Forests and snow

 

Tour to Neocene

 

18. Forests and snow

 

 

 

Eurasia is the huge continent divided by the Ural mountains on two parts of the world. To the east of Ural there is Asia, to the west - Europe lays. However those who has thought up division of this continent into two parts of the world, for a long time had already shared destiny of mammoths and dinosaurs. And the world already almost 25 million years develops without them. And a face of the Earth has strongly changed for this time. Ice ages, past on border of Holocene and Neocene, partially "had erased" border between Asia and Europe, having ground off northern part of ancient Ural. But though the climate of new epoch is much warmer, than in far Holocene, in huge territory of Eurasia there are places where the continental climate with hot summer but the rigorous winter dominates. The climate of the north Ural mountains is those. It is similar to Holocene climate of Siberia, but differs in much milder winter: frosts seldom are about -20°С.
Mass extinction of alive creatures on border of Holocene and Neocene rendered strong influence on fauna of new epoch. And here, in seasonal climate, as well as everywhere on the planet, new species, strange at first sight, but perfectly adapted to inclement conditions of inhabiting had appeared.
The territory of Northern Ural represents vast taiga - the coniferous wood formed by pines and fur-trees, larches and fir-trees. Here and there by small islets small-leaved trees meet - aspens and birches. To the south they are replaced by deciduous forests which border in Neocene had moved further to the north. In the summer here it is hot, as in the south, but deciduous trees from the south - oaks, poplars, chestnuts and plane trees - do not grow here: rigorous winter does not allow them to grow further to the north.
Coniferous trees grow more slowly than deciduous ones, and their dense canopy stops up almost all sunlight. Because of it in sunny day at ground surface twilight reigns here. Under coniferous trees completely special world was formed: the ground is covered with the rich carpet of fallen needles, and only here and there poor shrubs of grasses and ferns stick up. In the early summer morning needles rustles under set of softly stepping feet: through the forest strange animals walk by column. There is something imperceptibly familiar from the childhood in their appearance, and it makes them strange-looking. They are the female after whom four cubs follow in single. Animals are stumpy, with wide trunk and brawny paws of the sprinter. They are waddling. Tails at them are not present, ears are very short, eyes are small, noses are extended and very mobile. At cubs teeth only had started to cutting, but their mummy can brag of the impressive canines which are juting out even from closed mouth. When she yawns, it is visible, that teeth in her strong jaws are sharp, adapted not for plant chewing, but for meat tearing. These beasts are predators of northern European forests. But who are they? If to look closely, it is possible to guess their family tree: in wool on shoulders, nape and neck of these animals spikes stick up. They are spinywolves - descendants of hedgehogs of Holocene.
The female some weeks brought up the pack in shelter before to lead cubs on the first walk. In the beginning there was five cubs, but one of them was lost for famine when some days in succession the female came in lair without catch. But the survived cubs had successfully endured famine - they had simply eaten the dead brother and could last on due to this up to best time. Now cubs are very curious, and the female should gather them by quiet growling: forest is full of dangers, and they can assume the most unexpected appearance.
One of cubs had sensed the strange pungent smell emitting from under fern bush, and had decided to find its source. By paws he had removed piece of mouldering tree, and from under it the tiny spotty shaggy creature with long nose had suddenly jumped out with shrill peep. Having heard this peep, the spinywolf female had bellowed and had given to the cub paw slap, at the same time having rolled away him away from the found small mammal. The spotty tiny mammal also had not thought to recede at the presence of the whole family of large predators. On the contrary, it started to skip on the fallen tree trunk as tiny shaggy ball, accompanying each jump with shrill peep. The spinywolf female had grumbled and had slowly departed tiny creature, and cubs, nothing understanding, had run off and had hidden for mother.
Tiny, fearless and militant creature was one of the dangers trapping the inexperienced cub in forest. It is the addershrew, the most poisonous mammal in Neocene. Its bite would be not sustained by any of cubs, and the adult spinywolf would be sick some days. The spinywolf mother knew it - in youth she has not made way for tiny creature and later some days had laid in lair, balancing between life and death. She has reliably remembered this lesson, and now her behaviour is a signal for posterity: “this small mammal is dangerous, be afraid of small motley one which does not escape!”
The family of spinywolves walks away, and the addershrew can not calm down long time: it peeps shrilly and jumps up. And only when spinywolves had hided, the shrew has calmed down, and has run to hunt - it has lost too many time for silly prickly creatures.
Having found some large heaps of manure, the spinywolf female sniffs at them. Cubs imitate mother, doing it absolutely unconsciously. But their mother had received the valuable information: the herd of aurochids in which there is a cub had just passed here. It is dangerous, as mother protecting posterity, can trample the spinywolf. Therefore spinywolves turn off from a track and bypass herd so that the breeze blows from herd to them. For any seconds cubs see shaggy backs and big heads with ears sticking up in sides and skinny "incrustations" on noses. They stop with curiosity, but the female by silent growling calls up them and the pack of spinywolves hides in bushes. The female had lead cubs by short route in the forest, and had again led to the lair - the big hole dug under flat stone and covered inside with dry leaves. She could not hunt - cubs left without supervision could break hunting or get in trouble.
