the special thick horn pillow protecting them from wounds. Claws of an animal are thick, extended downwards like crampons on footwear of the climber; this is the adaptation to clamber on abrupt grassless slopes of mountains and to make long jumps. Snowlopper is capable to accelerate momentum on short distances up to 50 - 60 kms per hour and to jump at distance up to 6 meters. In winter on legs "muffs" of long hair grow, assisting to dig snow in searches of food. Head is narrow, long and high, adapted to eat plants in cracks of rocks. The tail is short, with rich hair, looking like rabbit’s tail.
Wool is rich, grey with beige spots on shoulders, to winter color varies on white: the snowlopper had inherited this feature from hares, its ancestors. At males in breeding season on cheeks "whiskers" of long white hair grow. Ears are short, covered with a rich wool at the external side.
Snowloppers have excellent hearing and keen sight. The field of vision of both eyes is almost half-overlapped, that allows an animal to estimate the distance before jumps. Animals communicate with the help of the sounds similar to grunt and bleating.
Snowlopper lives on stony slopes and mountain plateaus, preferring areas which are not strongly covered with snow in the winter: there it is easier to get food - grass and branches of bushes. Animal keeps by small herds (up to 20 animals). The breeding season occurs in 2-nd half of winter. Thus males struggle for females, arranging tournament fights by forelegs. But in the beginning they rear and show themselves each other. Usually it suffices, that weaker contender has conceded. The male pairs with some females and keeps near them about 1 week, driving away competitors.
1 - 2 advanced cubs with opened eyes are born in the beginning of summer. All suckling females of herd feed them, this feature considerably raises chances of surviving of young growth. To winter cubs become completely independent though keep near to parents. To spring of the next year young animals leave mother, and go to bachelor groups or other herds.

Closely related species - stonelopper (Lepotragus saxicola) - lives in mountains of Near East.

Wolfneumon (Oromungo lupicephalus)
Order: Carnivors (Carnivora)
Family: Herpestidae

Large single predator of civet family (Viverridae), the descendant of the mongoose. This species, tropical by its origin, had expanded to mountains from warm southern foothills. Constitution the animal is similar to the dog’s one: at him it is a large head with lengthened strong jaws, high (in comparison with ancestors) legs, short tail. Length of the body is about 1 meter, tail - 30 cm, height at a shoulder is up to 60 cm. The head is similar to fox’s one, but ears are small and located on head sides. Jaws are strong, the animal usually kills catch by strong bite. Tail is covered with rich wool. Winter fur is white, summer - grey with brown “shabrack” and white spots on paws, on the head there is a longitudinal dark strip, ears are black. In winter on paws wool is especially rich: it allows to run on snow and to chase catch, not failing through it.
Wolfneumon preys large animals, chasing them at the short distance, driving it to natural traps and attacking from an ambush. During the autumn beast eats juicy berries of plants. In winter time it hunts small mammals, digging them from under snow, and also searches for carrion.
Monogamous animal, pairs are formed on one season. Hairless and blind cubs (2 - 4) are born in spring, first time the female constantly is in lair, and the male provides family with food. At the age of 2 weeks cubs begin to see clearly and start to hear, monthly cubs can leave shelter and play near to it. By the end of summer cubs start to study to hunt, and become completely independent in the winter and the family of animals breaks.

Rock pipistrelle (Montanosideros involans)
Order: Chiroptera
Family: Rhinolophidae

Unique practically flightless species of chiropters. The length of the body is about 15 cm, weight - up to 100 grams. The male is a little bit larger than the female. Bat lives in rock cracks and thickets of bushes on slopes inaccessible to predators. Wings are short, flying membranes are covered from both sides with rich wool. Back is black, wing wool is black with rust-colored shade, belly is bright yellow at males and grey at females. The animal is capable to fly up and fly by small distances, but makes it reluctantly, only in case of extreme danger (flight is similar to flight of quail and other gallinaceous birds, with frequent wing flapping). At presence of choice the small mammal prefer to be hidden in crevices. On the bend of wing there is flat calloused pad - the reduced sucker serving for support. The thumb is very strong, huge claw on it serves for climbing on rocks and digging of snow in winter. At movement on flat place the thumb is turned in. Hind legs are almost free of flying membrane (it does not reach even knees), it is few interthign membrane. The tail is short and thick, stock of fat is accumulating in it.
This strange bat lives in thickets of bed plants, eats insects digging from the ground. It digs tunnels under snow in winter and gathers insects from bushes, eats berries of mountain bushes. During the thaw it eats ice flies and other insects keeping on surface of snow.
Outgrowths on the head are shovel-like, using for digging tunnels in snow in winter. Ears are short, the animal is capable to fold them half-and-half for protection against cold. The external surface of ears is covered with rich wool. Hearing is good, but ability to echolocation is weak. Sight is bad, sense of smell is perfectly advanced. At males there is specific gland on waist at the basis of tail. Its secret is used for attraction of females in breeding season and for marking of territory and female to whom the male is coupled in the current season.
The cub is only one, it is born hairless and blind, the female carries it in the folded wing, as in the bag. At this time the female prefers to not fly, because at this moment the cub can fall down or be overcooled. The cub quickly becomes covered by fur. Sexual maturity is at 2 years, bat lives till 15 years.

