Giants of Siberia

 

Tour to Neocene

 

Giants of Siberia

 

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It’s cold. It’s very cold. At each breath ice air rushes into nostrils, and burns them with shrill cold, literally locking them. And each exhalation is pulled out from a mouth as a cloud of steam which at once condenses on wool as hoarfrost.
In winter sun can not appear at sky for long weeks. Only when sky turns lighter, it is possible to understand that day began. The sky is constantly covered with a veil of clouds, and the sun is occasionally visible among them as slightly lighter spot on grey background. The landscape spread under the dim sky oppresses with the monotony. It seems like in this world only two colors remained – black and white. White snow covers the ground with thick carpet, lays on branches of fur-trees and pines in huge heaps, and only here and there deciduous trees stretch the bared branches to the sky, looking like black silhouettes against the background of sky. In dim daylight on background of white snow the needles of fur and pine trees look almost black. And when the blizzard begins, the whole world turns to a monotonous white veil. It is impossible to see neither the sky, nor trees, and even in few steps away few things are possible to distinguish. The rumble of a wind blocks all sounds, and snow closes up eyes, ears and nose.
Closer to the end of winter one more color rushes into monotonous picture of winter landscape – dark blue. From the clear high sky sun shines, and its light, reflected from snow, blinds eyes up to a pain and sparkles on snowdrifts as thousands of spangles. But thus it seems that the sun does not heat at all – in such weather frost only strengthens, and then snow loudly crunches under feet, and all branches become covered with a thick layer of hoarfrost and trees resemble white skeletons of corals from the warm southern seas.
This world can look beautiful, but it is very severe during the most part of year. Any live creatures, not capable to resist to icy wind and burning frost, is doomed for death here. It is Eastern Siberia, the kingdom of continental climate.
Warming is typical for Neocene epoch, and the tropical area at this time has appreciablly extended. But the huge area of Eurasia, the significant part of which is far from the warm seas, is still an area of domination of continental climate, and here even in Neocene winters remain the most severe in northern hemisphere. Snow falls here, and because of increase of amount of moisture in atmosphere thickness of snow cover can be even greater, than in severe epoch of congelation at the boundary of Holocene and Neocene. It seems that it is impossible to large animal to live in such conditions, but actually it is not true: very large herbivores live in Siberia, and productivity of ecosystems allows them to exist. The part of them belongs to number of migrants, and they appear in this area only after warming. But there are species living here the all year round and adapted to enduring such severe conditions.
Snow crunches under wide hooves. Herd of huge animals plods through snowdrifts, falling in to the stomach level. They have elongated massive heads, extended to short mobile proboscis. The tusks slightly bent upwards stick out from mouths of animals. Bodies of animals are covered with shaggy brown wool which looks white near mouth and on shoulders because of hoarfrost, to which steam pulled out of a mouth at an exhalation turns. This is a herd of shurga – one of large animals of Siberia, the representative of Neocene group of trunk boars. Forms related to shurga live in warmer places, but this kind is perfectly adapted to survival in cold Siberian winters, and does not aspire to migrate anywhere.
Similarly to all representatives of trunk boars, shurga is a direct descendant of a wild boar – steady and ecologically plastic species, which has easily survived in human epoch and has gone through global ecological crisis at the boundary of epochs. In behaviour of shurga there are many features inherited from an ancestor. In herd of these animals the strict hierarchy is established. The leader of herd is the adult male about fifteen years old. It leads herd for the third year, and at its authority the herd keeps more or less constant structure, and has successfully enough gone through last winters. This male is in the prime of life: its tusks are not broken yet, wool is thick and warm, and on the back the hump of fat grows – it is a stock of nutrients for the case of famine. Winter has already passed for middle, but at the leading male and other adult individuals of herd humps are still kept – it is a sign that the herd was well fed at the end of summer and in autumn, and has developed enough fat to go through winter. Also on head of the leader male there is a low fatty outgrowth indicating the good physical condition of this animal. Cheeks of the giant are covered with corneous plates, and on them the first traces of courtship tournaments are already marked as deep scratches.
Having reached the leadership in herd, this male now should keep up safety of animals submitting to it. Otherwise during the next summer all females can leave its herd, and to it will come to struggle for life alone. Therefore male watches closely the world around, listening and smelling air. In case of an attack of predators it will go to protect its herd for the first. It is armed very well, and while it is strong, no predators of this area frighten it. Shoulders, neck and front part of back of shurga are covered with thick skin, which can hardly be bitten through by predators, therefore, meeting the enemy face to face, male is not afraid of an attack.
Leader male breaks through snow first and clears the way for other herd members. It runs into snowdrifts breast first, and tramples snow down by wide hooves. Behind it other herd members follow – at first four adults females which brought posterity for many years, and then two young females. Many females in herd bear cubs from the leader of herd. Behind them two cubs hasten hardly – these ones had been born in the last year. Winter happened rigorous: the last year when snow only has covered the ground, there were five cubs. Few young animal succeed to go through their first winter, and two survived cubs represent rather good result for small herd. Cubs try to follow mothers – it is easier for them to move on the trampled down snow. But all the same their hooves fail in snow, and they are compelled to catch up with adult males with clumsy bounds. At the some distance from the main herd three young males keep - one two- and two three-year old males, posterity of the previous leader. They are young, and the adult leader male successfully prevents their demonstration of force and the claim for leadership in herd for the while. In the coming years any of these males can hardly apply seriously for authority in this herd. Most likely, they would leave this herd, and will try their luck during the following spring or one year later, in hope to usurp authority at any old leader, or would form the small barchelor leck. And at the end of herd, hardly hastening behind the others, one more animal walks – the old male, the former leader of herd. It had been defeated by the young applicant in combat, but had been not expelled or killed, as it would take place at predators. Now it is compelled to demonstrate the submission to the new leader and to stay away from it. This one is more than thirty years old – it is a great age for shurga. Few animals manage to keep even their lives up to such age, not to speak of leadership in herd. Wool of old male has lighter shade, and near eyes and ears it is gray at all. Corneous plates on its cheeks have traces of set of great victories, which have remained in the past. Defeated male does not hasten to leave herd for one reason – it is easier to herd to search for food and to protect against enemies in common. But it should use the best efforts to keep abreast and to not remain in loneliness.
Both new, and old leaders perfectly know, that predators constantly pursue herd. When the blizzard covers up traces, predators search in snow for heaps of the frozen manure left by animals, and due to it they define, in what direction the herd moves. They seldom lag behind for a long time, because they know, that in herd there will be a prey for them. In clear weather adult animals notice their persecutors keeping at the respectful distance. At the distance of several kilometers from shurga herd large animals with magnificent white winter fur constantly keep; in constitution they are similar to wolves. The white winter wool is added with the rich fur growing on toes, and these animals can easily run on snow, when pursuing the herd. It is waheela – the huge descendant of Arctic fox of human epoch. Waheelas are perfectly adapted to life in conditions of rigorous winter, and are perfectly equipped for hunting for large prey. Usually, while hunting shurga, they try to put to chosen animal wounds on the back part of the body, which is not protected by the armour of thick skin, and then pursue the herd until their prey will die from loss of blood. Sometimes they simply surround and separate one animal off herd, and exhaust it to death. Surga hunting is dangerous, but it provides the whole pack of waheelas with food for many days. Waheelas frequently hunt another local herbivore – snow harelope. These ones are difficult for preying, because harelopes are very cautious, but on friable snow harelopes run slower and turn to easy prey. They are numerous in the Siberian forests, and they are easy for finding, and meat of harelope is tasty and gentle. But they are difficult for preying, and the carcass of one such animal is enough only for one feeding, and the pack is compelled to continue hunting.
The wind fluffers long winter wool of predators. They walk along the trace of herd – the wide track laid in snow. Snow is trampled down by numerous hooves, and it is easy for waheelas to run following the shurga herd. It is very difficult to pursue these giants, waiting an opportunity for an attack, if hunters are hungry. Therefore members of the pack frequently interrupt the pursuit, searching under snow for rodents or corpses of animals, frozen at night. They do not hurry up to attack, waiting for the opportunity for this purpose. The track of shurgas and heaps of manure left by these animal represent excellent landmarks, and using them it is possible to learn much about herd and to choose the optimum moment for an attack.
At the clearing protected from wind by thickets of pines, shurga herd had stopped to have a rest for a while, and then had risen, and moved farther. The traces left on snow can tell much about a condition of animals. Waheelas begin sniffing at snow and heaps of manure left by shurgas. When shurga lays in snow, from its body the big deepening is left. Many impressions of shurga bodies on snow are located together. It is the main part of herd – the leader and adult females. Among holes in snow left by female bodies, traces of small hooves are visible – waheelas see that in pursued herd there are two cubs, and these are their traces. The juveniles are obviously healthy – they keep near females. If the cub is sick, female would drive it away from itself instinctively, but here cub traces are located near the traces of females. Possible, cubs were heated, pressing against bodies of adult animals, and played with each other while females had a rest. Nearby to the main congestion of traces some deepenings, located beside each other, are appreciable. Here young males had a rest – these animals are self-confident and dangerous to attack. While they have not learned to be afraid of predators, they can attack, lift adult waheela on tusks, and throw it some meters away. The last winter the mistake in a choice of prey cost the life of one of young females in pack. Shurga female attacked by their pack appeared strong and quick enough. It had hooked this female by tusk, and had thrown it far aside – against the tree trunk. Impact has broken a female’s backbone, and it had remained at the place of that tragic hunting – alive, but with the paralysed back legs. When the pack of predators left, the herd of shurgas had simply trampled it to death. Each such loss is too expensive price for large prey hunting. Therefore waheelas examine traces attentively, estimating the probability of successful hunting. They know that sooner or later someone will get behind the herd or will be lost, and they are ready to use the best efforts to approach this event.
One body impression in snow has especially interested the predators. It was located at the distance from the others, was little bit deeper than others, and traces led from it to the continuation of herd track, testified that the animal has galloped. Obviously, it had a rest longer than the others, and then ran after the herd. The smell of manure of this animal also differs from a smell of manure of other ones in herd: the animal obviously feels bad. Observing the herd during some past days, waheelas had seen the old male lagged behind the main part of herd. Obviously, it can be preyed.
Old shurga male can not keep up with herd. The last few days it lagged behind the others more and more, and was compelled to put much more efforts to remain in safety among relatives. When the herd stopped to pick the branches of trees sticking out from under snow, or to dig out evergreen bushes, old male came there the last. It had got much less food, and it had gradually weakened. Nothing remained from the former stocks of fat, accumulated during an autumn. In due course its life has turned over. When it was full and healthy, it was only slightly disturbed with silhouettes of white predators pursuing herd and keeping at a great distance from it. But now white silhouettes began to frighten old male – it has felt danger which they bear to the full.
Waheelas have continued the pursuit of herd. Now they precisely know, what animal will become an object of attack, and prepare to hunt. Animals run after the herd, gradually make up for it. The trace of herd is directed to the forest, and it only favours to hunting. Among trees shurgas are not so mobile, and they can not form a defensive ring, protecting cubs by their boodies and facing the enemy with mighty tusks. While the herd of shurgas moves among trees, waheelas should not miss their chance. Having run for some kilometers, predators have seen the animals brought up the rear of herd, and their future prey among them – old male which really lags behind a lump of animals. Now predators should operate quickly. They line up in crescent line, gradually covering shurga herd from sides and behind. Their target is a male last in herd, and it is necessary to cut it off from other animals.
The leader male has felt approach of predators. Shurga has bad sight, and pine branches and the trunks broken by winter storms make the view worse. But it has heard predators, and then could notice one of the predators flashed among trees. Circumstances do not favour to shurgas, and mighty animals can not meet predators face to face. And the leader of herd has begun to roar, calling herd to flight. Shurga herd, obeying a signal of the leader, has turned to unguided mass of flesh and bones. The leader runned without picking its way, running into thickets of young trees, and herd followed it, blindly submitting to its will. Only females driven by parental instinct tried to protect cubs, keeping between them and predators. Animals in forward part of herd have seen large predators with the snow-white fur, pursuing them, only for a moment. But animals at the end of herd were grasped with the true fear. Among them some waheelas rushed, and the instinctive fear to predators forced shurga males to rush, gathering their strength, following the main herd. Waheelas did not pay special attention to healthy strong males. Only once, when three-year old male appeared insufficiently quick, one of predators has bitten its hip. The pain has forced young male to make additional effort, and it has rushed right over the tumbled down trunk of huge pine in direction where voices of herd were heard in a snow dust.
Waheelas had surrounded shurga male, not allowing it to run away, and it has stopped, panting and looking at its pursuers. The attack of waheelas appeared successful, but hunting was not finished yet. The prey chosen by them was only separated from herd, but not killed. Male still could resist, and its will to live was great. Therefore it has rushed straight through their pack, trying to join the herd. Voices of its congeners were audible somewhere in a distance, and male even smelt the manure left by one of animals during the pursuit. Male has rushed rught to predators with menacing uterine roar, and several waheelas had to jump aside not to get under heavy hooves or on tusks of this animal. But at the same moment the leader of waheelas has rushed on shurga male, and has bitten its hip on which skin was not too strong. It managed to put to the animal a deep wound by canines, and snow was painted by shurga’s blood. Having roared with pain, male rushed to follow the leaving herd, and its pursuers have run after it. The smell of blood promised fast prey to them, and the circumstance which has forced them to recede would hardly be found. Having preyed this male, waheelas would gorge on and provide themselves with food for some days.
Waheelas easily noticed a trace of the prey among traces of other animals. The wound appeared deep enough, and blood flew from it for a long time. Having overtaken shurga male, some more animals one by one have bitten its rear legs and stomach. Even more blood has appeared on snow. Tired out by waheelas, male began to reel – the weariness and loss of blood made it unable to resist. Having gathered the rests of forces, male has rushed away from the pursuers. It managed to come off them for some tens meters. Shurga male has stopped to catch its breath for a while…
… Huge paw was lowered on neck of animal with great effort. The crunch of bones was heared, and shurga male covered with wounds was heavily tumbled down on snow. Its backbone was broken, and the animal has died immediately. And the animal preyed it watched the waheelas running from the forest, and has begun to roar terribly. It surpassed in weight of the largest waheela male considerably, and fight with it could be finished by death for any of these animals tired with a long pursuit.
Berl is a top predator of the Siberian forests in winter. In summer it has competitors, but winter forests and mountains belong to this animal entirely and completely. Berl is the largest kind of mustelid family. Male taken away the prey of waheela pack weighs almost half-ton. In constitution and force it is similar to bear, but, as against this animal wanished for a long time, berl stays active in winter. The magnificent white fur helps berl to creep to its prey imperceptibly, and huge force allows falling down young or wounded shurga with one blow of paw.
Waheelas surround the carcass of shurga above which the huge snow-white predator towers. These predators keep aloof from the owner of Neocene forests which has taken away their prey. Meeting the berl is rather often event in life of waheelas. This animal has extremely keen sense of smell, and waheelas had to leave half-eaten, or even just killed prey more than once, when berl came to it. If hunting appeared unsuccessful, waheelas can wait for the rests of berl’s prey. It happened some weeks ago, when the clan of waheelas had met berl killed young shurga. Hunting was unsuccessful till some days, and all animals were very hungry. One young animal has carelessly come nearer to feasting predator, and was killed by impact of mighty paw.
Not paying attention to waheelas, berl started eating. Thick skin of shurga has easily given in to its canines and paws. After one jerk of clawed paw interiors of shurga have fallen out on snow and in air exciting smell of blood appeared, forcing waheelas only to lick their lips and to swallow saliva. And berl, not paying attention to them, began eating the liver – the tastiest and vitamin-rich part of prey. Having finished with it, it has begun to tear off pieces of meat and to swallow them greedy. Berl is capable to eat up to fifty kilograms of meat at one go. But the carcass of shurga weighs much more, and even the hungriest and gluttonous berl can not swallow everything, that it is possible to eat on it.