But cubs had got tired, and soon they already to their upmost breathe noisily by long noses, having buried in litter. And the female has no time to dream - she should provide herself and posterity with food. Therefore she overcomes weariness and goes to hunting. Going out to the familiar track where heaps of aurochid manure lay, the spinywolf female finds one more "addition": small dung balls of other wood herbivore - the wood harelope. Beside traces of horn "soles" with hardly appreciable small holes of thick short claws on fore edge of the footprint are visible also. The spinywolf female by smell defines, that the family group had passed here: the male, some females and two cubs. And the trace of pus on one leaf near to the track signs that one animal is wounded and has not best condition. This circumstance appears deciding, and the female follows in the tracks.
Accurately moving on the track left by herbivores, the spinywolf female smells about: the wind blows from harelopes to her, and she smells several animals, and the most important thing is the most distinct smell with an impurity of disgusting pus. This animal lags behind group, and the predator has chance of good luck. The prickly hunter goes from the track and runs a parallel rate. Soon she runs down the group of harelopes following near to herd of mighty aurochids. And intuition has not deceived the female: the limping animal moved on some distance from others, dropping behind herd.
All were solved with a successful throw: the spinywolf female had rushed on the limping harelope, had broken off a shoulder of prey by canines and had jumped aside. Frightened of sudden attack, other harelopes had taken to their heels, and after them aurochids had become disturbed and had sped up moving. However the wounded animal was few meters behind the others. Blood whipped from the torn up shoulder of the harelope, and soon from run it had changed to pace, and then had lain to not rise anymore. The spinywolf female had approached to already dead catch. The leg of the harelope some days before had been wounded with acute twig, and this wound became a fatal verdict for it.
The spinywolf is strong not according to its growth - the female had easily dragged the killed animal to the lair. When she utters silent invocatory growling, from the hole under stone four long muzzles appear, and then four hungry cubs run out. They greedy start to tear meat, being full. The hunting success and plentiful meal of spinywolves have not remained unnoticed. Highly above feasting family pair of large birds flies. They are eagleravens - forest predators and scavengers. They wait, while the family of predators will be saturated, expecting to eat the rests of their feast. Pair of eagleravens takes seat near to feasting family of spinywolves and birds look in their side by large black eyes. Spinywolves had ate at one go less half of carcass – it had remained something for birds to profit. When cubs under supervision of mother depart, large birds sit on the carcass and start to tear meat. Another joins one pair, then third flies, and soon in dangerous affinity from the lair of spinywolves one and half ten predators feast greedy. They can be dangerous to cubs - when one of cubs gets out of the lair and observes of the birds with curiosity, the eagleraven nearest to him turns around and clicks with the hooked beak. Curiosity of the kid can cost life to him, but his mother attentively observes of birds and any minute is ready to attack feathered robbers.
The rests of spinywolf’s catch have quickly disappeared in craws and stomachs of feathered predators. It is the big good luck for them - in nests nestlings who need a plentiful feed(meal) grow up. Having sated, huge birds hardly to flap wings and rise in air. They soar above a wood, coming back to the nests.
The nest of the eagleraven is built at the broken top of coniferous tree. Environmental branches, aspiring to replace the lost top, start to grow, forming the powerful base of the big nest. There, on the litter of grass and feathers three nestlings sit. They had already opened eyes and had started to fledge. The unwrapped feathers on wings and tail make their appearance strange, but for the parents they are the most dear creatures in the world.
However serious danger can threaten them: while parents get forage, nestlings remain absolutely alone. If something happens at this time, they can expect only for themselves. The big height and inaccessibility of the nest will protect them from such predator, as the spinywolf. But there is a predator, for which height is not a problem. For him tops of trees are the native house and hunting area, and the most part of day he surveys the estate.
Among branches of pines the long brown striped body flashes. It is the hunting cat hermin - ruthless predator. It climbs up high trees with ease of the squirrel, despite of the large size. Force and dexterity of this animal allow it to eat almost everything, that it want: it happens, that the cat hermin throats the adult harelope in winter. And the nest of the eagleraven with helpless nestlings is the fine purpose for attack. Cautiously, hiding itself in rich pine branches, the predator is rising to the nest. It starts to clamber on one of the branches supporting the basis of the nest. Two more exact jumps - and it already is at edge of the nest. Three nestlings have become exited: an animal sitting at the edge of their home is not mother and not father. It is not a bird. The only thing that was not expected by awful hermin is that nestlings had already fairly grown up. And each of them can be the dangerous opponent, and there are three nestlings.
The hermin starts to turn on edge of the nest, and nestlings, having bunched, keep beaks to it, ready to defend. But being carried away by hunting, the predator did not consider one circumstance - parents had returned. Noise of wings has found a predator made to the jump. Behind its back one instant the huge bird who has put to it a crushing blow by beak has appeared. Being wounded, the cat hermin as if the bullet had left the nest of eagleravens. By long jumps it had hided in rich branches where began to lick bleeding wound on the hip. The hooked beak of the eagleraven had pulled out a rag of skin, but the wound as a whole appeared harmless. However, it will remind some days to the hermin about unsuccessful hunting.