Wiskered lustrer (Calathostomornis callovolans)
Order: Apodiformes (Apodiformes)
Family: Calathostomornitidae

Small bird of group Apodiformes, the descendant of swifts (Apus spp.). The length of the body (not including the tail) is up to 10 cm, head length accounts 4 cm from them. Bird is remarkable by two features, allowing to live in mountains: feathering color and fine ability to fly.
Feather vanes of this bird are gray-white with strong metal shine: it allows to reflect superfluous ultra-violet radiation of the sun. But the bird simultaneously is able to be heated despite of this feature: down part of its feather is black and rich. Having raised feathers on the body, the bird is perfectly heated, absorbing warm by down part of feathers.
Wings of the lustrer are long and narrow, and tail is forked, as at swallows and swifts – it is the adaptation to high-speed and maneuverable flight in strong air streams. It is connected to features the lustrer feeding: it eats extremely aeroplancton - tiny flying insects carried away in mountains by wind streams.
By character of feed the lustrer is like Holocene swifts and swallows, but in comparison with them its trapping adaptations were considerably complicated. The beak of this bird is short, its tip juts out from head feathers only at some millimeters. But the mouth of the lustrer is very wide: its corner is far behind of back edge of an eye of the bird (as at the nightjar). On edges of the mouth there are numerous feathers of the special anatomy: at them there is mobile feather follicle to which special muscles are attached, and its vane consists of very thin and strong barbs. When the bird sits, feathers on edges of the mouth are pressed to the head. The bird uses only feathers above nostrils, as the cockatoo parrot its crest: it expresses the emotional condition by position of these feathers. But when the bird chases catch, feathers around the mouth are unbent forward by muscles (against the direction of bird movement) and form "basket" trap for which widely opened mouth of the bird serves as the bottom. Walls of "basket" are enough thin to not prevent for the bird seeing, but thick enough to drop and direct to the mouth flies or mosquitoes, appeared on the path of bird. In the mouth the sticky saliva of the lustrer will not allow to escape to any catch. During the feeding process the bird "trawls" the air stream, moving against the wind. Insects are digested quickly, the bird from time to time belches their rests as castings, similarly to owls.
Eyes of this bird are large, an iris of the eye is orange with cat’-eye pupil. Their field of vision is almost full circular. Transparent third eyelids also work as solar glasses, protecting retina of the eye from solar burns in Alpine conditions.
The lustrer spends the most part of time in flight. This bird is able even to sleep in flight. Thus different areas of bird’s brain cortex sleep alternately. The lustrer practically is not able to walk on the ground and to fly up from flat place too. It lives on almost steep rocky precipices where moves, clinging by short paws. Toes are located almost crosswisely, between them the paw pad has formed the sucker. The bird greases this sucker with the secret of coccygeal gland, that improves its rock-climbing abilities, providing more strong cohesion with rock surface.
Lustrers nest similar to swifts, their ancestors: they stick small nests on steep rock. Nesting time of this species is late spring. The nest is build of castings, feathers and seeds of the plants picked up in flight which have been stuck together by saliva. In clutch there are 2 eggs. Birds are monogamous, both parents hatch eggs and feed nestlings. Development of nestlings is fast: by the end of short mountain summer they leave nest and migrate with adult birds to spend winter in tropical woods.

Tanatos (Tanatopterus ferox)
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Carnocorvidae

Picture by Alexander Smyslov

This mountain bird is the scavenger, ecological analogue of condors, vultures and griffons, and the descendant of the crow (Corvus spp.), adapted for a predating. It is the largest species of passerin birds group (Passeriformes). It is one of carnivorous species of corvine birds and the representative of separate mountain-dwelling genus. The adult bird weighs up to 10 kg, its wingspan is up to 3,5 meters. It is capable to hover at the big height: wings are strong and wide. The beak is long, high, compressed asides, hooked on the tip: it allows to tear meat, not dirtying feathers. With the help of such beak it is possible to penetrate inside of animal carcass, not risking to soil feathering. The head of the tanatos, as against heads of other scavenger birds, is covered with dense feathering for protection against cold. Legs are covered with feathers up to fingers, claws are blunt, do not serve for a killing, carryings and tearing of catch, as at predatory birds of group Falconiformes. At the best the bird only holds by claws the carcass on which it is feeding. Feathering on back is grey, on the head and wings it is black. Ends of wings of the male are white. Beak is black colored with red cross strip at the basis. Eyes are big, grey, pupil is black and round.
Bird feed by meat, more often eats carrion. Birds of this species hunt alive animals only when the opportunity offers. It can frighten cubs of herbivores and force down them from rocks by stroke of wing (the similar behavior is observed at modern lammergeyer Gypaetus barbatus).
Monodin species, nesting on ledges of rocks, pair forms to all life. In clutch there is one egg, both parents hatch it alternately. The nestling hatches downed, but blind. It develops slowly, the first winter it lives with parents, helps them to feed up a new nestling the next year. Later young bird lives alone before formation of nesting pair (it happena at the age of 4 years). Life expectancy is over 50 years.

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