Berl ate meat, looking at waheelas gathered around of it. When some of them tried to come nearer, berl grinned threateningly and struck the carcass by paw, showing undoubtfully the property right to prey. But gradually its demonstrations became less aggressive – the animal was sated. Nevertheless it was not about to refuse the right on prey. To designate it clearly, berl has turned to shurga corpus by back, has lifted fluffy tail up, and has splashed the carcass with disgustingly smelling secretions of anal glands. Then the animal started covering its prey with snow, raking it with its hind legs. It walked around the carcass from the all sides, throwing snow on it, and grinned threateningly, if waheelas ran off away insufficiently quickly. Having finished with this work, the huge predator has come to the trunk of large pine tree growing beside, has risen on hind legs, and with one powerful movement has torn off a long strip of bark from tree trunk, having naked light wood. After that it has turned to tree by back, and has also marked it with odorous secretions. Having sated, berl climbed to the tumbled down trunk of large pine, and has fallen asleep on it like a leopard – having lowered paws and tail freely on sides of trunk. Satelity has made it sluggish and languid for some hours, and the huge animal has fallen asleep.
Waheelas waited patiently, while berl will leave the lawful prey stolen at them. They pursued herd too long to recede even when facing huge berl. Certainly, the best part of prey will not get to waheelas any more, but all the same a great lot of meat is rest for them. When berl has left, waheelas have started to come nearer to shurga carcass warily. They have cautiously sniffed at the mark left by berl on pine trunk, and have started to rake by forepaws the snow heaped up the carcass by this predator. The mark of berl was left on rib cage of prostrate animal, and waheelas were afraid to bite off meat in this part of carcass. Obeying an instinct, they have acted with it precisely the same as they act with their own dung: they have simply thrown even more snow on front part of carcass, having made a smell of berl’s mark less distinct. But back part of carcass was hardly eaten by predator. Meat has cooled down, but had no time to freeze hard, and strong jaws of waheelas have seized it greedy. Animals swallowed large pieces of meat, not caring that ice crunched on its surface. The food meant life, and waheelas tried to take as much as possible from this hunting. It is not known, when they will manage to have a meal so well for the next time. And this prey now belongs to berl. It will stay near it while everything possible to eat would be eaten, and waheelas can hardly expect to return to this prey once again. Therefore, having filled stomaches with meat, animals have left the labels near the carcass, appreciating an instinct, and have gone away not to meet berl once again.
In winter all live beings have two most terrible enemies – famine and cold. Operating together, they are capable to kill even the largest animal. But, if the stomach is full of food, the cold is not so terrible. The shurga herd escaped from predators, but the cost of the escape was life of one of its members. No animal realizes that sooner or later it can appear at the place of killed male if will not die due to any other circumstances. And the second the enemy after the predator is a famine. Therefore, when pursuit stopped, the herd has passed from run to step, and then gradually stopped. Animals have got tired very much, and some females have lain on snow to have a rest. And males began to wander in forest, searching for forage. In summer shurgas eat various kinds of food – grass, twigs, roots and tubers of plants. But in winter animals are forced to pass to more rough and less nutritious forage. The deep snow cover allows animals to reach the lower branches of trees by short proboscis. The most edible part remaining on trees in winter is needles of conifers. Shurga males wander among pines, biting needles from the lower branches. This forage has bitter resinous taste, but it is rich in vitamins, and it is important in winter. Soon females and cubs join males. As against elephants of Holocene epoch, which were capable of mutual aid and altruism, any individual of shurga is an egoist, if it does not relate to rescue of its own life. Therefore, when adult individuals browse, cubs get only some branches dropped out from mouths of adult animals. Cubs are already too large to suckle, and in search of food they have to expect only for their own forces.
Coniferous forest can not give enough food to large herbivores, therefore the herd, having muffled famine a little, moves to forest edge. Absolutely different kinds of trees grow here. In Neocene due to presence of large herbivores in fauna coniferous woods do not form the continuous tracts stretched over tens of kilometers. They alternate with areas of deciduous forests and bushes which provide animals with greater amount of food. But it still needs to be extracted. The climate of Neocene became much warmer, and there is a greater amount of water vapour in atmosphere. Therefore winters of Neocene are very snowy, and this circumstance strongly complicates life of herbivores in Siberia. Shurga has some advantages due to its huge size. Its tusks represent not only the protective adaptation, but also the instrument for getting food. In winter shurga rakes snow by lateral movements of head, and tusks serve it as something like a shovel.
Leader male knows this area very good. It moves herd out from forest, and directs it to wide valley. Along it, under the layer of ice of one meter thick, the river flows, and on its banks willows grow. The zone of high grasses is stretched higher and closer to the forest they are replaced by bushes. But in winter it is not visible – the landscape is monotonous, and all vegetation is hidden under thick layer of snow. Heavy animals come out from the forest and sniff air. Due to keen sense of smell they feel the food hidden in snow. Some animals start digging snow, and the herd gradually disperses. By lateral movements of head shurga scatters snow, and after several minutes of work digs out a hole more than one and a half meters deep. Lumps of snow are thrown in sides, and at the bottom of hole brownish stalks of last year’s grass appear. In autumn the nature provides animals with much more tasty forage, but in winter even such unappetizing grass becomes desired addition to the diet of animals. Some animals appear more successful – they succeed to dig out the branches of evergreen bushes, and they start to eat greedy the food got so hard.
Activity of shurga herd involves other inhabitants of Siberian forests, fast and cautious snow harelopes. When the herd of these animals appeared from the forest, some shurga females have noticed them against the background of trees, and have turned anxious. The memory of waheela attack is too fresh, and animals overreact even the appearing of harmless snow harelopes. Graceful white animals quickly come nearer to shurga herd, moving by long bounds. This species is much larger compared to the relatives living in Europe – forest and Three-Rivers-Land harelopes. The remarkable feature of snow harelopes is expressed sexual dimorphism: the adult male weighs twice more than female and has rich “beard” of long hair growing on the lower jaw and neck. Among harelopes coming nearer to shurga herd one tall male is well appreciable – it has a leading position in hierarchy. Other animal represent its harem and the young ones born in the last year.
Harelopes are cautious animals. But they have no sufficient force to defend themselves actively, and at protection against predators hope only for their own speed. Shurga is sluggish, but well armed animal. At the open area harelopes prefer to graze near shurga herds – these huge animals can easily apprehend any predator attacking harelopes as a threat of their own safety, therefore nobody will venture to attack harelopes at the presence of these giants. Shurga has weak sight, and low head does not allow this animal to look around. But snow harelopes due to gracile constitution and high growth can notice the approaching predator from apart.
Harelopes get a great benefit when feed near to shurga – this animal has huge force and easily digs in snow deep holes, reaching up to grass. Expressed sexual dimorphism is connected to one important task which male carries out: it digs out snow, providing females with forage. But, as mighty shurga does the same near them, male of snow harelope dares itself to show a kind of gallantry. It puts front legs in the hole dug out by shurga, clears away some snow, and when from under it edible parts of plants are shown, it starts “cooing”, calling females with the silent throat sounds similar to gurgle. Rituals like this help male to support the top position in herd, and give a guarantee of that females will not go to another’s harem in courtship season. Shurga does not pay attention to harelopes – it is a completely different kind of animals, and in instincts of shurga the necessity of aggression concerning unrelated species is absent. Such “loyalty” of shurgas to harelopes brings appreciable benefit to both species. While shurga digs snow in searches of vegetation, harelopes frequently interrupt their own feeding, looking around.
Within several days harelopes constantly accompany with shurga herd. They graze near to these animals, and use their tracks for movement. While there is no blizzard, the herd does not hasten to leave river banks – there is a lot of food here. Dark bodies of shurgas are visible from apart, but it does not disturb animals – they have reliable sentinels. And once this neighbourhood bears the fruits. Shurga herd grazed peacefully, digging out dry reed at the riverbank, and harelopes wandered beside, from time to time dragging off dry stalks from under muzzles of giants. Suddenly scene of calm was broken with sharp whistle - one female of harelopa has noticed a silhouette of swift-footed animal with white wool flashed at the background of forest. Other harelopes began to rear on hind legs and to peer aside the forest. And one by one their signals have begun to sound – they have noticed the pack of waheelas left of the forest. The overall alarm has excited shurga herd, and animals have started to form a defensive build. Females have stood in a ring and have two cubs blocked by their bodies, and males have closed by their bodies the intervals between bodies of females. Now cubs appeared to be surrounded from all sides with adult individuals, which threateningly roar and shake their heads, ready to use their tusks. In human epoch musk oxen defended themselves from polar bear in the same way.
When harelopes try to keep closer to adult individuals of shurga, huge animals perceive their movement as threat to their own posterity – protecting themselves against the enemy, they stopped differing herbivorous neighbours from predators. Now they distinguish only “owns” from “aliens”, and during the alarm harelopes have turned to “aliens”. Former sentinels of the herd now appear on unsteady border between protected giants and attacking predators.
Waheelas come nearer with each minute. It is rather numerous pack of predators – about twenty adult individuals and some young ones less than one year old. They represent terrible force – if they’d have attacked suddenly, they’d easily prey even healthy and strong animal. But now shurga herd has formed against them an insuperable barrier of tusks and skin, as thick, as armour. Predators walk around the herd, estimating its defensibility, but from any side tusks meet them. When one of them comes nearer carelessly, adult female makes unexpected attack and sharp jerk of head. Only speed of reaction has saved this waheela – if the animal would delay for the part of second, female could pick it up with tusks and throw over the whole herd. While waheelas are close, harelopes keep close to each other, and at the approach of predators they are compelled to depart to shurga herd. Predators do not risk attacking – though harelopes seem to be desired prey, adult individuals of shurga roar threateningly near to them – they can apprehend hunting for harelopes as an attack on herd. Waheelas do not stay near shurga herd for a long time – having understood, that this prey is inaccessible, they leave to search for easier profit soon. Some time after that shurgas keep defensive build. Perhaps, even terrible berl would not dare to attack them at this time. But harelopes, having seen, that danger is no more present, return to feeding. The alarm condition passes out gradually, and animals start to search for food again.
Searching for prey, waheelas use keen sense of smell. They analyze tens smells brought with wind, and due to sense of smell are capable to receive the information which can not be given by sight. Sense of smell does not deceive a clan of waheelas – some individuals have simultaneously felt very weak smell of blood and meat. Having defined the direction of wind brought it, waheelas started the search, and have found soon snow covered half-eaten corpse of old individual of shurga. Possible, this animal was lost during a blizzard some weeks ago. Waheelas have started to dig out a snowdrift, from which weak, but a distinct smell reached, and soon from under snow bones with pieces of skin frozen to them have appeared. The carcass obviously served as forage for numerous animals – on meat traces of the bird beaks and teeth of small rodents and predators are visible, and under snow holes leading to the carcass have opened – using them, smaller eaters came to the carcass to feed. Scattering snow, waheelas found distinct signs of the presence of berl near this carcass – on meat traces of its teeth are visible, and one part of the carcass is marked with its disgusting smell, and the mark is rather fresh. Waheelas know habits of their main competitor: it can return at the most improper time.
Having thrown a part of carcass marked by berl with snow, waheelas greedy eat frozen hard meat. They tear it off from bones and swallow in large pieces. The amount of meat is quite enough to be sated for the numerous pack of predators – berl had eaten a part of interiors and only started to eat the rear leg of carcass. But it seems, berl will return to this meat not soon – its smell is not felt nearby, in spite of the fact that a feast of waheelas is at its height. Taking a case, predators are fed on the carcass of shurga nutil the sunset. They have time to be sated, fill up the rests of carcass with snow and leave safely. In forest waheelas will find a safe place, will dig out holes in snow to spend night in calm and satienty. They will remember a place where shurga carcass lays, and if hunting will be unsuccessful, they will return to it. Maybe, something would remain to them after the feast of other forest inhabitants. At least, waheelas can crack bones and take a nutritious marrow.
Seasons gradually replace each other. Nights are very cold yet, but during the day weather is clear, and the sun shines brightly. In such weather shurga herd likes to be heated – animals lived in a cold too long, and sun heat makes an obvious pleasure to them. Animals expose their sides to the sun, and dark wool heats up well. Stirring up, animals throw out from wool conifer needles got stuck in it and other dust, and spend a long time, heating on mountain slopes turned to afternoon sun. If snow harelopes wander beside, shurga dares to lose vigilance and to sleep for a while. At this time young animals frolick among adults, chasing one after another with tails pulled up, and throw snow by head movements, imitating adult individuals.
In the afternoon from branches of pines and fur-trees thawed snow drips, freezing at night like transparent icicles. But every day the sun rises higher and higher in the sky. Spring slowly, but inevitably wins winter cold. Every day weather becomes warmer, large heaps of snow move down from branches of trees and fall downwards, making forest impassable. In cold shady coniferous forests snow lays untouched, but on the hillsides turned to sun it becomes friable and porous. Seven months of severe Siberian winter are finished, and there comes the time of changes. From hillsides streams flow, and snow on the river has darkened, having become impregnated with water. And on thawed patches first flowers open.
Changes in a nature not always are to the best. Ice on the river has melted, and once at night the silence was cut with a sound similar to the thunder – the ice drift began. Spring has entered the rights, and at the rivers the time of high water begins. The rivers of Siberia flow from the south to the north; their upper springs had opened from the ice a long time ago, and now the turn of middle courses has come. But here the triumph of spring turns a heavy trouble for all live beings. Mouths of the rivers at the far north still remain frozen, and snow started to thaw roughly and the water level in the river rises every day. In lower courses the ice jam was formed, which has blocked a channel of the river. Now the drain is much slower than water inflow, and flooding begins. It happens every year, but every time it turns to the test for resistance and endurance for all animals appeared in river valleys. Riverbanks overgrown with reeds sink gradually, and soon water reaches middle of trunks of thickset coastal willows. The water level continues rising – night temperature gradually passes for a zero mark, and snow starts to thaw even in forest and at the northern slopes of mountains. The water level raises very quickly – more, than on meter per each day. The river fills in a significant part of valley soon, compelling forest inhabitants to escape at the highlands. In ice-cold water numerous small rodents swim – their holes were filled with water, and now they are compelled to save themselves from it, gathering at the heights. Here they turn to easy prey for owls and other predators not missing a case to have a good meal, though they are also compelled to escape from water. Flooding also delivers set of troubles to large animals. Shurga herd grazed at the extensive island in river valley. In summer it was surrounded by the main channel of the river and one of its inflows. This island is overgrown with deciduous trees and bushes, and on its coast extensive thickets of reed stretch. Shurgas were involved by the abundance of food exempted from under snow, but animals appeared in a trap involuntarily. The herd had an opportunity to escape from flooding, walking along the narrow strip of the land connected island with “mainland”, and thus only to wet legs in thawed snow a little. But animals have preferred simply to rise above little bit, and have continued to graze. The herd appeared in great danger – island is too low to protect them from flooding. Under legs of shurgas rodents saved from water at the same island scurry. At night huge animals feel, that some rodents already potter in their wool, and shortly before dawn cold water has touched legs of sleeping animals. The island, on which shurgas escaped from water, has completely disappeared under water. Now animals have no choice – they should overcome more than two hundred meters of water to reach the nearest land which had also turned to island during some past days.
In summer heat shurgas willingly go in water. The entire herds of these animals spend the day in river, saving themselves from heat. But spring bathing will not deliver pleasure to anybody – water is still icy-cold, and weather is windy. Animals sooner or later will come to appear in water, and the leader male decides to move to the next island. It comes into water up to its belly, and stands there for some minutes, getting used to a cold. Then it resolutely comes deeper into the river, and swims. Adult animals one by one plunge into cold water and follow it. One of young males hesitates for some time, but then also enters into water. And at the riverbank only two juveniles stay – the remains of last year’s posterity. They try to enter water, but are afraid of a cold. Having noticed it, one female turns to them and comes back to shallow water. It extends proboscis to these cubs and grunts slightly, as if encouraging them. At first one cub makes a step in water, and it is followed by another one. Young animals enter into water and swim, rowing by hooves, like adults. But they lag behind the main herd, and adult female pushes them by head. Cold water is obviously not pleasant for cubs – they scream and grunt plaintively, trying to follow the herd. The crossing of herd has taken about one hour in total. Adult animals on the approach to island began touching river bottom by hooves, and walked last twenty meters on a firm ground at all, getting out to the coast. But cubs having short legs were compelled to swim almost up to the riverbank, followed by female. One cub had hardly overcome this distance – it panted, and female had to push it some times to prevent its lagging.
At the riverbank shurga herd feels like very uncomfortably – almost all wool at animals is wet, and the wind to which they did not pay attention earlier, seems very cold to them now. One by one animals stir up, and male leads herd away to small forest growing on island. And the water level continues rising.