The cat hermin, the eagleraven and the spinywolf are successful predators. But they are absolutely not terrible to aurochids - the largest animals of the Ural forests. The herd of these mighty herbivores grazes on the damp meadow in the river valley. Huge animals eat reeds, pulling them with roots out from soft ground. They easily walk at the bog - their fingers had formed wide horn "feet", due to which giant does not sink in mud. Now summer had already passed for middle, and aurochid cubs had grown up. They still frequently play, but gradually pass to adult life and learn laws of herd. When pair of youths, breathing noisily and snorting, run on the coast near the old female, the head of herd, tarry youngster gets an appreciable hit by head. Some adult animals bathe in the river - they are exasperated with mosquitoes, and in water they find rescue from importunate insects. At the same time one of aurochids pulls out from silt rhizomes of water lilies and eats them with champing.
But idyll does not proceed eternally: one of males is guarded with noise in bushes. It utters warning roar, and animals quickly gather. Young animals are hidden between bodies of adults, and all herd intently snorts. Some animals noisily involve air and shake heads. Soon from bushes the reason of alarm of aurochid herd is shown: the large stumpy animal of heavy constitution hobbles to water, not paying attention to giants. When one aurochid especially loudly bellows, the animal throws up a head, some time examines herd, and then approaches to water. This clumsy creature is the false panda, or the bearaccoon - the descendant of Holocene raccoons. It is omnivorous, and at an opportunity it will not miss a case to kill a young aurochid. However now it does not hunt, else aurochids would not hear its steps. The bearaccoon drinks water, then looks back on the aurochids concerned with its presence, and walks away, shaking by short tail. But giants can not calm down a long time: they shake heads and stamp by forward legs, looking follow to the predator.
If the bearaccoon easily uses different kinds of forage, the cat hermin hopes only for the hunting skill. Its wound got from the eagleraven, had closed up, and the hunting abilities were restored completely. The animal goes hunting again.
In pine branches flights of large birds - tar cushats gather. They use for feeding the most accessible kind of forage - needles of pines and fur-trees. This kind of food wood grouse (Tetrao urogallus) ate in far cool Holocene. The craw of the tar cushat is the real chemical factory: here the needles are prepared for digesting. Because of specific diet meat of bird strongly smells by pitch, therefore not any predator will decide to hunt this game. Tar cushats are one of numerous species of Neocaenic taiga - they keep by flights in tens and hundreds of birds, migrating above immense taiga areas.
But now the cat hermin is observing of tar cushats from under the pine branch. Having chosen the most carefree and fat pigeon, the predator makes a prompt throw, and forces down the bird in flight by paw. The flight of pigeons takes wing above pine crones while the hermin drags the lifeless body of their neighbour to the secluded place.
The tar cushat is not the most tasty catch because of bitterish smack of its meat. But the hermin is hungry, therefore soon from the pigeon only head, bony legs and wings, and some down and feathers remain.
Summer comes to an end, and it is time to take care of forthcoming wintering. Winters in Neocaenic Eurasia are rather soft, but snowy. At times snow covers the ground with almost two-meter layer. Winter is the difficult time for forest inhabitants, especially for herbivores. Perhaps, only flights of tar cushats have an opportunity to regale itself free with habitual food. Other herbivores should make considerable efforts to get the rests of summer luxury - unappetizing faded grass. But tar cushats break rest of the winter wood, flying by flights from place to place. But they should not lose vigilance - predators are not dreaming. The cat hermin, one of enemies of every small and average creatures, prepares for rigorous winter for a long time. It had occupied the large tree-trunk hollow and with approach of frosts had transformed it to real "pantry": the predator regularly drags killed prey in this tree-trunk hollow. More often tar cushats are this prey. In winter such prey is most desirable for the hermin: the meat of the pigeon impregnated with pitches does not spoil even in a thaw for a long time, enabling the owner of "pantry" to not go hungry even at the most unsuccessful hunting. If not all prey will be had eaten during the winter, the cat hermin simply can forget about the stocks for pleasure to scavengers and small predators.
But this case happens seldom: usually "pantries" of the cat hermin other animals use in the interests. The bearaccoon had tracked "pantry" of hermin, and clumsily climbs on the tree, hoping to get hold of free meal. With appearance of the owner it thrusts the paw in tree-trunk hollow and takes from it bodies of the pigeons which had been laid up by predator. The bearaccoon eats frozen bodies right with bones, sometimes spitting out feathers. The only thing that it obviously did not consider is that the lawful owner of "pantry" already comes back. The cat hermin is fearless: it throws the next bird body in forked crown of branches, and attacks the robber surpassing it in tens times in the size. The hermin jumps to the bearaccoon on the back, and starts to bite its nape, neck and ears. The large predator desperately waves away by paw from the furious hermin, but does not maintain fight and slips from a tree. It runs away from the battlefield, and the cat hermin sees it off with loud shrill growl.
The female of the spinywolf who was left for a long time by cubs, is far from these battles: she spends the coldest time of winter in superficial hibernation, and only thaws at the end of winter awake her finally. While she has stopped up an entrance in the lair with the ground and grass, therefore she is not disturbed with colds. She is fat - all autumn she was eaten off by carrion, prey, fish and mushrooms. But to spring famine nevertheless will have an effect, and the prickly predator will come to hunt on last snow.