On island shurga herd hidden among trees, avoiding the wind. The wool of animals has gradually dried up, and they felt warmer. Some animal have departed herd and have started to bite off twigs of trees, trying to be sated somehow. They wander among young pines with curve trunks, searching for the rests of a last year’s grass and browsing pine needles. But thus animals do not lose vigilance and constantly smell air. Their fears appear not vain – one of animals feels fresh odorous mark on tree. The disgusting smell is familiar to all herbivores too well, and shurga, having uttered an alarm roar, has hastened to herd, and after it the scared relatives have rushed.
Berl appeared the neighbour of shurga herd at the island; it is a large adult male weighting about five hundred kilograms, yet not changed white winter fur to sandy-grey summer suit. It escaped from flooding, and now searched for food in opposite half of island. This time its prey represented some smaller rodents, and it managed to catch from water a corpse of female of snow harelope grown too thin during the winter and sunk during the flooding. It is clearly not enough to feed the huge predator, and berl has decided to survey the whole island on which it appeared. First of all it had sniffed its old marks to be convinced that nobody of its relatives is here. Beyond the courtship season berls relate aggressively to each other, and weak individuals turn prey of stronger cannibalistic relatives. In any case the island could not support two of such predators, and one of them should leave this area, or it would be simply killed by stronger animal. Berl male has not found out marks of other relatives, but has found something more important for itself – traces of shurgas and some heaps of manure. Having sniffed at them, the predator followed the track.
The island, where shurga herd and berl appeared, is rather small – only about four hundred meters long and no more than one hundred meters wide. Therefore the predator has very soon found out the herd. It seems, huge herbivores already waited for it and prepared for defense. They formed a dense line, protecting two cubs, and roared threateningly, demonstrating their large tusks to berl. The predator did not begin to risk recklessly and to try attacking the herd. Instead of it the beast has some times passed along the line of herbivores at the respectful distance from shurga’s tusks, estimating physical condition of animals. It saw one of young males limping a little, adult female panting, though reacting quickly to its approach, and even the leader male lets predator come much closer to itself, than usually, before beginning roaring and stamping by leg. But it was especially interested by one of last year’s cubs, which had caught a cold during resettlement of herd to this island, and coughs frequently now. It seems, within the next few days berl will receive worthy prey – it should only to appear in proper time in proper place. The predator looks at herd once more, and leaves. Behind its back the roar of shurga is heard, but it abates quickly – animals have got tired, and there is no sense to threaten to someone, if the predator has left.
Except for shurgas, some snow harelopes appeared at the island. Shrill whistles, their alarm signals, reach the herd. Having heard it, adult shurgas prick up their ears and listen attentively. They do not see a predator, but disturbing voices of harelopes help them to define its location.
In the morning one shurga cubs feels very bad – it hardly stands on legs, and in some hours after dawn has lain on belly. Its eyes are half-closed, and the whole its body shivers. From time to time cub coughs loudly – illness has gone too far, and its hours are numbered. Shortly before a sunset shurga cub has died. When it falled without any signs of life, some adult animals have sniffed its corpse and have walked aside. Only one female has remained near to its body. It’s a mother of this cub, and it is still ready to protect it. Berl smells death from apart. After shurga cub has died, it continually wanders near the herd, in the field of view of adult animals. The herd has receded, and only female, protecting its dead cub, has stayed near to its body. When berl comes nearer, it stamps hooves and shakes head, showing tusks to the predator. While it is beside, berl does not want to risk vainly. It continues walking near dead cub, snapping to the female. The herd keeps the distance, and adult animals behave nervously, and the remained cub searches for protection among adults, hiding behind their bodies. At last the stress reaches its culmination – the leader male roars and rushes to berl. The predator hasty runs off aside, and the leader roars and throws ground by tusks, demonstrating the force to the predator. At this time berl takes nothing again.
At night the herd of shurgas sleeps with light sensitive dream. Usually adult animals sleep standing, and in any minute can form a defensive build or rush to run, but cub presumes to itself to sleep lying on the ground, being in safety among adults. Millions years of evolution perfected the caution of predators, therefore nobody in herd has felt, as berl prowls to them in darkness. It has much better night sight compared to shurga, therefore, when one of animals has woken and began looking around, berl simply stopped and remained motionless for some minutes, waiting while the animal has fallen asleep again. Predator is led by sense of smell – it smelt dead shurga cub, lying on the ground near the herd, and it was the target of its night sortie. Step by step the predator came nearer to the target, and, at last, has seized a corpse of shurga cub. It had easily lifted a corpse and had left as silently; no one adult animal has felt the danger threatened to them this night.
In the morning wind carried up to the herd smell of blood and meat of shurga. Having felt it, adult animals roared terribly and shaked heads, and scared cub tried to press against every female walked near to it. Near the herd, in bushes, berl has made a night feast to itself, and now protected the torn apart rests of prey. When one shurga female has approached to bushes too close, berl walked towards it, having grinned. Huge animals appeared much closer to a predator, than the last evening, not casually – at night water has still risen, and herd had to walk away from the flooded riverbank at night. Berl is compelled to drag the rests of prey far away from herd – if animals will start to defend from it, they can easily kill berl. The island gradually decreases, and everyone appeared there feel it. Harelopes are horrified by smell of berl and its prey, and they move closer to shurga herd.
One more day passed, and the significant part of island has disappeared under water, and it is separated to two parts now. Now the meetings of predator and herbivores became even more often. Berl tries to keep at the distance from large animals, but shurga herd smells it, and aggression of animals increases gradually. They became more irritable, and drive away from themselves even harelopes, to which they had been unaffected before. The neighbourhood of such animals becomes dangerous, but the next morning berl itself unloads the intensity of conditions – it swims out to the next island, whence quite can reach coastal forests.
Waheelas escape from river flood on larger rocky island, overgrown with pine trees, which is located downstream. Waheela differs in more flexible behaviour, and easily finds prey in places where berl remains hungry. Since the beginning of flooding clan of these predators wanders on the coast of island. Such behaviour is not casual: flooding has expelled many rodents from holes and bushes, and they search for rescue on island. Numerous rodents swim up to the coast, and predators can easily catch them – waheelas simply clap smaller rodents by paws, and at once eat them. It is also possible find prey at the island – rodents, avoided the death in teeth and paws of waheelas at the coast, hide in various casual shelters. It is enough to turn windfallen trees or to dig out the ground under roots of tree to find any tiny mammal. Besides somewhere higher on slope rather numerous herd of harelopes wanders, but they are inaccessible now. Waheelas do not like to run on slopes, and harelopes can feel like in safety. They hide among pines and juniper bushes, searching for a last year’s grass and plant tubers. Also snow gradually thaws, and from under it spring flowers appear. It seems, it is a pleasure for herbivores, but such impression is deceptive – actually leaves of many early-flowering plants are bitter and even poisonous. Therefore harelopes are compelled to eat last year’s grass, clambering on stony slopes for it.
Flooding proceeds already for about two weeks. The most part of snow has melted, and the water level has gradually stopped to rise. But the river has spread to some tens kilometers, and its floodplain has turned to continuous water space, where on separate islands various animals suffer distress, including berls and shurga herds. But things can not proceed eternally this way. Spring gradually moves to the north, and once under a pressure of water far in the north melted ice jam collapses. The huge wave slides downstream, almost to the mouth of the river, overflowing banks and low islands, breaking trees and tearing them up by the roots, and sweeping away on all live beings on its way. And upstream river comes back to its channel. Islands on its floodplain gradually increase and merge the riverbank, releasing the animals suffering distress there. Herds of shurga leave from islands where due to their efforts everything these herbivores could eat appeared destroyed. Harelopes also go to search for food, and rodents, at last, can settle freely and dig out holes again instead of ones water had filled.
Some animals find a lot of food at the drained floodplain of river. Waheelas are among such species. These animals express surprising ecological plasticity and flexibility of behaviour. In places where there were lower areas of flood plain, rich prey waits for them. Fishes, having swam across flooded river valley, appeared trapped when the river has suddenly returned to its channel, and now became only a food for predators. Waheelas in small groups surround such pools, and try to cast fish ashore by paws. Sometimes they cucceed to do it, but more often fishes hide in depth of pool. But it isnot for a long – within the coming weeks such pools and temporary ponds will dry up, and waheelas will necessarily pick up their share of prey, if they will not be outstripped by any other predator. Even berl occasionally inspects such reservoirs, especially if there are large fishes in water.
Corpses of animals sunk during the flooding represent one more source of food for predators. More often these ones are harelopes – these animals may grow thin badly during the winter, and in such condition they are simply not able to struggle against flooding. The river carries them away, and they perish from overcooling or simply sink. Sometimes even mighty shurga appears a victim of the river. Sometimes large animals try to cross the river on fragile spring ice, and fall down to the water. Such food of various degrees of decomposition necessarily finds the eater. In winter and in spring, when food sources are too short, it is no opportunity to choose, and even rodents do not disdain meat.
But the nature already prepares for herbivorous animals a holiday which will last until the first snow. Plants react to thawing of snow and the prolongation of daytime. Germs swell and burst, and underground rhizomes wake up and give sprouts. On bushes and deciduous trees leaves start growing, and after them branches of coniferous trees are decorated with border of young sprouts with gentle light needles.
Typical plant community of Eastern Siberia in Neocene epoch is still a coniferous forest named as taiga. In river valleys continuous thickets of coniferous plants are replaced by small-leaved deciduous forests, and their basic tree species are birch and aspen. At wetlands and along the riverbanks willows expand. Perhaps, it is difficult to overestimate the value of this unpretentious and fast-growing tree in life of herbivores. On willow trees traces of winter feeding of shurga are visible: such trees have short clumsy trunks plentifully branching in the top part. In winter, when snow covers everything with a thick layer, twigs of willows serve as forage for shurga and harelopes, and these animals bite twigs up to the level of snow cover. In spring on such trees long shoots of the current year grow like a brush. And moreover, willow blossoming before other plants, is the first melliferous plant, supporting the existence of insects in the first warm days of spring.
Bitten off branches and curved trunks are not the only display of influence of herds of large herbivores to a landscape. From height of the bird’s flight it is visible, as the landscape of Neocene forests of Siberia has changed compared to landscape existed in these places within human memory. Very characteristic feature of a landscape is the occurrence of wide “glades” overgrown with grass, bushes and fast-growing small-leaved trees. They stretch more often in places where the landscape has no abrupt heights. They frequently lead down to river valleys, and always bypass rocky outcrops with abrupt slopes. They can meander, but their general direction is always the same – from the south to the north. Perhaps, it is the most essential result of influence of megafauna of Neocene Siberia to the landscape. Such features of landscape are named as “obda roads”, and actually represent migratory ways of large herbivores, which are used during millenia. Thick-foreheaded obda is the largest species of ground mammals of Siberia, whose shoulder growth reaches two meters. In size obda resembles the elephant, but its family tree begins from hares of Holocene epoch: it is a largest kind of hoofed lagomorphs, new group of mammals known from early Neocene. Harelopes of various species are its gracile relatives.
On “obda roads” only the quickly restoring vegetation can grow only. Certainly, in such places seeds of photophilous coniferous trees frequently sprout – more often it is a pine tree. But it will be hardly possible to them to grow more, than to half-meter tall – it is a bottom level on which obda can feed. Biting off the tops of coniferous trees, obdas cause delay of their growth, and even the death of trees. Each year, using “obda roads” tens thousands of these giants walk to the north and back, and slowly growing coniferous trees simply have no time to restore the damage put by them. It is the main reason of prosperity of strictly different type of vegetation – grasses and bushes – on “obda roads”. The central part of “obda roads” is overgrown with graminoids, which can grow more than one meter tall in conditions of Siberian summer. And some kinds of motley grass, especially perennial creeping stem grasses, uplift theis stalks and inflorescences on two-meter height. On edges, where large herbivores damage vegetation in less degree, bushes and fast-growing trees like birches or aspens expand. And literally in several tens meters from edge of “obda road” coniferous trees can exist quite safely and reproduce normally from seeds. Thanking to “obda roads” species from other natural zones – steppes and deciduous forests – penetrate in area of coniferous woods. Snow harelope is one of such kinds, which has managed to adapt to rigorous climate of Siberia. Shurga also prefers to feed in winter on “obda roads”, where it digs out from under snow the rests of last year’s grass and bushes, and also gnaws bark fron young branches of deciduous trees.
When weather becomes warmer, waves of migrants sweep across Siberia to the north. These are mainly birds of passage, but there are also much larger animals. One of migrating species is obda – the giant of Siberia. These animals spend winter in the south, where the snow cover is lesser. They live in herds in forests, eating various kinds of vegetative forage, and in spring move after warming to the north. Some of these giants stay in taiga, but some populations move far to the north and almost reach the coast of Arctic ocean.
Obda is very similar to Pleistocene wooly rhinoceros, but differs from it in considerably larger size. Horn growing on obda’s head gives it the similarity to this animal. It stretches along nose bridge, forming on the tip of muzzle of this animal something like a shovel. By lateral movements of head obda digs out snow to reach vegetation. In similar way other herbivores of northern latitudes act. But obda’s neighbor, shurga, digs snow with tusks, and the skewhorn, kind of deer living in Greenland, uses a forward antler of fancifully growing horn.
Migration of obdas represents one of the most majestic shows in Siberian nature. At first “obda roads” seem absolutely deserted – only wind swings branches of bushes and young grass. Herds of shurga wander in these places and feed on young shoots of bushes, and harelopes willingly graze on grass, choosing sappy and sweetish shoots of some local plants. But one fine day everything is changed. Probably, digging animals feel changes the first. They hear the remote booming footfall, which comes nearer with each hour. And here they are – obdas, the largest animals of Siberia. The first herds are not numerous – they include no more than ten adult individuals and are made of barchelor males. They hurry up to rich pastures of the North, and hardly will stay in taiga. At first along “obda roads” only separate small herds pass, but with each hour the picture changes. Gradually herds become larger and larger, and start to go without any space between them. They stretch to hundreds meters, and it becomes impossible to define, where one herd ends and another one begins. Animals move in measured step, not speeding up and almost not stopping for foraging. They bite off bunches of grass and bush branches on the move, and instead of it leave portions of manure. Marche of obda herds lasts almost continuously about one week. After that “obda road” has completely different look – the most part of a grass is eaten or trampled, bushes are broken and picked, and along the whole track heaps of obda manure lay. But this order of things, formed in nature for millions of years, is completely normal, and is an integral part of natural processes. Browsed bushes will give lateral shoots soon, the grass will rise, and manure pieces will be destroyed by maggots and grubs.
Some herds of obda finish their wanderings in taiga. They turn off from the “road” and go down to river walleys, where graze in large herds. From the ecological point of view obda in Neocene Siberia is an analogue of the elephant in the African savannas of human epoch. It makes forest stand sparser, rumpling and breaking young growth of trees, and also promotes thus to distribution of open landscapes which serve as the house to other herbivores. On areas of the ground free from forest the grasses grow, forming thus a basis for highly productive communities of live organisms.
Obdas had not finished their moult yet – in summer brownish wool patches of long winter wool of white color are kept. During the moult skins of animals itch strongly, and at this time at these animals lonely growing trees, which sometimes stand on “obda roads”, are very popular. They are kept since animals began to use such track, and represent the rests of old vegetation. Branches on trunks of these trees are broken approximately up to three-meter height. It indicates that obdas scratch against these trees, leaving on them flocks of old wool. But the wool keeps on bark and broken branches not for long – birds quickly take it for laying in their nests.
But before birds will find this wool, it must have time to serve to some other animals, and it is extremely undesirable to them to meet birds. In flocks of obda wool small woolen lumps hang here and there. These are cocoons of obda wool moth, a separate kind of moths, whose caterpillars eat wool growing directly on obda’s body. In white winter wool cocoons of these moths are especially large – from them the largest representatives of this species will burst, having wingspan about 20 millimeters, which is very large size for tineid moths. Adult insects will normally hatch in any case, whether there is their cocoon on the ground, or in wool of animal. Caterpillars of obda wool moth developed in wool of this animal during the whole winter, and because of it moths to which they will turn, would become the largest representatives of this kind. Adult individuals of obda wool moth after pairing can lay eggs in wool of any other mammal – during the summer this kind of moths will give two more generations, which will develop successfully in wool of various inhabitants of Siberia. But last generation of moths should necessarily find adult obda, in which wool caterpillars will develop during the whole winter.
On “combing trees” not only obda wool stays. Snow harelopes also moult and come to these trees to scratch and to remove falling out winter wool. Like obdas, they have kept the ability of hares, their far ancestors, to change color of wool for winter. And when spring comes, the long white wool comes out, and animals scratch against the same trees. For some time animals look skewbald, but gradually winter colouring vanishes, and on body of animals their summer colouring appears – cross-striped pattern with dim dark vertical strips.
In spring it is rather noisy in the sky above Siberia – flocks of birds move to the north to take advantage of gifts of short, but rich summer. Forests fill with birds’ trills – songbirds fly from the south, and at once start to prepare to nesting. Males occupy nesting sites and start singing, involving females and warning contenders that the territory is occupied. One of the best singers at the territory of Eastern Siberia is a small bird called Siberian woolcreeper. It flies to the north during the migration of obda – it is connected to features of way of life of these birds. Males of this species with brilliant pitch-black plumage and motley black-and-white stomach at once after the arrival to the nesting area start searching of tree trunk hollows suitable for hatching the posterity. The best hollows are ones in large trees growing near to “obda roads” and other places where large herbivores graze. For every such tree-trunk hollow males are ready to battle up to the last. They drive each other along the trunk near the entrance to the hollow, trying to seize contender’s tail. Challenging male perches on trunk above the contender and raises wings, showing to it bright red rump feathers at the background of white tail with black margin. The competition between males may be very strict, because the number of females one male can couple with depends directly on the size of tree-trunk hollow, and spacious hollows are obvious in deficiency. Siberian woolcreepers are polydins, and females of the same harem bring up posterity in common. Male owning only small hollow can have in its harem only two females, and especially successful males become owners of a harem of 5-6 females. Having won the right to the nesting place, male starts to sing loudly, involving females to chosen tree-trunk hollow. The song of Siberian woolcreeper includes many parts and frequently consists almost entirely of the sounds adopted by this bird from ots neighbours – Siberian woolcreepers are excellent imitators. When the harem is gathered, efforts on arrangement of the nest are entirely the job of females. Male only pairs with them and protects territory from contenders.
The best laying for nest is wool of animals. To the moment of nest building at Siberian woolcreepers at large herbivorous mammals the moult is finished and birds do not have problems with search of material for nest. When the small herd of snow harelopes comes to “combing tree” of obdas, they are already waited by some birds, including females of Siberian woolcreeper. Birds of other species are usually very cautious, and wait, while harelopes will depart from tree, but woolcreepers have got used to act much easier. Harelopes are not afraid of these birds, and birds feel like confidently at the presence of large herbivores. They safely perch on backs of harelopes and start pulling white wool, which is sticking out in large flocks from their sides. Wool keeps unsteadily and can be easily separated from skin; therefore soon woolcreeper females fly off to nests, dragging off in beaks scraps of white hair resembling magnificent white moustaches. Such procedure is obviously pleasant to harelopes: when Siberian woolcreeper perches on back or side of animal, harelope freezes, trying not to frighten off a bird swarming up its skin and pulling out the bunches of old wool causing an itch.
The gem of ornithofauna of Neocene Siberia is the large graceful bird – taiga crail. It is a representative of large group of rail descendants, which have replaced the cranes not sustained anthropogenous pressure in Holocene. Other representatives of this group inhabit wetlands of Western Siberia, and live even in rigorous Greenland. But taiga crails, as against them, prefer dry habitats and do not compete to close kinds. Crails fly to Eastern Siberia soon after obda migration. Their flocks are easily recognizeable among spring migrants – crails differ in very large size (wingspan about one and a half meters), characteristic black-and-white colouring of the bottom side of body, and fly, having stretched as a long rank. Flocks of these birds may number up to fifty individuals though usually there is lesser number.
Taiga crails have done very much a long journey. They wintered at the Pacific coast of Asia or in the south of Japan Islands, and have overcome thousand kilometers before have reached native grounds. The route of these birds at first ran above the coast of Korean peninsula, and then they flied above the land. Flocks of crails moved above edges of former Gobi desert, turned to bushy savanna in Neocene. Then they have made difficult flight over mountains of Central Asia, lasting for many days, had stopped off near Baikal and after that moved to the north.
Flight is completed, and birds can have a rest. They land on “obda roads”, far away from bushes, where predators may watch for them. Now the birds tired with flight represent too easy prey, and excessive caution will be useful.
Within several next days taiga crails have a rest and gain strength before courtship season. They hunt insects, gathering them in grass. At this time it is dangerous to rodents and reptiles to come nearer to these birds – crails hunt them, pursuing in grass by run and putting exact impact by pointed beak. They are capable to kill and swallow entirely even snakes about one meter long. Birds gradually settle into shape, and at some areas of “obda roads” males spontaneously begin displaying separate elements of courtship dances – they suddenly start to whirl with wings stretched, or dart off and run some tens meters, and then sharply stop and continue search for food. The nature dictates to animals the certain rhythms of life, and they are compelled to submit.
Two days pass, and at the “obda roads” courtship games of crails begin. In cold spring morning shortly before dawn male roll-call begins. Voice of crail represents lingering hoarse call similar to crow croak. The first male started calling in night darkness, when in the east only the edge of horizon has brightened slightly. Having called for some times, it has broken off. There was a silence for some minutes, interrupted only by whistles and trills of songbirds hidden in bushes and foliage of trees. Then in the distance another male started calling. It has called for some minutes, and also has calmed down. When the sky in the east has turned pink, at once two males in different parts of “obda road” have started to call in harmonious duet. When they stopped call, the relay race was accepted by one more male. After that another male started to call, very close to it. And then one more male cried, hiding somewhere in bushes. Gradually male calls became more and more often. Intervals between them did not exceed several seconds any more, and when the edge of sun disk has appeared above horizon, male calls followed continuously one by one, muffling voices of other birds. The sun rised, shining calling birds. Crails have gathered for courtship games in numerous flock. Males stood among grass, having bolt upright. Before calling every male bent its head, and, having sharply thrown it up, uttered long call. Females, on the contrary, stood at this time in grass, having lowered heads.
With sunrise excitation of males has reached apogee. One by one they have started to spread wings and to swirl, displaying to females surrounding them black-and-white pattern on bottom side of wings and white spots on sides of bodies. After several minutes of such swirling male rushed after female chosen among others, and was compelled to catch her up, manoeuvring among numerous congeners. If the male was attractive for female, it just stopped soon. But if the female did not like male for some reasons, she simply flied up to land some meters apart among the congeners, and to get lost among them. And male started to swirl in courtship dance again.
When the sun raises above horizon highly enough, courtship games of crails gradually stop. If the couple managed to form, both birds occupy the territory in bushes bordering “obda road”, and during some next days protect its borders, furiously expelling congeners. Every day the number of birds, taking part in courtship rituals, decreases. Gradually “obda roads” appear separated to the set of nesting territories of crails, and the last generated pairs are compelled to be content with the worst sites or to win a part of territory from the birds occupied it earlier. At the fifth morning after the beginning of courtship games only few widely spaced males met sunrise by calls. Any of them can hardly form a pair in this breeding season. And their more successful relatives are already engaged in household affairs – they dig out a shallow well in bush, in which the first egg will be laid soon.
One couple of crails has successfully chosen a place for nesting. Birds have found each other in the first day of courtship games, and they has had the luck to occupy almost freely a good territory, where the group of bushes grew in thickets of grass. Male has successfully beaten off attempts of several couples to occupy a part of their nesting area, and soon its female began to hatch a clutch of three eggs, carefully hidden among bushes.
Crail female incubated eggs, turning them by paws regularly. From time to time it afforded to itself to rise and to stretch paws tired of immovability. Sitting in nest, it cleaned the plumage of dust and parasites. Every small animal, appeared within reach of its beak, became its meal. Now the female was engaged in the most important occupation in its annual cycle – rearing of posterity. And the parental instinct appeared stronger than any another one, even a self-preservation instinct. Therefore female has not abandoned the nest, when near to it large animal with fluffy spotty wool and long teeth jutting out from closed mouth had appeared. Huge animal moved absolutely silently, sniffing air and looking over the district. Its attention had been drawn by careless movement of crail female, and animal moved directly to it. Protecting the clutch, the bird has jumped from nest and has sharply stretched wings, exposing black-and-white inner side of them. But it could do no more – huge paw has immediately broken bird’s body, crushing it to flat mass of feathers and flesh. With the only claw huge spotty animal has broken off bird’s body, and with several movements of rough tongue covered with corneous spikes has literally licked off meat and bones in common, holding the body of killed bird by paw. In some next minutes crail eggs crackled one by one have in mouth of the beast, and it had swallowed them right with egg shells. Then animal moved out, leaving at the place of tragedy only feathers stained with blood with the rests of skin of bird, and the empty nest.
The megafauna of herbivores derivates mega-predators inevitably. One of them is berl, living in forests of Siberia the year round. But in summer after herds of obda one more huge hunter comes to the north there – the Siberian sabertooth, immemorial “shepherd” of obda herds.
Saber-like canine repeatedly arose in the line of vertebrates leading from primitive reptiles to mammals. Such canines had been present at carnivorous theromorph reptiles of Permian and Triassic periods, and also early Tertiary nimravids from among placental mammals, and some marsupial mammals of Late Tertiary. In felid family saber-like canine developed some times independently. The prehistoric humans face with representatives of saber-toothed cats in Africa, Eurasia and North America, but mass extinction of megafauna in Holocene had destroyed deeply specialized saber-toothed predators. But in Neocene saber teeth evolved simultaneously at representatives of two families of predators. The deadlynetta, large saber-toothed animal of viverrid family lives in Africa, and in Siberia such canines had appeared again at one representative of fairly depleted felid family – at this time the descendant of lynces obtained this weapon.
Siberian sabertoothes became the only migrating species among felids, and each year they begin travel to the north after their basic prey, obdas. Some individuals follow their prey far to the north, but the significant part of these cats dissipates at the great space of Central Siberian Plateau. The enough plenty of large mammals at the extensive territory is necessary for these animals.
The animal which has killed crail female is an adult female of Siberian sabertooth. She does not aspire to hunt large prey – this female is pregnant and should give birth soon, therefore she avoids attacking dangerous animals and is content for a while with casual small prey. She needs to find a place for a den where her cubs will be born, but it is very uneasy to make it – she should not give out a location of den by behaviour. Strong ruthless berl and uniquitous curious waheela can simply eat her cubs, therefore female approaches to a choice of place for rearing of posterity very carefully.
Last frosts still cover blades of grass with hoarfrost, and when there is no frost, nights all the same are still cool. However weather becomes better every day, and the nature responds to these changes. Despite of night colds, plants grow very quickly, and for the Siberian megafauna there come times of abundance.
Snow harelopes graze in tall grass. These herbivores eat undersized grasses and the bottom part of stalks of graminoids, therefore they find a lot of food in places where obdas have passed, biting only tops of plants because of high growth. Ability of changing of wool colouring according to seasons is very useful to these animals, which have set of enemies in a nature. In winter white colouring makes these animals invisible from apart, and in summer due to indistinct vertical strips snow harelopes are hardly distinctive in grass. But even such colouring does not save them from the predators hunting with the help of sense of smell, therefore animals do not lose caution. Large tall male regularly rises on rear legs and looks over vicinities, keeping a biped pose for some second. While predators do not threaten, animals can graze quietly. The posterity of harelopes is born early, and every female gives birth to couple of cubs at once. They are born well developed, and already in first days of life try to graze. Cubs differ from adult animals in very precise striped colouring. In case of danger they simply nestle against the ground and freeze. Also at them odorous glands are not advanced, therefore predators hardly can find out them. At this time harelope females withdraw a predator from posterity. For this purpose they behave deliberately carelessly, drawing attention of predator, and forcing it to chase them. It is a dangerous game, but harelopes win it due to endurance and speed.
Harelope cubs must develop quickly in order to gather sufficient weight to winter and to survive in such rigorous time. But all the same in the first winter about half of all cubs, born in summer, perishes. Harelopes have numerous enemies – more often waheela preys them, though sometimes these animals turn prey to berl, especially in deep snow, where they can not accelerate necessary speed. But in spring and in summer harelopes have one good ally – small bird, Siberian woolcreeper. While swarms of blood-sucking insects have not appeared yet, these birds peck lice from wool of harelopes – these parasites constantly live in wool of animals. When one harelope cub starts sucking milk, the bird perches on its back, and cub jumps scaredly aside and hides in grass. It does not understand yet, who is a friend, and who is an enemy, but adult animals willingly entrust to birds clearing of their wool, and cub will get used to presence of birds soon. And the benefit brought by woolcreepers as sentinels will strengthen their union even more.
Not all birds, however, relate to harelopes favourably. When animals graze, one female of a harem comes closer to bushes to nibble soft leaflets. But it does not notice crail nest hidden in grass. Bird female incubates clutch, not giving itself out up to last moment. Its plumage is well combined with color of grass, and puzzlework of gleam and shadow among bushes makes black-and-white colouring of head and neck imperceptible. Harelopes do not represent any danger to these birds, but can step on eggs quite casually. Therefore, when harelope makes some more steps aside nest, female of taiga crail stands, ready to protect its posterity. It sharply jumps from nest and stretches wings, displaying black-and-white colouring of lower side of wings appreciable from apart. Harelope was frightened a lot of silhouette, which has suddenly arisen before it, has sharply recoiled aside and has uttered shrill whistle. Its movement and alarm signal have frightened the whole group of harelopes, and they have fallen apart, highly jumping up in grass. And crail female, having convinced that nothing threatens to the nest, has continued brooding.
In shurga herd new cubs also had appeared. Shurga females one by one have brought posterity, and one female even gave birth to twins. Young animals can walk right after birth, and soon can even run on a level with herd. The wool of newborn cubs has lighter shade, than at adult individuals, and on this background along the back dark strip is stretched, and there are some dark spots on sides. This is an inheritance got from a wild boar – the distant ancestor of shurga. Cubs suckle fat milk and grow quickly. During the first some days of life they eat only milk, but further start expressing interest in food of adult animals. As against timid harelope cubs, young shurga is much quieter, and even expresses some curiosity to Siberian woolcreepers perching on backs and sides of adult animals. When one woolcreeper perched on side of shurga female and started searching for parasites, cub of this female has extended proboscis towards it, and has tried to reach a bird. But woolcreeper simply flushed and perched on back of animal, where cub will not reach it. But one more woolcreeper perched right on cub’s back and started searching in its wool with pointed beak.
Shurga herd gives way respectfully, when across it obdas stride. As against belligerent shurgas, obda has quiet and peaceful behaviour, but in herd of these animals there are young ones had not lost yet touches with mothers. Having been born in the last year, they have stopped to suck milk only recently, but still keep near to mothers, receiving necessary protection from them. And at this time obda females already bear the second cub, and they give birth soon. Therefore cubs, born the last year, will come to leave mother and to rely only for safety of herd as a whole. When pregnancy comes to end, obda females turn very suspicious, and can easily attack any animal, in which they will feel any sign of danger. And it is unsafe even for shurga armed with tusks to cause aggression at these huge animals.
At the end of spring the grass grows so high, that harelope females wander up to the belly in wavy brownish-green sea of graminoids, and their cubs hardly can look round, not rising on rear legs. Due to its growth shurga will not be lost in grass sea, even being a cub: when the herd is grazing, cubs play, and their heads, without frightening tusks yet, and striped backs are seen in grass. Graminoids are rich in silica and too firm for cubs, at which milk teeth just have started to come through, but adult animals willingly eat grass with roots. This animal uses tusks like elephants of Holocene epoch: it digs out grass with them. The majority of animals of this species are right-handers; therefore the right tusk at them is more erased and constantly soiled with ground. Shurga picks up sod cover by tusk, and with strong jerk pulls out at once a bunch of grass. Having taken it with proboscis and having struck against the ground some times to shake soil from roots, shurga eats bunch of grass entirely. Soil helps digestion of animal, preventing diarrhea and supplying the beast with mineral substances. After feeding of shurga herd the ground on rather vast area appears turned upside down and dug over. Such traces of shurga’s feeding are easily seen from the height of the bird’s flight – dense sod of graminoids has no time to develop there yet, and these parts of “obda roads” expose numerous colours of motley grass flowers against the background of brownish-green carpet of graminoids. With each year, however, they turn paler and paler, and for the third year graminoid sod is almost restored. On sites where the sod is damaged by feeding of shurga, harelopes prefer to graze, diversifying monotonous and dryish graminoid diet with sappy and soft motley grasses.