Herds of aurochids and harelopes keep in thicket of forest - here it is less snow and it is easier to get poor grass. Huge animals scatter snow in sides by muzzles - the skinny surface of bridge of the nose helps them in it very much. After half an hour of active work under snow the yellowish last year's grass on which animals snatch with greed is shown. Some of aurochids dig out snow at trunks of trees, and eat frozen sponk mushrooms, or gnaw lichens from the bottom branches of fur-trees and young pines.
The herd of aurochids shows appreciable anxiety: near to them behind trees the bearaccoon is hidden. It waits, while aurochids will leave - in the chilled ground the bearaccoon digs out roots and bulbs of plants, using long claws. There is also other reason on which it does not lag behind aurochids - not all animals can sustain a fodder shortage and long transitions in the forest. By experience the bearaccoon knows, that the patience is generously recompensed, therefore it does not hasten and waits the successful moment.
At night the frost is getting harder, and the blizzard begins. Visibility sinks so, that any aurochid does not see the neighbour going after. Huge animals prepare for dream - they bunch and press closely to each other, trying to keep heat. The furious wind throws snow in them, and soon the herd turns to one fantastical snowdrift. Aurochids will go through this night - their winter wool is dense, and it does not pass cold to their skin. But all the same it will be night of the big tests.
The blizzard rages all night, and abates only to morning. The thick layer of snow has lain on the ground, and the herd of aurochids has turned to a continuous snowdrift from which only clouds of exhalation from animal breath are pulled out. Soon the snowdrift starts to move and break up to the separate little heaps of snow which have stayed since night on backs of aurochids. Animals shake off and look back in sides. Gradually they gather and leave from the place of spending the night. And on snow there is a carcass of the old male which had not stood test of frost and snow. It also is chance for the predators following herd.
The eagleravens soaring in height, start to gather above the carcass of animal. But one predator nevertheless supposes the dead aurochid its own prey by its right: through snowdrifts the massive bearaccoon hastens to the carcass. Eagleravens understand, that any of them who will apply for prey of the bearaccoon, will supplement its dinner by itself. Therefore feathered hunters gather by group around of feasting jumbo.
However there is an applicant for catch and it is better to concede to them. The tiny spotty small mammal gets out of snow on the aurochid carcass - the addershrew does not fall into hibernation and awake even in inclement frost. Without ceremony the tiny one seizes meat and when the bearaccoon had discontentedly rumbled, in the answer it was uttered a shrill thin peep of fearless small mammal. Therefore in order to prevent incidents the bearaccoon is moved away from spiteful tiny beast.
Both animals greedy fill stomaches by cold, but not yet frozen meat. But all the same the aurochid is too large to be eaten at one go. And when the bearaccoon, fairly having eaten plenty, departs from the carcass, the flight of eagleravens snatches on the rests, trying to tear off the share. At the first flap of the bird's wings the addershrew has promptly dived into snow: reaction of eagleravens is much faster and more killing, therefore it is better to it to not test destiny once again.
On border of winter and spring the thaw has woken the spinywolf female. Fairly become scraggy during the period of hibernation, she is going to search for catch. Some days she was unlucky: it was not possible even to pick up rests of any other predator’s meal. And when frosts had returned, chances of successful hunting nevertheless had increased. Snow has become covered by the layer of ice crust on which the spinywolf easily runs on wide paws. But harelopes and aurochids are compelled to break an ice crust by the body that slows down their run.
The spinywolf female watches the bird flying: eagleravens see from height better where there is possible catch. And when birds have departed to one side by whole flight, the spinywolf female was thrown after them.
Eagleravens are not only scavengers, but also predators. They are capable to arrange the smooth-running hunting even large animals, and now the flight of birds pursues group of harelopes. Birds have frightened away their herd and drive it on an ice crust, similarly to wolves. Flying low above animals, birds peck them in heads and force to rush. Harelopes cut legs against an ice crust, and drops of blood already redden on snow. But eagleravens operate in an organized way, "transferring" drive to fresh-strengthened birds. Tired feathered beaters know – they will get the share of catch.
The herd of harelopes rushes between trees, and several animals succeed to hide under rich branches from an air attack. But the staying animals are driven ruthlessly, and two harelopes already hardly maintains rate. Their blood lasts on an ice crust as long red path, and on it there is the spinywolf female, joining in drive. She easily catches up and fells in snow the young harelope male with legs cut up in blood, and eagleravens surround other prey - the old female. The harelope female pants and obviously is not going to surrender: it beats coming nearer birds by forward legs. But the large eagleraven seizes its head by claws and starts to peck it by strong beak to the shouts of hungry neighbours.
In some hours the cat hermin who had come on the place of bloody drama, was compelled only to gnaw cartilages on bones and to lick the snow impregnated with blood. Other eatable parts of carcasses was had eaten by successful hunters.
Gradually the sun thaws an ice crust, and spring comes into its own. Eagleravens fly round above the forest, looking for only spring catch: thawing from snow rests of animals had died during the winter. But their flights respectfully part, when through them their relative, huge grayish-white bird flies by. It is the sea eagleraven, whose native land while is covered by snow. It had spent winter at lakes of the south, and now is coming back to cold sea coast of the north where with arrival of heat life will be in full swing.