Obdas browse young foliage on birches. Tall growth and mobile neck allow these animals feeding at the height inaccessible for shurgas and harelopes, therefore obda easily gets on with these animals, not competing to them. The upper lip of obda is doubled, and its halves can move independently from each other. Due to such adaptation animal can browse leaves even from tips of branches. If there is a necessity, obda can rise on rear legs, leaning front legs against tree trunk. But not any tree can sustain weight of such giant. Also pregnant females are too heavy and clumsy for such trick.
Woolcreepers jump on backs and sides of animals, gathering insects. Only flies involved with manure and heavy smell emitted by animals are their catch yet. But soon the summer will come, and their food will be plenty. Beasts allow dexterous birds a lot: woolcreepers perch on their muzzles, thrust beaks in nostrils, and even catch flies near eyes, where importunate insects drink saltish plaintive liquid of animals. Activity of these birds is especially desirable in serene sunny day, when animals presume to themselves to have a rest, and insects, on the contrary, are very active.
In the morning there was a light frost, but in daytime sun burns appreciably, and large animals gradually fall into drowsy condition. Large obdas lied down in shadow of young birches at the edge of “obda road”. Male browses foliage from bushes lazily, even not rising. It especially likes slightly sweetish twigs with the inflorescences emitting strong aroma. And females have fallen asleep one by one. In some days they should give birth to cubs, and they need a rest a lot. Cubs born in the last year play now – two males imitate a duel of adult animals, tapping each other by noses. In some years on their noses large horns will grow, with which help it will be possible to rake snow in winter. And young female is engaged in more peaceful occupation: it eats. But, before picking a bunch of grass, it imitates getting food in winter – it moves muzzle above the grass from side to side several times. Thus it carelessly inhales pollen and sneezes some times, and one of adult females looks at her with agitation.
Shurga herd also turns languid. Some animals even lay on the ground, having extended legs freely, when other animals wander beside. Shurga cubs also play, imitating movements of adults, when they get forage. But their toy is only small bunch of grass fallen off from sod dug out by adult animal and have not been eaten. Cubs push it with their muzzles, trying to undermine with not grown yet tusks, and seize with proboscises. Having chewed grass, not so eatable yet, one cub spits it out, and then game proceeds, but at this time the grass is chewed by another cub. One of shurga cubs, tired and having got hungry, decided to fortify itself with food. It runs up to mother having a rest and laying on one side, and sticks to its udder. When cub started sucking, female has begun to wag tail from pleasure, like any doggie did.
Woolcreepers do not stop their work for any minute. They dexterously seize flies settling on bodies of animals. While nestlings are not hatched yet, birds can freely eat the caught insects, gathering weight. But during the rearing of nestlings they will grow thin a lot. Birds do not lose vigilance – some times for this day they were exposed to attacks of various birgs of prey, and one birds already became somebody’s prey. Therefore each minute some pairs of eyes take a view of vicinities. And the suspicious movement in grass near to edge of “obda road” had not escaped from their eyes.
The alarm signal of Siberian woolcreeper sounds very loudly and unpleasantly, especially against the background of other sounds of nature. But large animals know by experience, that this bird is mistaken very seldom, when utters it, and some animals already saw, that happens to those ones, which react insufficiently quickly. Call of alarm has repeated, and then at once some woolcreepers have called loudly and shrilly. Danger obviously was very great. Obdas have reacted very quickly – mighty animals have risen from grass one by one, and huge male began sniffing air. The casual breath of wind has brought a smell, which is well known to it from the youngest age – smell associated with fear, blood and death. It is a smell of very large spotty animal with long teeth, which silently steals and easily kills even strong animals. Siberian sabertooth.
Shurgas, having caught an alarm signal, began forming a defensive build. Female feeding its cub has sharply standed on legs, not having trampled its own offspring only casually; it squealed shrilly and has jumped aside from her. Other cubs, squealing in fear, rushed to their mothers, searching for protection at them. Scared harelopes gathered in herd, having driven all cubs together, and have hastened to shurga herd, expecting to be in safety near to these animals.
And from grass the originator of all this alarm has risen – large female of Siberian sabertooth. Three days ago in secluded den in depth of forest she gave birth to two cubs. And now female must feed well to have an opportunity to bring up both of them. About this day she kept in forest very silently, trying to not give out a location of its den. Prey of the female included only small animals – snakes, birds nesting on the ground and their clutches, rodents, which holes she could search and dig out, and even carrion. Once for the last few days she managed to prey newborn harelope cub, but it was the greatest accident – cub was born blind, and female has simply refused to feed it. And then she has gave birth to her own cubs – two small blind creatures, continuously peeping and creeping on floor of den – wide and deep hole dug out by the female under roots of the century-old pine fallen by wind. They needed to eat, and the parental instinct has given determination to the female. The predator came to large prey hunting, which threatened to turn to great trouble now. Female of sabertooth heard disturbing call of tiny bird searching in wool of one of animals as good, as these giant creatures did. And this tiny creature has broken the whole hunting. Now all animals are disturbed, and it would be hardly possible to prey any of them. And literally one minute ago the female of Siberian sabertooth hoped very much to prey large harelope female, wandering at some distance from herd. She imagined what she needed to do – to creep under covering of grass to the distance of some steps, then to run a little and to bring down this animal with an impact of her paw. Male could not hunt this way – it is too robust for such purpose. And then, when prey wheezes and writhes in claws, it is needed only to strike canines in the basis of its neck – and life will leave prey in stream of blood. And then it would be the pleasant feeling of satiety and inexpressible tenderness to two small live lumps, which poke into her side with their tiny muzzles. But call of one bird has broken all plans.
The loud roar of shurga herd has merged with trumpet voices of disturbed obdas and whistling of frightened harelopes. Birds frightened with movement of animals rushed above herd, crying loudly. And huge animals have started to move towards the sabertooth female. Obdas stamped thick legs loudly, and shurgas roared and swung heads, swashing tusks against the ground and throwing up grass sogs pulled out with roots. Cubs, already hiding behind their backs, or still moving in bellies and preparing to be born, had transformed animals from the scared bulk of meat and bones to the formidable opponents, ready to battle for the posterity. And for the sake of preservation of her posterity the female of Siberian sabertooth was compelled to recede. This is a price of specialization to large prey hunting – sometimes hunted one turns to dangerous opponent.
The Siberian summer is short, but very hot. Plants develop very quickly, and herds of giants do not feel any lack of forage. But after the heat there comes one more feature of Siberian nature, transforming life of animals into the kind of torture. In river valley there are shallow and well warmed up ponds, and in forests there is lot of small bogs. And here various aquatic inhabitants are prevailed by larvae of various dipterans – mosquitoes and midges. When stable warm weather is established, their mass metamorphosis takes place, and in air clouds of tiny blood-sicking insects swarm.
From apart it seems, that above herds kind of grey fog hangs. Actually it is a dense swarm of blood-sucking insects, which continuously attack animals. Short summer wool of animals is not a serious obstacle for insects, and clouds of mosquitoes settle on backs and sides of animals. In some places they are so numerous, that skins of animals seem grey because of congestions of mosquitoes. Places of their stings itch, forcing animals to scratch against trees, and a smell of the skin scratched raw involves insects even more. Midges prefer to attack eyes and nostrils of animals. Their swarms happen so numerous, that animals inhale them and sneeze after that for a long time.
Mosquitoes exhaust animals with their stings and suck out lots of blood. Animals are compelled to spend a lot of time to wave away from them, and try to eat more grass in order to compensate somehow losses from mosquito stings. Appetites of mosquitoes are really insatiable. If not driven away, they are quite capable to exsanguinate an animal of size of harelope female within several hours. Mosquitoes and midges are active at night, and in daytime they are replaced by horseflies and botflies. Stings of horseflies are very painful, and even huge obda is nervous a lot, having caught their characteristic hum. But flight of the botfly causes a much more fright in animals. These insects do not suck blood, being adults, but lay on bodies of animals their eggs, and botfly larvae develop as parasites of animals under skin or in respiratory tract and frontal sinuses of skull.
Obda and shurga suffer a lot from blood-sucking insects, and because of it are compelled to change a habitual way of life. Pursued by bloodsuckers, shurgas come to marshlands and wallow in mud. Numerous herds of these animals occupy riverbanks and diligently smear mud on their skins, wallowing in it or throwing it on their bodies with proboscises. Heavy animals dig out to themselves holes in mud and lay there long, enjoying cool. Drying up, mud sticks their wool in a kind of armour, and temporarily protects from an attack of insects.
Occurrence of posterity in songbirds precisely coincides with mass appearing of mosquitoes, and around of herd of mammals numerous birds hover, gathering food for nestlings. Woolcreepers are the specialized cleaners of large animals, and hover above them in numerous flocks. These birds are especially numerous at the edges of “obda roads”, near to trees, where these birds nest. Brownish females and shining black males of woolcreepers gather on sides of animals and feed, filling with insects extensible hypoglossal sacs. In hollow of large tree the whole brood of nestlings waits for food – their own and another’s ones – therefore females try to gather enough supply of food. Large animals relate to presence of woolcreepers very favourably, and now even cubs are not frightened, when these birds stir their wool with beaks. But woolcreepers catch insects rather selectively – they prefer larger horseflies and botflies, leaving the privilege to catch mosquitoes to other birds.
Having filled a hypoglossal sac with insects, woolcreeper females one by one return to their common nest. In deep hollow there is their numerous brood. In collective nest two tens nestlings grow up at once, and they all want to eat. Bird perched at the edge of entrance to the hollow is met with squeak of several hungry nestlings at once – while they grow, they are ready to eat almost continuously. Woolcreeper female clings wood by claws and goes down in depth of the hollow, and some nestlings hold opened beaks towards it. The mucous membrane on edges of their mouths forms the special rolls reflecting poor light reaching the lower part of hollow. It makes opened nestlings’ mouths visible better, and females is simply not able to refuse them to feed. Therefore a content of hypoglossal sac appears immediately in mouth of hungriest of them, which pulls its head higher than others. It is quite unimportantly, whose this nestling is – all woolcreeper females equally willingly feed all nestlings, and all young birds have identical chance of survival. All insects brought by female disappear in gullet of nestling. Having swallowed last insect, it turns to female by back and produces a portion of dung covered in slime membrane, and female carries it away from nest. And the full nestling is replaced at the “feeding place” near the entrance by hungrier one. Sometimes even male – father of all these nestlings – brings food to them. But more often he looks out for birds of prey, which do not miss an opportunity to attack woolcreepers searching for parasites in wool of shurga and obda.
Obda also has its special defenders. In wool of these mammal colonies of tiny bats of a separate species settle – obda bats. These chiropterans spent winters in the south, being in hibernation among colonies of chiropterans of other kinds. But spring heat has woken them, and they have gone to the north in searches of obda herds. Obda bats arrive to the north later, than obda itself – presence of enough amount of food is necessary for them. Therefore, while mosquitoes have not appeared, these chiropterans remain near to wintering places and lead unremarkable way of life, characteristic for the majority of bats. But in the beginning of summer they one by one or in small flocks hasten to the north, overtaking herds of beasts. In flight they feed on insects and can fly all night without landing. And once in the beginning of summer obdas feel, how in their wool these small creatures begin moving. At night obda bat flies to hunting, and the number of the mosquitoes, swarming around obdas, decreases appreciably. In darkness animals feel, how wings of bats touch their wool, but it does not frighten, and, on contrary, calms large beasts. Obda bats are not only insect hunters, but also excellent night sentinels – keen hearing of bats allows them to find out presence of predators, and obda distinguishes their disturbing voices very well, and also pricks up its ears.
During the summer obdas carry on their bodies colonies of bats of this species. These chiropterans even breed on obdas. Soon after flying to the north females of obda bat give birth. The first days of life cubs are carried on female’s body – while cubs are small, they do not prevent it to fly and to feed. But large cubs represent rather serious obstacle for mother, and they leave them to hang in wool of host beast, and search them for feeding, recognizing their voices. In absence of mother grown up cubs do not starve. They move actively in wool of animal and search for various parasites settling in obda’s wool with the help of mobile nose extended to proboscis. One of such parasites of obda is a caterpillar of obda wool moth, which gnaws hair of animal. If too many larvae of this moth parasitize on animal, its wool thins appreciably. Maybe, in summer it is not so important for survival, but in winter rich dense wool helps to resist cold, and overcooling can become the reason of illness and death of animal. Therefore the balance between the number of the parasite and health of the host animal is vital. And cubs of obda bat help to support it.
Caterpillars of obda wool moth, thin mobile creatures, creep near roots of hair of obda, forcing huge animal to shudder with their touches. They build small individual cases of bits of hair fastened by web, and in case of danger are hidden there, not giving out their presence with movements. Cubs of obda bats, though are not able to fly, creep actively in wool of animal, clinging by hind legs and wing thumbs. Due to sharp sense of smell they search quick caterpillars, and proboscis helps to catch them. For one day cub can eat obda wool moth larvae and other insects in amount approximately equal to the fifth part of its own body weight. This way it gradually passes from mother’s milk to rough adult food. The childhood at young bats is very short – they develop quickly, and already at monthly age start flying and hunting.
Pursued by birds and bat cubs, larvae of obda wool moth creep away to the bottom part of body and on legs of obda. They also quickly develop and make cocoons of obda’s hair. Before the cocoon will be ready, larva bites off hair on which it is attached, and falls in grass where it will be found hardly by bird. Here larva finishes making of cocoon, closing it, and then turns to adult moth. Two generations of obda wool moth have time to develop in summer, but they are much smaller, that moths developed from larvae wintered on obda. Imago of this species from one animal to another in the evening, when birds are less active, and bats have not flied hunting yet. Obda wool moth flies low above grass in order to hide from any casual predators. Males of this moth are very good fliers. They search for females with the help of very much advanced bodies of sense of smell on short antennae. Males of this moth live not for long and do not eat. They have time to fertilize several females and then perish. Females of obda wool moth feed on pollen. They live much longer compared to males, because during their adult life they should find suitable species of host animal and lay eggs on it. Moths of the second summer generation face the especially hard task – they should “guess” the proper time of methamorphosis, when obdas migratу to the south. Some ones succeed to lay eggs on animals spent summer in the district where moth larvae developed, but it is rather rare luck. The majority of moths of the second summer generation perishes, having not found obda and having not laid eggs. But moths of of winter and first summer generation compensate strict specialization of this generation with their polyphagy.
Ticks represent the true plague of large herbivorous mammals in summertime. These arthropods are capable to starve for extremely long time, but, having found out suitable host, they are able to suck the amount of blood surpassing in tens and even hundreds times their weight. Ticks wait for large animals in bush or on stalks of high grasses. When obda, shurga or harelope walks past and touches plant, ticks fall on it literally like a raindrops and creep on its body. Among numerous species of ticks there are strict specialists parasitizing exclusively on the only species of animals, and there are extremely omnivorous kinds sucking blood of various hosts. Development of megafauna promoted active evolution and prosperity of this group of animals. Ticks stick to the bottom part of animal’s body more often – on neck and breast, stomach and legs. And, if ticks of different species parasitize on the same animal, they precisely share habitats with each other, occupying strictly certain areas of body of host animal. While tick has not sucked blood, it is very difficult for noticing, and even keen eyes of woolcreeper are not able to notice it. But ticks full of blood hang in wool of animals like balls of grey, brownish and even red color.
In summer taiga crails already hatch posterity. Couples of these birds followed by their brood of fluffy striped chicks wander near herds of herbivorous animals. Having the certain caution, it is quite safe – birds of prey seldom appear near to herds, and the food can be found in plenty. When obda or shurga wanders in grass, from under its legs in all sides grasshoppers and catydids jump, and crail love them as a food very much. In the beginning of summer in grass there are lots of nymphs of these insects able to jump, but having soft covers and consequently representing good food for chicks of these birds. Chicks, even being only one week old, have good reaction, and are able to catch these insects quite successfully. But coordination of movements at them is not so good yet, and they simply miss very frequently, and should obtain food by request at parents, tapping their beaks with beak. But some days pass, and young crails turn to successful insect catchers, and they need from parents only heating at night and protection against small predators if necessary. At same time at crail chicks first feathers on wings and a back part of neck start growing.
Crails wander near to large herbivores. Tall growth of adult birds helps them pecking ticks from sides of obdas and shurgas. Large animals at first relate to such birds mistrustfully because of their large size, but later, having convinced of their safety and even utility, do not pay attention to them. But crails should keep an eye on their neighbours to not get under heavy leg of obda or shurga casually.
Crail female leads its chicks among large mammals. They already have grown up a little, and dexterously seize grasshoppers and other insects jumping out from under legs of animals. They are too preoccupied with hunting, and do not notice, how adult shurga – large three-year old male – comes nearer to them. Despite of the size, shurga is rather silly animal, and it is possible to frighten it easily. Crail female is capable only of one kind of menacing display – it runs directly to the muzzle of animal, stretches wings sharply and utters loud croaking call. For one second shurga male gauging, and woolcreepers scared by voice of crail flushed from sides of animal. The next second crail female has simply pecked the tip of shurga’s proboscis. Not expecting for such attack from much smaller bird, shurga male has given a grunt discontentedly, and moved aside. And crail brood has continued feeding.
For some animals it is quite enough to catch insects to keep themselves alive, but anothers need much more serious prey. King of carnivores of Siberia is Siberian sabertooth. This predator is strictly specialized large prey hunter, and eats carrion only in very rare cases. Female of this kind, settled near to “obda road”, is not the olny representative of this kind in this area. She managed to couple with large male, which has left her territory soon. But cubs, which father he became, will be born only the next year. While female brings up two cubs, the embryos growing in her body, will terminate in development until the next year.
Female of Siberian sabertooth arranged the hunt directly on “obda road” foe some times, but every time huntings were broken because of alarm risen by woolcreepers perching on backs of large animals. But hunting in forest appeared more successful – the saber-toothed cat managed to kill snow harelopes some times, and once with exact impact of canines in neck she has brought down large male, which meat had been enough for her for two days. One more time extraction the prey of hunter became two-year-old shurga female escaped from heat in forest. Sabertooth female has noticed that in forest birds, breaking up her hunting many times, do not perch on backs of animals. In addition in forest it is much easier to arrange an ambush, and the huge cat killed animals some times, rushing on them from tree. Thus impact of her body brought down an animal on the ground, and enabled to put a bite in neck or stomach. Bewaring of breaking canines, female of Siberian sabertooth did not bite prey’s rib cage or sacrum, and chose soft tissies for drawing a wound. Positive experience was outlined by sabertooth female, and due to her luck in hunting her posterity developed very successfully. At her cubs eyes and ears have already opened, and they began to creep much more actively in den, reeling on weak paws. It is possible to hope, that they will develop to an autumn well enough to endure to the south and to learn the basic hunting skills. But first of all their mother should be the good hunter for this purpose.
Herbivores use the certain tracks in forest, and the best ambush is just near tracks. Female has chosen for an ambush thickets on border of forest and “obda road”. Here bushes are replaced by deciduous trees, and herbivores frequently walk on the track to escape from heat in forest. The shadow of foliage, falling on grass, is perfectly combined with spotty pattern on skin of predator, and sabertooth female can wait for appearing of suitable prey quietly.
In bushes rustle of branches and tramping of large feet are heard. Obda herd numbering about twenty animals moves here to have a rest in shadow. The herd is led by large male with large narrow horn on muzzle and high corneous eyeshades above eyes. When it walks in bush, these eyeshades protect eyes from twigs. It is followed by some females, near which cubs already frolick, born during last two weeks. Obda cub is attractive prey, but hunting for it is very difficult – female constantly keeps near to the offspring, and is ready to rush on any predator, risking its own life for the sake of its protection. After them one more male passes, obviously having the subordinated position in herd, and with it only one female with cub follows. But the most desire prey is young obda male, the two-year-old animal which is not requiring for parent trusteeship any more, but is still weak enough alone to repulse an attack of predator. And it behaves least circumspectly, staying near bushes for feeding. Female of Siberian sabertooth watches for it, and her short tail shivers, giving out a strong exertion.
In wool of male some bats creep – these are permanent companions of this species. They break night hunting of predators very frequently, warning obdas about danger with disturbing voices. But it seems that predator has chosen a good place for an ambush: nobody of them had noticed danger, and bats live the usual life. Females still feed already grown up cubs with milk, or lick their wool. Some of young chiropters try to fly – clinging for obda’s wool, they flap frequently. They succeed to fly up for some seconds, but they do not dare to come off a body of the host animal yet, and strongly grip locks of its wool by paws.
Obda male has gone to bushes far and had separated from the main herd, which moved forward. It does not worry yet – it hears voices of adult animals and sees among trees their sides and backs. And female of Siberian sabertooth started hunting. She began creeping to huge animal, almost quietly stepping on wood litter. When the wind has noised tree crones, predator has made the long jump to tree trunk, and has stood motionlessly. It seems all is quiet in forest. She has cautiously looked out from behind the bush, and has looked on obda again. Maybe, male does not know that it is observed by predator, and continues browsing leaflets. Having swallowed some torn off leaves, it lowers head in bushes again.
Sabertooth female had made one rush only. By strong impact of left paw she has inclined obda’s head aside, has seized shoulder of animal by right paw, has deeply stuck dagger-like canines into its throat and the next second has pulled them out, having pushed the beast away from her. From impact of heavy body of predator obda has swayed, and has tumbled down in bushes, breaking its branches. Somewhere among trees disturbing trumpet voices of adult animals sound – the herd has heard noise of the combat. But animals will not come back to drive the predator away – they are too frightened, and there are cubs in herd, which can fall prey.
After attack female of Siberian sabertooth watches to fallen obda. Now she should be patient, and prey will get to her without superfluous efforts. Obda hardly rises on legs – it is fatally wounded. From wounds on animal’s neck blood pours in wide streams, impregnating its wool – canines of sabertooth hit jugular vein. Above obda scared bats hover. At falling the beast has crushed several young animals, and it’s another side has spots of their blood. Obda tries to overtake the herd, hoping for safety, promising by presence of relatives, but it will hardly manage to make it. Voices of obda herd are heared somewhere in the distance – the herd hurries up to leave dangerous place. Animals feel terrible smell of blood, it frightens them, and they step faster. Wounded obda male can not move so quickly. Siberian sabertooth female does not hide itself and walks almost near to its prey. She knows, that after successful attack prey lives not for long, and does not try to catch it up or to render one more wound. Fatally wounded obda weakens soon, but sabertooth female drives it further. Blood pours on wool of an animal as wide stream, and on forest track red pools remain – obda male lives its last minutes of life. At last, obda stumbles against root of tree, and falls. It moves legs and tries to rise for some minutes, but then dies from loss of blood. Bats have hovered above killed obda for some minutes, and then have directed after herd. But all the same on obda’s body some young bats stay, which are not able to fly yet. When sabertooth female has come nearer to prey, they have tried to creep away from predator. Sabertooth female has noticed their movement and has struck paw some times, killing one tiny beast with each impact. Hunting is finished.
Siberian sabertooth female started eating its prey. Sharp claws have ripped up skin and muscles of obda on one side and naked the interiors. Saber-like canines limit an opportunity of sabertooth to eat firmer parts of carcass and to gnaw meat from bones, therefore this animal eats mainly edible parts of interiors and soft parts of rear legs and waists of carcass. Sometimes animal can chew meat from front legs of prey, but actually never tries to gnaw ribs. Canines of animal can stuck into bones and break simply. And the hunter without its main weapon lives not for long – it is compelled to eat carrion, and in this case is compelled to maintain competition to set of other animals.
The smell of blood of prey involves predators and scavengers. Eating meat of obda, sabertooth female notices among trees silhouettes of predators with bluish-gray fur and dark strip stretched from a nape up to the tail. These are waheelas changed magnificent winter fur to summer wool, which is not so noticeable against the background of forest. They were involved for a long time with sounds of struggle and smell of blood, but care has got the best, and they do not venture to challenge sabertooth female. She can kill any of them with one impact of heavy clawed paw, and attempt to take off its prey may cost lifes to several members of pack. Spongers and stealers of another’s prey are always numerous among predators. It is favourable enough strategy of survival, especially if animals live here, able to kill very big prey and not able to eat it entirely for once. Additionally, hunting for large game takes away many forces, and such prey is harder for protecting. Berl, the second in ferocity and the first in weight the predator of forests of Siberia, frequently receives the part of its prey, using only rough physical strength. Having good sense of smell, it easily defines, where the prey is, and never misses an opportunity to take it away.
Each individual of large species of predators should control vast territory, and their populations are very rarefied. Therefore a meeting of two mega-predators near the same prey is the phenomenon rare enough. Nevertheless, it happens at least because one of predators can purposefully search for this meeting. When sabertooth female tore meat, in the distance deep growl was heard, and waheelas, prowled in bushes nearby, have gathered and began to behave appreciably more silently. Rustle of foliage and crunch of branches has notified wood inhabitants on approach of large animal which is not afraid anybody to notice it. Large berl male in light brown summer wool comes closer and closer to obda carcass. It weighs approximately one and a half times more than female of Siberian sabertooth, and is obviously not going to recede if there will be a fight. In nature it frequently happens, that the strongest one eats first, without dependence from the one who has killed the prey.
Berl and sabertooth are two perfectly armed hunters. Berl is much heavier and has huge force. But sabertooth female is equipped with pointed retractable claws and huge canines. She is more mobile compared to berl, and is quite able to win in fight with the help of the dexterity. Berl prefers to operate directly. It approaches to carcass of killed obda, sniffing to to the smell of blood. It is an obvious challenge, and replying to it sabertooth female grins canines threateningly and utters deep grumble. Berl recedes, but only to half of step. The warning has not worked, and sabertooth female has begun to roar loudly, having grinned. Berl made some steps back and started walking around the carcass, trying to go from behind. Keeping eyes on it, sabertooth female has yawned. But it not a sign of her sleepy mood, and obvious demonstration of canines, intended to force a stranger to recede. Such signs of force display work well during intraspecific conflicts: it helps to avoid serious fights which can have heavy consequences for well armed predators. But berl is not impressed with threats of the representative of absolutely different family of predators. While it walks around obda carcass, female of Siberian sabertooth watches its movements attentively, keeping head to its side. Her ears are pressed against head – it indicates the internal tension of animal, and her readiness to act. Tip of tail of sabertooth female pulls from side to side – she hardly keeps herself from an attack. As against cats, berls prefer to settle the questions of superiority by force. Huge animal has sharply risen on hind legs, displaying its size, and lowered hard back on all four. Dull impact is header, and under its paws dry branch has crackled. But display of berl has not conceived action – sabertooth female has grinned stronger only, and has bellowed deep. And then predator has decided to operate regardless of obstacles. Having lifted its tail up, berl splashed smelly liquid on the ground, designating its claims for prey, and climbed on carcass, growling and grinning. Now it is no chance to avoid the conflict, and sabertooth female is compelled to resist to it, using all her best qualities. With one jump she appeared right in front of muzzle of berl, and has put to it sharp impact by clawed paw on its nose. Berl has begun roaring, and on its wool some deep painful scratches have appeared, from which blood leaked. The next moment the second impact of paw made deep stripes on skin at the opposite side of its head, and huge cat has not pulled out eye of this predator only by great chance. Acute pain and smell of its own blood as if have made berl sober, and it started to recede to avoid any much more serious wound. Berl has literally slid from the carcass, and has run off aside, and the roar of giant cat followed it. In spite of the fact that it surpasses sabertooth female in weight, now it is not the strongest one. When the cat goes down from the side of killed obda, berl recedes even farther. Sabertooth female sniffs at the mark left by it, digs some dround over it, and then continues to tear obda carcass, choosing the softest parts of it.
While successful hunter eats, berl wanders beside, waiting for its share. When it approaches too close, giant cat interrupts its meal, and yawns in a pointed manner, displaying long canines. Now berl understands, that threat of this animal is supported with force, and will be afraid henceforth of close meetings with such predators. And deep scars on muzzle will ache for many days and will keep to all further life; it will remind to it constantly of care at the meeting with other kinds of predators.
Sabertooth female tries to eat as much as possible – it is quite obviously, that all rests will get to other predators immediately after she will leave. But she should eat to have enough milk and to bring up her cubs. To the beginning of an autumn her posterity should become large enough to sustain long travel to the south, following obda herds. About thirty kilograms of meat has disappeared in sabertooth female’s stomach. Having felt herself full, female jumped off from obda carcass and directed by roundabout tracks to her den. For the sake of safety of the posterity she should to confuse traces and to induce a double trace as good, as hare, to mask the way to den.
When the terrible spotty-skinned predator has left, berl wandering around of the carcass has felt itself a master of the situation again. Having convinced that near to the carcass there are waheelas only, which are obviously weaker than it is, berl made some odorous marks on the ground near to obda carcass and got its teeth sink greedy in even warm meat. It has noticed that waheelas do not go out, and has loudly bellowed some times, striking by paw on the obda carcass. Its force is so great, that obda carcass shudders with its impacts. Waheelas, waiting for the rests of meat, have receded, and soon have left away at all. But berl can remain near the carcass for some days – while meat stays edible.
Each predator has its own strategy of survival, which has the advantages and lacks. Berl and sabertooth are solitary hunters relying only to themselves. Natural selection is severe to them, but its result is the specialized predator being out of competition. Each animal of such kind accumulates the certain individual experience during life, but transfers only small part of it to new generation. This is rather nonflexible behavior, which has been held down with set of instincts besides. Such predators survive successfully only in rather stable conditions. Waheelas represent the different type of a predator of Siberian forests. These ones are medium-sized, but numerous predators. Their behaviour is more flexible, that gives them more prospects for a survival. Pack of these predators is a true warehouse of collective experience, and young animals can learn much at grown-ups during the collective hunting. Furthermore waheelas are curious, and besides very courageous, when being in pack. And sometimes it makes them dangerous.
At the territory inhabited by the female of Siberian sabertooth some waheela packs live. Animals of one of these packs waited the large cat to sort out the relationships with massive berl, hoping to profit with the rests of prey of this predator. But representatives of one more pack have completely casually found out the thing, for which the giant cat can fight even more furiously, than for carcass of just killed obda – carefully disguised den of Siberian sabertooth. Some animals of the pack have heard squeak of cubs, and have decided to locate the place, from which it proceeds. They have dispersed in forest, listening to surrounding sounds, and soon one animal has found out under roots of pine fallen by wind a wide hole, in which two pairs of small green eyes looked at predators from darkness. Waheelas behave very cautiously. They feel smell the terrible predator, emitting from den, and only look in den, sniffing, for the first some minutes. Having convinced, that there is no adult animal nearby, they decide to act, and one animal got into hole almost entirely. In one second from hole plaintive squeak listened, which has sharply broken, and the predator crept back, having pulled out tiny lifeless body of Siberian sabertooth cub. Another animal has tried to snatch out its prey, and has pulled dead body to itself. Between animals fight was fastened, and at this time their prey was stolen by one more animal, and both fighting predators have rushed to chase it. And one more predator crept to the den, where one more cub was hidden, waiting for its fate.
Having seen how instead of mother a different animal creeps to the den, from which unfamiliar and consequently terrible smell emits, little beast hided in the most distant corner of den, between roots of pine. And the unfamiliar terrible animal continued to climb all farther, and in some seconds jaws of predator could touch the cub. But at this time loud sounds were heared from outside – sharp abrupt yelping, which made the situation even more terrible, and after that a familiar sound – voice of mother, loud angry growl. The predator managed to get into the den almost entirely, twitched in narrowness, frightened a lot, and has tried to turn around, having heard yelping. It was an alarm signal of waheela, which meant only one thing: sabertooth female is back. The next second predator has been taken off from the den jerky, and then cub has heard its squeal replaced with whimper, which stopped soon. And after several seconds of even more terrible silence it has heard the sounds dearest for itself – abrupt throat rumbling meaning for it calmness and safety. Sabertooth cub has got out of a den, and has crept on unruly paws to mother, which bent to it and has carefully sniffed. Somewhere aside sabertooth cub noticed the crushed by impact of paw corpse of waheela stained with blood – that animal which has almost seized it. And then all its attention has concentrated only at mother. It has buried in her soft stomach in searches of milk, and has felt, as her wet rough tongue licks its wool.
Escaped cub is not wounded, but is only scared – undesirable newcomers had no time to put serious harm to it. But if the female licks it – it is a good sign. It means, that connection between female and her posterity is still strong, and now escaped cub has even more chances to survive. All food, care and protection will get only to it now.
Having fed her cub, female seizes its skin on neck, and abandons the ravaged den for ever. At the extensive territory, where she lives, there are some secluded places, and she will arrange a new den in one of them. The cub saved by her will survive, and many years later it will becomes one of the largest representatives of this kind. But now it should eat well and grow to survive in the first winter of its life. The Siberian summer lasts not for long.