Bestiary

Tar cushat (Pinicolumba foetida)
Order: Columbiformes
Family: Columbidae

Picture by Alexander Smyslov

This forest bird is one of numerous species of taiga. It is colored contrastly: dark-grey head, grey wings, bright red spot on the back (at the perching bird it is not visible), the bottom part of the body is white. Size of this bird is similar to usual blue rock pigeon, but the constitution is more massive, wings are short and wide. Flight is slow and non-manoeuvrable. It is connected to features of feed: in winter the bird eats needles and seeds of coniferous trees: fur-trees and pines. Because of such specific diet meat of a bird has an unpleasant resinous smell, and the body of dead bird is not decomposed a long time because pitch has properties of preservative. However, it not only does not prevent, but also helps some predators to make stocks of meat of these birds for winter. Feeding by needles of coniferous trees has one doubtless advantage: this forage always is plentiful, and competitors practically are absent - mass extinction had affected also populations of grouses (Tetraonidae), eating needles and buds. Number and variability of these birds had declined, and it had allowed pigeons to occupy their ecological niche. Feeding by such coarse forage has resulted to that the bird’s craw had became complicated by its structure (it has 3 chambers) and had displaced pectoral bone that has had an influence on bird’s abilities to fly. Some species of unicellular organisms live in the bird’s craw, capable to decompose wax, pitch and cellulose. The fledgling receives these symbionts with semidigested forage closer to the time of nest leaving (before it nestling eats special, characteristic for pigeons “craw milk”, separated in the first craw chamber of an adult bird). Excepting tree needles in summer pigeons are fed with insects, snails, berries and seeds of grasses, sometimes peck mushrooms, eating them together with larvae of insects.
This pigeon keeps by large flights numbering up to 300 birds and more. It nests by colonies on pine trees (on one tree it can number up to 50 nests), in clutch there are 2 - 4 eggs. Voice is cooing, as at usual pigeons.