Bestiary

Siberian shurga (Niveaper sibiricus)
Order: Artiodactyls (Artiodactyla)
Family: Trunk boars (Proboscichoeridae)

Habitat: mountains of Eastern Siberia, cold areas of Northeast Asia.

Picture by Timothy Donald Morris

Pigs are among the most successful animals of Neocene epoch. Due to high ecological plasticity and using human assistance pigs had considerably expanded an area, and after human disappearance began to evolve freely, adapting to changing world and surviving in conditions their ancestors never lived. Some species had developed woods, others began to live in bush, third ones became dwarf inhabitants of ocean islands. Open districts of Eurasia enabled pigs to evolve to huge species.
In mountains of Eastern Siberia one of such huge descendants of boar (Sus scrofa) wanders in herds. It is the animal covered with rich wool and named Siberian shurga (“shurga” is the name of boar at Manchurians). This animal is bigger than bull – weight of adult males reaches two tons, and females weight up to 1600 kg. Siberian shurga is a relict of congelation epoch kept in conditions of continental climate of Eurasia. Its ancestors were huge woolly wild boars (rhinoceros-sized animals lived during the congelation at the border of Holocene and Neocene). This branch of pigs had early separated from the common branch of trunk boars family, but Siberian shurga, nevertheless, has well advanced proboscis.
Shurga is perfectly adapted to conditions of rigorous continental climate. Winter wool of animal is rich, long and colored gray-brown. It forms something like the “skirt” protecting stomach of animal from cold wind. Summer wool is short and dark-brown. On tail of animal long wool grows; that’s why it looks like horse’s one. Such tail is convenient to drive away blood-sucking insects breeding plentifully till the Siberian summer. Skin of shurga is thick, especially on nape and shoulders: it serves for protection against large predators, forming original “armour”. On back right from nape the big fatty hump stretches up to waist: it is the stock of nutrients for winter. At males the hump forms thick fat pillow on head, which is used in courtship demonstrations.
Head of shurga is rather large and massive. Muzzle of animal is flattened from above; canines stick up forward and are bent upwards. It is an adaptation for digging of forage from under snow: shurga rakes snow by lateral movements of head. The snout is extended to mobile proboscis, assisting to gather food from the ground. The proboscis at shurga was developed independently from representatives of the basic branch of trunk boars. The proboscis of Siberian shurga is wide and flat, and its free mobile tip surpasses the length of the top jaw only a little. It permits to warm inhaled air, and it is very important in habitats of Siberian shurga for which rigorous winter frosts are characteristic. This animal tears off leaves of bushes and grass by mobile tip of proboscis.
On cheeks of males thick corneous outgrowths covered with thin wool develop: they are the attribute of sexual dimorphism and means of protection of males in courtship tournaments. Eyes of Siberian shurga are small: animal has bad sight. This animal is near-sighted, but has sharp sense of smell. At Siberian shurga there are big olfactory chambers inside the trunk, formed by advanced folded epithelium. Ears are short, covered with rich fur on edges and external side. Despite of these features, at shurga there is very good hearing.
Hoofs of shurga are wide, under heels of animal fat pillows develop; because of it the foot of this animal is similar to foot of the elephant. Feet at Siberian shurga are rather wide; it permits this massive animal to walk on snow and to not fail. They are covered with thick cornificate skin, therefore this animal can freely walk on firm stones. Hoofs of III and IV toes are strong. With their help animal breaks ice crust, wandering on mountains and woods of Siberia. In winter on feet of animal thick corneous layer accrues, due to which shurga can walk in snow, not falling.
In summer this animal eats bush branches and high grass. Oftently shurga feeds on rivers with grass and marsh plants, digging the forage out with the help of tusks. Shurga has kept habits of omnivorous animal: whenever possible this animal eats carrion, seaweed and sea animals cast ashore. In winter Siberian shurga digs snow by tusks, throwing it by lateral movements of head. Animal can dig out snow up to depth one and half meters. On dugs shurga eats evergreen vegetation, rests of last year's grass. When thickness of snow reaches several meters, Siberian shurga migrates to woods. There it is fed on branches – when snow will wear trees out, their trunks disappear under snow cover and crones become more accessible. Signs of winter feeding of Siberian shurga are well appreciable in summer wood: it is characteristically “cut” crones of low trees bitten in winter up to snow level and lower. They branch plentifully, forming the umbrella-like crone on low thick trunk.
Siberian shurga lives in forest-tundra and mountains, avoiding extensive marshy places. In summer this animal frequently visits ponds and rivers, but in the autumn when the long winter wool starts to grow, shurga moves to dry places. This animal keeps in herds of 8 – 12 animals which most part females and their cubs of the first years of life account under the leading of the large male. Joint search of forage and group protection against predators are an effective way of survival in rigorous conditions of Siberia. The main enemy of Siberian shurga is Siberian sabertooth, the large representative of felines, specialized for large prey hunting. Usually it attacks these animals in summer when it comes from the south with herds of obda. In winter a lot of animals perishes from fodder shortage and cold. The young growth suffers especially strongly – in first winter of life about half of the animals, born the previous spring, perishes.
The rut at Siberian shurga begins with the first frosts in the beginning of winter. During the rut males are aggressive. They determine the hierarchy with the help of tournaments during which they beat each other by tusks to tusks, having lifted heads. Corneous outgrowths on cheeks protect head from casual impacts. At this time they strongly puff trunks and roar.
Usually male gahthers a harem of several females, and preserves it against contenders while females are ready to accept its courtship. Male shows fat stocks to the female, turning sideways to her and shaking head. Simultaneously turn by side is an action which extinguishes aggression of the female: the male demonstrates to her the spot vulnerable for tusk impact.
After the rut males and females unite in herds – it is easier to survive in winter this way. Pregnancy lasts about seven months (it is rather short term for so large animals). The female gives rise to two – three cubs weighting about 80 kg. At once at birth they are covered with wool, active, are able to run at once (piglets spend first days of life in shelter). In two days cubs of shurga do not remain behind herd. They grow quickly, being fed with fat milk. At bi-monthly age cubs start to try vegetative food, and to the end of summer completely pass to diet of adult animals. To the autumn young animals grow weight about 400 kg. Due to coordinated group defense against predator their survival rate is good, but in winter a plenty of young growth perishes from frost and famine – adult animals are not able to protect them from it. Usually young animals had reached two-year-old age, have good chances to reach sexual maturity and to breed. Maturity comes at six years age at males, and in seven – eight years at females. Life expectancy reaches 50 years.

The idea about existence of this animal was stated by Momus, the forum member.

Thick-foreheaded obda (Obda pachyfrons)
Order: Hoofed lagomorphs (Ungulagomorpha)
Family Huge lagoids (Titanolagidae)

Habitat: woods and plains of Northern Asia and Beringian mountains.

Picture by Tim Morris

“Obda” is the name of mammoth at Maris, one of Northern Eurasian folks. This name is quite warrantly given to the enormous herbivorous animal for features of external similarity to prehistoric giant. Obda is one of largest ground animals at the Neocenic Earth: withers height of the adult male reaches 2.5 meters, body length is up to 5 meters, head length is over 70 cm; animal weights more than 3 tons (female is a little bit lighter). The gigantic size of animal is the adaptation for inhabiting in climate of Siberia and Beringia characteristic in cold snowy winters. Constitution of animal is clumsy: massive body, very thick legs, every leg with three hoof-like claws. Under fingers (and toes) there is thick elastic fatty pat (as at elephant’s leg) which softens steps and expands the support area of legs. Body is covered with wool – in summer rather short brown with yellowish sites on cheeks and chest, in winter – dense white one. Wool is especially advanced on sides; up to winter on back the big fat hump grows lasting up to waist. In winter “fur coat” on throat and chest rich long “beard” grows, and on bottom part of sides “skirt” of long wool appears warming stomach. In winter young animals can hide under this “skirt” with wind as in tent.
On head of animals of both sexes there is massive horn outgrowth spreading along nose bridge from eyes level (where it is expanded and is partially doubled covering eyes as if cap peak) to the end of muzzle (where it is narrower and higher). The outgrowth is used for fights at the relations of hierarchy establishment and also for snow digging in winter - animal digs out snow by lateral movements of head, thus the outgrowth works as a shovel. By constitution and presence of horn this animal is more similar to the extinct hairy rhinoceros (Coelodonta).
Lips of the obda are arranged originally: the upper lip is doubled, and its halves due to numerous muscles are able to move as if mitten fingers independently from each other. Such device of lips permits this animal to gather even thin blades of grass and sticks from the ground. In summer obda eats grass, leaves, young branches of trees and bushes, in winter it feeds by needles and leaves of evergreen bushes, digging them out from snow. For digestion of forage rich in cellulose at animal complex multichamber stomach had developed. Unicellular organisms inhabiting it help huge animal to digest even young bark of coniferous trees.
In each jaw of animal there are four incisors and three pairs of wide folded molars.
Obda lives in herds numbering 20 - 30 animals from which not sexual matured young growth of different years are about half of number. Herd is under authority of large male having constant “harem” of 5 – 6 females. Other males in herd stay at the subordinated position and form constant pairs with mature females. Females from “harem” of the leading male usually dominate over other females.
Pairing occurs in middle of summer, pregnancy lasts about 10 months. During rut skirmishes between males usually do not occur as there is a hierarchy in herd. Adult animals only confirm usual relations of domination with the help of ritualized movements. Only when young single male tries to challenge superiority of the lawful leader, rather serious fights can take place though they basically happen without fatal cases being limited only by might demonstration and short skirmishes.
Female gives rise to one cub once a year. Cub rising occurs at the end of spring when herds already are on summer pastures. The newborn cub at once tries to rise, and after some hours it can freely go after herd. It is fed with very fat milk and grows quickly: at one-year-old age it weighs about 800 kgs. Usually shortly before the following delivery at the female milk secretion stops and the grown up cub completely passes to “adult” food. At this time (usually it occurs in early spring) the part of cubs perishes if winter appears too long. Cubs become independent late: the previous cub stays with mother till 2 years, feeding together with it especially in winter. It becomes completely adult at the age of 5 years.
Obda makes long annual migrations: in spring herds of these animals move to the north, and in autumn come back in woods where they spend winter. Migration usually passes lengthways large rivers walleys where “obda roads” having destroyed forest vegetation are formed in due course. When old “road” becomes inconvenient or the herd used it disappears, this place quickly grows with birch or aspen forest which is later replaced by coniferous trees. Sometimes during migration separate small herds or family groups unite that interferes with inbreeding. In spring herds move to estuaries of northern rivers. Tundra during Neocene has remained as relict zone of separate marshlands covered with low bushes and in many places taiga approaches almost to Polar Ocean coast. Here obdas find plentiful forage. In coastal woods obdas eat grass and bushes. Sometimes they come to sea shallow waters to have a drink salt water (salt is vital to these animals) or to food with seaweed. At grass feeding obda sometimes kneels forward legs – at this animal neck is rather short and it is more convenient to take forage from the ground this way. Sometimes obda foods with river vegetation: having pulled out from ground tuft of cane or reed, animal “rinses” it in water, holding in mouth before to to have eaten. In water obdas escape from heat and blood-sucking insects. Animals swim well and frequently search for forage at the river bottom digging out by horn tubers and rhizomes of water lilies. Animal eats plants emerged on water surface.
In autumn obdas migrate to the south, to forests. In conditions of sharply continental climate when winter frosts fall up to -30°C and northern plains become covered by one and half meter thick snow layer life in woods looks much easily. Here they are protected from chill wind and find a lot of forage – branches of trees and bushes. And at wood edges in silent frosty days obdas dig out last year's grass and eat the rests of cane sticking up from ice at the river.
In wool of obda many parasites settle, therefore birds and even bats fed by them are often and welcome guests in herds of these animals. And in winter at digged out ground made by obda numerous herbivores – harelopes and rodents – are feeding.
Life expectancy of obda is great: large males live till 50 years, and the female - up to 40 – 45 years.

Snow harelope (Heterolopa niveophila)
Order: Hoofed lagomorphs (Ungulagomorpha)
Family: Harelopes (Lagolopidae)

Habitat: Siberia, woods and foothills.

Picture by Sauron from FurNation

The vigorous activity of the person and ice age – these factors both had resulted to sharp decreasing of the number of hoofed mammals at the territory of Northern Hemisphere; and they had vanished absolutely at the most part of Eurasia. But this event had been a stimulus for the further evolution of other groups of herbivores had been earlier only insignificant addition on the background of variety of hoofed mammals. Eurasia had became a place of formation of new group of mammals – hoofed lagomorphs, descendants of ancient and conservative order including true hares, rabbits and their relatives. At absence of competition these animals had started to evolve actively, and in Neocene in Eurasia and North Africa their representatives are very characteristic for fauna of woods and plains.
Despite of general warming, for Eurasia the severe continental climate with sharp annual temperature drop is still characteristic. It occurs because of remoteness of the most part of Siberia from influence of oceans. In summer in Siberia heat dominates – the temperature rises up to +35°С. But in winter frosts reach -40°С. Increase of ocean level has resulted in general increase of amount of deposits. Therefore winters in Siberia became very snow, and in spring the high water turns to act of nature for local animals. In such conditions only the animal well adapted to extreme conditions of existence can survive. One of such inhabitants of Siberia is snow harelope. It is the close relative of forest harelope, but this species differs from it in larger sizes and heavy-build constitution. The withers height of this animal reaches 1.7 meters, and weight is about 300 kgs. Also at the snow harelope there are shorter and rounded ears covered with fur from outside.
Ancestors of all species of harelopes, hares from Eurasia, differed in ability to change colouring of fur to winter. Species of harelopes from Europe and Northern Africa had lost this ability, but snow harelope had kept it. Winter fur of this animal is rich and snow-white with plentiful thin underfur. Summer colouring of this animal is brown with light vertical strips on groats and hips. In summer wool on the head of animal there are white marks on cheeks. Ears have black tips; in winter fur tips of ears become grey.
On legs of this harelope there are thin fingers covered with the common skin cover which ends by the common cornificate sole. To winter on legs of animal “ski” of wool develop, allowing loping on snow. Due to them snow harelope can move down on slopes of mountains on rear legs bent under.
Snow harelopes escape from predators in flight – they can accelerate momentum up to 60 kms per hour on firm ground and up to 40 kms per hoour on snow. If necessary they can defence against predator by impacts of forward legs and bites. An alarm signal at this species is long shrill whistle.
At snow harelope the precise sexual dimorphism is expressed – male weighs twice more than female (hence the name including concept “hetero-”- “different”). At it the “beard” of wool develops: it is an attribute of its good physical form, and females more willingly pair with the most “bearded” male. This species keeps in harems numbering one male and some females (usually from three up to five animals). It is vital necessity – the male is stronger, rather than females, and in winter it digs out snow to reach last year's grass and evergreen bushes. Females feed on plants dug out by male. If it perishes from predators, females are doomed for starvation, but they can join other harems.
In the beginning of winter male pairs with females of its harem. At this time he is compelled to protect the females from single males challenging to him. At this time males of snow harelope utter cry similar to low, showing the claim on females. They fight with each other, kicking and striking impacts by forward legs. Usually females do not interfere with a course of fight, but occasionally the strongest female can unite the male, and they drive off the applicant for a harem together.
At the end of spring at the female two well advanced fawns are born. They rise on legs in half an hour after birth and at the end of the first day of life already can run quickly. Fawns differ from adult animals in more contrast striped colouring and absence of spots on cheeks. They reach the size of adult animals at the third year of life.