Eagleraven (Aquillorax nigriceps)
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Carnocorvidae

Picture by Alexander Smyslov

As of XX century corvine bird (Corvidae) are the most advanced family of birds. They differ by high abilities to adaptation, complex behavior and ability to restore number of species quickly. Therefore it is possible to tell with confidence, that these birds will have the big evolutionary and biological progress in the future, having evolved set of new species developing new, earlier inaccessible ecological niches.
The eagleraven is one of such species. It is the descendant of the raven (Corvus corax) which has an active predatory habit of life, having replaced predatory birds, many of which had not survived through mass extinction.
It is the sizable bird: wingspan is up to 2 meters, length of the body – about 1 meter (including tail), weight is up to 8 kg. Coloring is brown with black strips on feathers, on back it is more dark, wings and tail are black. Head and beak are colored black, eyes are black. Beak is strong, high, bent on the end. Paws are not feathered, have big claws using for killing catch. Bird can not carry catch in paws, carries small prey in a beak, large prey is tore off to pieces and is carrying in beak or in craw. Eagleraven eats tiny and medium-sized animals, cubs of large animals, dead fish and carrion. In winter time this bird can attack by group large herbivores (for example, harelopes).
It nests in pairs, out of nesting season birds gather in groups of 3 - 6 ones. The nest is huge (diameter up to 3 meters, up to 2 - 3 meters height), it is built of branches with litter of dry grass; this construction is used by the same pair during many years, is repaired and built on annually. In clutch there are 3 - 4 eggs, in years poor in catch - only 1 - 2. Featherless and blind nestlings hatch in middle of spring. They begin to see clearly and start to become covered by down on 2-nd week of life. In the age of 2 months the down is replaced with feathers. 4-month's fledglings try to fly. For 5 months they left nest and during the first winter keep with parents.

Addershrew (Neosorex toxicaria)
Order: Soricomorpha
Family: Soricidae

Picture by Lambert

Initial image - picture by Pavel Volkov

This is tiny insectivorous mammal: body length is 5 - 6 cm, tail length – up to 3 - 4 cm. Muzzle is long, ears are very small, hidden in fur, teeth are numerous, sharp. The bite of this mammal is poisonous, in its mouth there are modified salivary glands, producing the poisonous secret for killing of catch - large insects and small vertebrates. For day the mammal eats approximately twice more its body weight. In winter it doesn’t fall into hibernation, hunts under snow rodents and birds spending the night in snow, willingly eats carrion (even frozen one). Poison is able to kill bird in size like the pigeon for 5 seconds, an animal in size as a dog - in some hours. Contrast spotted black and white wool coloration is the warning for possible predators. Spots are chaotic, their pattern and amount varies individually. Warning demonstration of this mammal is remarkable and well appreciable - the animal jumps up at height up to 30 cm with shrill peep.
Animal breeds in spring, summer and early autumn, gives rise to 4 packs (7 - 9 cubs in each one) per one year. Newborn cubs are hairless and blind, at the age of 5 days they become covered by wool and begin to see clearly. 20-day's cubs leave shelter and follow mother, at this time they study to search for food. At monthly age they leave mother and begin independent life. Poisonous glands at young growth start to function only at achievement of independence (the milk of the female contains the substances, stopping development of poisonous glands). Young animals become sexual mature at the age of 2 months, life duration is about 18 months, as a rarity – up to 2 years.

Spinywolf (Erinalupus spinosus)
Order: Erinaceomorpha
Family: Erinalupidae

Picture by Tim Morris

Initial image - picture by Pavel Volkov

The medium-sized predator: growth at a shoulder is up to 50 cm, length of body is up to 80 cm, weight - up to 25 kg. By proportions it reminds stumpy dog. Head is pointed, the face department of a skull is extended, jaws are strong. Top canines slightly jut out of the closed mouth. Molars have acute tops of "carnivorous" type. The origin of this animal is showing by character of wool in which there are sharp spikes protecting an animal from enemies: this species descends from the modern hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus). The wool on sides and stomach, and also on muzzle has no spikes. Spikes on the head, neck and shoulders are especially numerous. On the back there are not so much spikes, waist is practically spineless. Animal prefers to defend from enemies actively, biting and striking impacts by prickly head.
Spinywolf has good immunity to the poisons, inherited from an ancestor. It eats practically any animal food: invertebrates (including poisonous ones), small vertebrates, sometimes beast attacks young growth of large herbivores. As a rule, it hunts solitary, only the female and its pack keep by group.
Breeding season lasts at an autumn. Courtship is reduced to fight of males for the female and to fast pairing. Animal does not fall into hibernation, only in keen frosts activity is reduced, this time the beast spends in shelter: the lair or the hole. Hairless and blind cubs (3 - 7) are born at the end of winter. In some hours after birth they start to become covered by spikes and wool. At the age of 3 days spikes already become firm. At the age of week eyes open. Month-aged cubs creep in shelter, in 3 months they leave it for games. 5-month-aged cubs hunt together with mother, remaining at it up to an autumn. Sexual mature is at the age of 18 months, animal lives up to 13 - 15 years.

Forest harelope (Lepolopa sylvatica)
Order: Hoofed lagomorphs (Ungulagomorpha)
Family: Lagolopidae

Picture by Lambert

Initial image by Pavel Volkov

This light-built herbivore is the ecological analogue of deer and the close relative of the African grass harelope, differing from it by the large size, longer and thick wool, and also by shorter ears.
Weight is up to 60 kg and more, in size animal is like large deer (height at a shoulder is up to 140 cm). Coloring of wool during the summer is dark brown with white stomach and "glasses" around of eyes, to winter it changes to white. The "hoofs" formed by horn cover of fingers are wide, to winter their size is increased due to fringe of rich wool that freely allows an animal to run on snow surface, almost not failing through it.
The breeding period is in the beginning of winter, with occurrence of the first snow. Males push each other by shoulders, trying to tumble opponent down on the ground. In especially fierce fight it happens, that males bite each other. The winner gathers "harem" of 3 - 5 females and pairs with them, protecting them from contenders within approximately week. At this time it utters the sounds reminding cough, warning contenders. At the end of spring at the female 2 advanced cubs are born which are feeding together by all suckling females of herd. By coloring the young growth nothing differs from adult animals.
Voice of an animal is bleating, at danger - sharp loud whistle.

Aurochid (Lepotaurus robustus)
Order: Hoofed lagomorphs (Ungulagomorpha)
Family: Titanolagidae

Picture by Tim Morris

Initial image - picture by Pavel Volkov

Huge animal, ecological analogue of the European bison (Bison bonasus) and the extinct wood bull auroch (Bos primigenius), the representative of lagomorphs order (Lagomorpha).
Certainly, looking at present-day hare it is difficult to suppose, that a huge animal can evolve from it. However the common ancestor of such large animals, as bulls, giraffes and hippopotamuses was the small long-legged animal Diacodexis (rabbit-sized mammal). It lived on the Earth in early Eocene, and already from early Miocene real hollow-horned ruminants are known. Thus, the increase of the size had taken place for a time interval from 25 to 30 million years. And presence already in late Paleocene and Eocene huge (rhinoceros- or elephant-sized) fossil herbivores (had evolved, certainly, from other ancestors, than modern hoofed mammals) shows that the increase of the body size under favorable conditions (presence of free ecological niches) can pass even faster: at the end of the Cretaceous period large herbivores (dinosaurs) had died out, having left set of free ecological niches which were occupied subsequently by giant herbivore animals (orders Dinocerata, Pantodonta and others).
These facts also enable to suppose, that lagomorph mammal can evolve to large animal for the time period from Holocene to Neocene (25 million years). The hare can be considered as the primitive form of running herbivore and it is possible to suppose, that from it there will evolve in the beginning to animal, similar by constitution to the deer or the antelope, and then it will turn to an aurochid - the massive animal similar to the bull.
Aurochid is the huge animal, in size it is like domestic cow and it weights up to 500 kg. Animal lives in woods, keeps by herds of 25 - 30 animals under the leading of the skilled female. The body of aurochid is covered with shaggy wool, to winter wool becomes thicker because of underfur layer increasing. Legs had turned to similarity of camel feet: they maintain weight of a body on marshy ground, help to dig out snow in winter. The tail is short, covered with very long hair (it reminds horse tail). Colouring of the body in summer is brown, brightening in winter. Legs are colored darker then trunk. On the back there passes the longitudinal black strip. Head is big, ears are lengthened, mobile, are located on sides of head. On the nose there is the area of very dense thick skin, assisting to dig out wood litter and snow. Aurochid feed in bushes and on forest edges, sometimes in the summer beast comes to bogs and lakes. Forage includes grass, leaves and bark of young sprouts, in summer and an autumn – mushrooms; in winter aurochid can eat even sponks. In winter the animal can dig out snow in searches of last year's grass, using legs and muzzle. To winter it becomes fat, on shoulders there appears the small hump.
The breeding period passes in the beginning of an autumn. This time males struggle with each other, having risen on back legs and pushing by chest. In the beginning of summer the female gives rise to 1 - 2 cubs. Cubs are advanced, with opened eyes, stay on legs in 1-st hour of life, are capable to follow mother after 3 - 4 hours after birth. Cubs are protected from predators by all herd.
Voice of adult animals sounds as the snort, at aggression - hoarse low roar. Cubs utter a sound reminding the sheep bleating.

Cat hermin (Musticattus erminoides)
Order: Carnivors (Carnivora)
Family: Mustelidae

Pictured by Eugeny Hontor

Initial image - pictured by Pavel Volkov

Perhaps, it is one of the most successful and blood-thirsty predators of Neocaenic Europe. This species has wide life area: from southern woodlands up to dense coniferous woods and northern tundra. Length of the body is up to 30 cm, a tail - up to 20 - 25 cm. Forepaws are short, back ones are longer and brawny: the animal can jump from branch to branch on distance up to 5 meters. Claws are not involving, but sharp. The head is short, jaws can be opened widely. The top canines have the wide basis, they are similar to slightly bent blades, jutting out from the closed mouth. Summer wool is brown with pale cross strips, tip of the tail is dark, stomach is white. Winter wool is thick, white, tip of the tail is black, as at an ancestor of the present species - Holocene hermin (Mustela erminea).
The animal lives on trees, frequently goes down on the ground. Its usual prey contain birds, small animals and cubs of large herbivores - any prey which the predator can kill. The beast attacks prey, creeping to it under covering of branches. It can prey ground animals, jumping on them from above, catch birds in flight by exact jump, forcing down by paws 2 - 3 birds at once for one jump. It differs by the might: animal can drag off on the tree sizable catch (weighting as the predator itself). The behavior of this animal in the beginning of winter is original: when the first steady frosts has become settled, the animal gathers stocks of tar cushats and other prey in "pantries" - hollows of old trees. The animal protects "pantry", in hungry time at unsuccessful hunting eats the frozen prey prepared earlier.
The constant refuge is made only by the female before birth of posterity. At the end of spring it gives rise to 5 - 6 cubs in deep hole or the hollow of an old tree. The young growth develops quickly: in 2 days cubs begin to see clearly, in 2 weeks they already actively move in shelter and at the age of 1,5-month leave shelter and some time hunt together with mother. At the age of 2,5 - 3 months young animals leave from territory of mother and search to themselves for the constant place for life. Sexual maturity at females is in 1 year, at males - in 1,5 years. Life duration is till 12 years.

False panda, bearaccoon (Ursicyon pseudoailuropoda)
Order: Carnivors (Carnivora)
Family: Procyonidae

Pictured by Eugeny Hontor

Initial image - pictured by Pavel Volkov

Presence of this animal in Neocaenic European fauna is the result of human activity. The common raccoon (Procyon lotor) had been introduced to Europe from Northern America in the beginning of XX century and had successfully got accustomed and settled in southern Europe. The euryphagy, high adaptive ability and endurance had helped raccoons to go through mass extinction and subsequently to evolve to new species - the bearaccoon.
The bearaccoon (or the false panda) is similar by habit of life to usual brown bear: it is the same omnivorous forest animal. But, as against the bear, the false panda does not fall to hibernation, but to winter it is strongly eaten off and becomes fat. The constitution of an animal is massive, body is short, paws are moderately long and plantigrade, the tail is short and appreciable outside. Length of the body is up to 180 cm, a tail - up to 30 cm, beast weights up to 160 kg (to winter - up to 200 kg). Head is rounded, front part is wide, muzzle is short, ears are small, triangular. Coloring of the body is contrast: back is gray-brown, stomach is dark, almost black. Head is light, with two black strips (from an eye up to a cheek), similar to strips on the raccoon’s muzzle. The tail is white with black tip and basis, sometimes some cross strips are seen. Voice is indistinct growl.
This omnivore prefers food of animal origin. Among vegetative forages the beast eats tubers and sappy roots of plants, berries and mushrooms. The food of animal origin includes practically any organisms which the animal can find: invertebrates, fishes, bird eggs and nestlings, cubs of large animals. Sometimes it pursues large herbivores, especially in winter when animals are weakened.
The solitary animal, keeps in individual territory. Usually in territory few shelters are present in which the animal remains on 1 - 2 nights, bypassing the life area. In breeding season (in autumn) the male comes for pairing to therritory of the female. In the spring the female gives rise to 2 - 3 small (weight of all on 200 grammes) blind cubs hiding in shelter. At the age of 3 weeks at them eyes open, 6-week cubs leave shelter for games, at the age of 3 months they are capable to follow mother, not lagging behind from it. They are fed with milk up to 5-month age, gradually passing to the food of adult animals. Sexual maturity of this species comes at 2 years, life duration is up to 30 - 40 years.

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