Obda bat (Synobda medica)
Order: Chiropters (Chiroptera)
Family Common bats (Vespertilionidae)

Habitat: Northern Asia, Beringia. In summer this mammal keeps near to herds of obda migrating in winter to southern areas and falling into hibernation.

Picture by Alexander Smyslov

Large species of animals is the remarkable phenomenon in life of natural community. Any species of live creatures are an inhabitancy for numerous species of invertebrates - parasites (their set is named parasitocenosis), but large animal species become also an original component of inhabitancy even for small (and sometimes not only to small) vertebrate animals. Among vertebrates of the Neocenic Earth the species completely dependent on other vertebrate has not appeared yet but some species have entered close symbiotic relations with each other. Herds of large animal obda migrating at spaces of Western Siberia and Beringian mountains had become mobile dining room for numerous small vertebrates. Large animals involve clouds of tiny blood-sucking insects eating by various small birds and also by bats. And one species of bats became practically constant summer satellite of huge animals.
The obda bat spends the most part of time near herds of obda eating numerous blood-sucking flies and midges. Activity in extripation of obda parasites of this species of chiropters is especially important: obda bat flies to hunting in the evening and hunts bloodsuckers during all night when these tiresome insects are especially active. But herds of obda constantly move and to not lose so attractive source of livelihood obda bat has partly torn with ancestral habit of life and had exchanged homebody life for the nomadic life: these small mammals spend day in wool of obda; at the same place they leave grown up cubs for the period of hunting.
Obda bat is small creature: body length of adult mammal is only 7 – 8 cm; wingspan is up to 25 cm. The body of this chiroptere is covered with short wool of brownish-red color; on belly wool is grayish-white. Wing membranes and ears are dark and not covered with wool. Tail is very short and does not exceed hinder legs in length.
At obda bat there are few outgrowths on muzzle characteristic for many chiroptere species which at times give to its relatives grotesque and fantastical appearance. Unique original feature of this species is nose extended to rather long and mobile proboscis covered with naked folded skin. With the help of this proboscis obda bat diversifies the diet, finding among wool of obda ticks and other parasites. Ears of obda bat are large, rounded and almost equal to length of head including proboscis by size. The special cross groove and two thin muscles on the external and internal sides of ear permit this mammal to fold and to open ears.
Obda bat spends all day on the body of huge host animal. Usually these mammals keep on neck, sides and stomach of obda. When animals gather for evening rest, bats fly to hunt. Flapping by narrow wings they promptly rush between gigantic obdas, uttering series of thin echolocating clicks and picking up mosquitoes and midges gathering to herd from nearest swamps. Shouts of bats are perfectly audible to obdas, and huge animals presume to themselves to relax – there is reliable guard at them. The keen hearing of bats allows them to hear the slightest rustle of steps of predators cautiously creeping to herd. Hearing extraneous sounds bats are nervous and their anxiety forces huge herbivores to be more sensitive and cautious. Bats benefit by so original neighbourhood too: they are almost not attacked by predatory birds and animals.
The obda bat is so adhered to mighty host that even breeds in wool of obda. In the beginning of summer at the female cubs and less often twins are born. First days female carries naked and blind cub on itself, leaving it in wool of the obda later. The young growth keeps basically on sides and back of animal – there it is little bit more safe place: when animal passes wade the shallow river or grovels obscenely through bushes bat cubs will not fall down from body of giant. It is not known, whether the huge obda realizes gratitude in relation to bats settling in its wool. Despite of the “menagerie” lodged in wool obda continues to live habitual life. Sometimes animals exhausted by stings of mosquitoes and midges search for rescue from them in rivers. At this time young obda bats yet not able to fly can simply sink. Partly small size of obda bat can be explaned by one feature of behaviour which was generated at this species for protection against similar accidents. If the cub not able to fly is in danger (for example, the obda on which it is sitting decides to take a bath or to wallow in sand), female can seize it by claws of hinder legs and to fly any time taking it, though the “overage” cub is practically equal to mother by size. In case of need the cub utters the special sound signal, calling mother; she seizes it by paws and lifts up in air. But it proceeds not for long time: cubs quickly grow and study to fly. At monthly age young obda bat can freely fly and hunts insects equally with parents. The next year young females give rise to their own cubs.
In autumn when obdas migrate to the southern forests bats can abandon them. Obda bat spends winter farther at the south, gathering for hibernation in caves and hollows of large trees. Hibernation at them is very deep; thus body temperature is strongly reduced. After hibernation pairing in early spring takes place, and bats migrate to the north finding herds of obda and settling on animals after approach of steady warm weather. They do not have attachment to any certain herd, and hardly probable obda bat will spend more than one season with the same herd of host animals.

Waheela (Waheela borealis)
Order: Carnivores (Carnivora)
Family: Canids (Canidae)

Habitat: Holarctic – Eastern Siberia, Beringia, Alaska, the north of North America.

Picture by Sauron from FurNation

In Late Pleistocene and Holocene at the territory of Eurasia and North America wolf (Canis lupus) had been a dominant predator. It was a type of universal predator, able to hunt the most diverse kinds of animals – from fish and mice up to large ungulates. But in historical time people became its main competitors, and between these two species irreconcilable war began. People had superseded wolves from the majority of habitats, and had undermined its forage reserve, having destroyed populations of large ungulates. In success of hunting for small prey wolf lost to smaller species of animals – to representatives of mustelids and to foxes. As a result the population of wolf had been reduced up to critical level, and it had died out soon.
In Neocene number of large animals began to grow gradually, and at the area of Holarctic new wolf-like predator appeared. It was the descendant of Arctic fox (Alopex lagopus), the animal successfully survived an ice age and epoch of biological crisis. It has appreciably increased in size and has turned to pack predator. So the new kind of canids – waheela – had evolved. This animal is named after mythical predator from Inuit folklore.
Waheela is a predator perfectly adapted to conditions of continental climate with very rigorous winter. It inhabits vast territory, including spots of tundra along the coast of Arctic Ocean, in northern elfin forests and in taiga. In the west its area is bordered with wetlands of Western Siberia.
It is the large predator, similar in constitution to wolf, but more robust, with larger head, short jaws and high forehead. The shoulder height of adult animal is about 70 centimeters, and its weight can reach 60 kgs. Thus, waheela is comparable in size with Pleistocene dire wolf (Canis dirus) from North America, and surpasses large subspecies of common wolf. Winter fur of waheela is white, rich and long; summer wool is very short, grey with bluish shade and black strip stretching from nape up to root of tail.
Waheela lives and hunts in packs of 6-10 individuals. The pack of these animals represents a clan of father’s kins. Young females and the significant number of males leave clan, but each spring in clan are some unrelated young animals from the next clans appear. During the courtship season clans can unite to numerous pack and young animals have opportunity to pass to the next clan.
In winter waheelas lead nomadic life, chasing herds of herbivores. Their favourite prey includes smaller species like snow harelopes, but if necessary this animal can eat any food – from murine rodents up to frozen corpses of large herbivores. These animals are able to pass up to 30 kilometers per day, chasing a herd. In winter fur toes of waheela become covered with very rich wool allowing large animal to walk freely on surface of snow, almost not falling down. For spending the night and rest waheelas dig in snow temporary holes to protect themselves from wind and frost. In sharp frost and strong wind animals fill up an entrance to the hole with snow. In summer waleelas turn to settled animals – there is much more prey around, and females give birth to posterity. Den of this animal is a deep and wide hole. Usually waheelas try to occupy and expand any ready hole, but if necessary can dig out a den in well disguised place – usually under roots of wind fallen tree. The same den can be used during some years in succession. If parasites breed there in too great number, animal can arrange a new den nearby and do not use old holes for some years in succession. Frequently in old dens young animals settle, left of clan and not found a new place for life yet.
Waheela female rise to 2-3 puppies covered with wool, but blind and deaf. Puppies stay in den for a long time. When their eyes open, and they begin to hear, puppies start to study the world around. While they are weak and helpless, one or two females remain to protect den and to look after all puppies of clan. As posterity grows up, adults waheelas feed up young growth with semidigested meat, and then belch fresh meat for them. At the age of about 4 months young animals leave holes and start leading nomadic life. At this time “aunty” looks after them – one of adult females of clan, mother of some of young animals. Many young animals perish during the first year of life. Life expectancy of adult animals seldom exceeds 15 years.

For Charles (girl!)

Berl (Quasiursus asiaticus)
Order: Carnivores (Carnivora)
Family: Mustelids (Mustelidae)

Habitat: Eurasia, North America, temperate and cold areas, from the north of Europe up to Greenland.

Picture by Tim Morris

Large species of carnivorous mammals are the most vulnerable species in an ecosystem. At strong (though and convertible) fluctuations of number of prey number of predators can fall down to critical level, and the species appears at the edge of extinction. Development of extensive territories of land by people, and the destruction of habitats followed it had strongly reduced number of large predators, and they had not gone through ecological crisis at the boundary of Holocene and Neocene.
After extinction of mankind efficiency of ecosystems began to restore. Numerous descendants of small species, mainly rodents and lagomorphs had occupied the place of large herbivores exterminated by people and had become extinct because of natural reasons. After herbivores, some predators also had strongly increased in size. Among large predators the serious application for domination in fauna had been made by representatives of mustelid family. In temperate and partly in subtropical zone of Northern hemisphere their representative, berl, is found. It is a huge carnivorous species of mustelids, the analogue of fossil marten Perunium, and the descendant of ferret (Mustela putorius). Its ancestors, probably, took in ecosystems a place similar to wolverine (Gulo gulo), and any of their species had managed to enter large-sized class. This attempt appeared extremely successful.
Berl is massive and sluggish species of mustelids, in size compared to bear (hence the name: “berl” is the ancient Slavic name of bear). The height of adult animal at a shoulder exceeds one meter, length of body without tail is up to three meters; weight is over 400 kgs. The adult animal, as against bears, hardly swarms up trees (cubs, on the contrary, do it very dexterously). By constitution berl resembles polar bear (Ursus maritimus) of human epoch – it has rather small head on strong neck, large trunk and muscled paws. As against bears, berl has long fluffy tail. It is solitary and aggressive species of mammals, and by position of tail each individual expresses the mood, not entering close contact to relatives. Fur of berl is rich, especially in winter. Summer colouring of wool of animal varies from dark grey up to beige, straw-colored and even black. Usually lighter-colored individuals live at the south of area, and darker ones – in forests of temperate zone. These animals are able to change color of wool to winter. Individuals from cold areas become snow-white in winter, and in more southern areas winter fur of animal turns grayish. Individuals from southern borders of area are almost unable to change color of winter wool – it becomes thicker and only a little lighter. In winter berl keeps activity even in ringing frosts.
Holocene bears were omnivorous and even mainly herbivorous ones (except for polar bear). Berl is an exclusive predator. Using huge physical strength, it attacks large mammals, making the basis of its diet: in Eurasia obda, aurochid, nozdrokh, shurga, in North America giant wood porcupine, in Greenland snow porcupine and skewhorn. Berl can not chase its prey, therefore it uses another tactics – it pursues herd of herbivores during the long time while the weakest animal will keep abreast. When prey appears far enough from relatives, berl rushes on it and kills by impact of paw – it simply brings down animal on the ground and breaks its neck. Hunting takes a lot of time and forces, therefore berl aspires to use food resources maximum full. This predator stays near killed prey for a long time: in summer while meat will start to spoil, and in cold season while on carcass there is at least something edible. Also berl willingly eats carrion, or takes by force prey of smaller predators.
This predator is solitary animal; each individual has extensive fodder territory. Berl marks borders of territory by unpleasantly smelling liquid which is secreting from anal glands. The animal leaves marks on stones and trunks of trees. In courtship season (in the beginning of autumn) males wander on territories of females, and couple with them. Only at this time females become more tolerant to presence of adult relatives in their territory.
At the end of spring when it becomes warm enough, the female arranges in forest carefully disguised den in which brings posterity: two – three blind and helpless cubs. The posterity develops rather slowly: only at bi-monthly age cubs start to leave den and to explore the world around. They spend a lot of time in games – swarm up trees, combat and simulate hunting, “attacking” on trunks of trees fallen on the ground. In autumn the posterity finally abandons shelter, and studies to hunt. Young animals keep in common with the female during all next year and all this time demand attention from the part of mother. Therefore the female of berl brings posterity only once in two years.
Berl is widely settled in Eurasia and at the north of North America. It lives mainly in areas of coniferous and deciduous forests, forming a number of subspecies. At the territory of Siberia and Far East very large nominative subspecies great, or Siberian berl (Quasiursus asiaticus asiaticus) is found. At this subspecies there is the darkest summer colouring of fur, and winter fur is greyish-white. At the north of Europe it is replaced by smaller European subspecies, mechka* (Quasiursus asiaticus occidentalis) which has the smaller size and reddish or yellowish colouring of summer fur. The north of Eurasia and North America is occupied by indistinctly separated from these forms subspecies oshkooy** berl (Quasiursus asiaticus leucos) with snow-white winter and dark grey summer fur. This animal lives in woods of Far North, often hunts and gathers carrion at the coast of Arctic Ocean, and migrates on ice to northern islands in winter. At the south of area this kind forms hybrid forms with European and Asian subspecies.
At the territory of North America the Asian berl is replaced by two close species.

Picture by Tony Johnes

Mountain berl, or ueb (Quasiursus montanophilus) lives in woods of Rocky Mountains ridges, coming along high-mountainous areas far to the south (up to territory of Mexico). This species dark grey summer fur, often with white spots on lower jaw and breast; at some individuals there is white stomach. This species is only a little smaller than Siberian berl, especially the representatives of northern populations distinguished by shaggy rich fur. Winter fur at this species is bluish-grey. Ueb differs from Asian berl in larger head and more flat teeth – it is appreciably less selective in food. In summer this animal often eats vegetative forage – mushrooms and berries.

Picture by Alexander Smyslov

Eastern berl (Quasiursus appalachensis) is much smaller than its western relative, and is approximately equal in the size to European mechka. It is colored yellowish-brown color and keeps such color of wool the year round. This species differs in lightest constitution among the relatives, and swarms up trees much better. It occupies evergreen and semi-deciduous forests of the eastern part of North America.

Pictures by Alexander Smyslov

In Eastern Asia there is one more species of this genus - tiny berl (Quasiursus minimus). This animal is the analogue of wolverine, medium-sized carnivorous species (its growth at a shoulder is no more than half meter). It inhabits forests of various types, woodlands and mountain forests, and also boggy woods in river valleys. This animal eats various mammals, large birds and fish. It is able to climb on trees, to swim and to dive. The skin of tiny berl has pale-yellow color, and paws are dark brown; on muzzle there is dark “mask”.

Picture by Alexander Smyslov

Red berl (Quasiursus rufus) living in Japan is close to this species. It is larger, than tiny berl (growth at a shoulder is about 60 cm), more thickset and strong combined. At this animal there is rich rusty red fur and wide feet – it feels well in high mountains and easily moves on snow, not failing down. Red berl lives in northern part and mountain areas of Japan Islands, preferring woody districts and thickets of bamboo. It also is a predator, and prefers to hunt mammals.


* “Mechka” is also Slavic name of bear;
** “Oshkooy” is the name of polar bear at folks of the North of Eurasia.

Siberian sabertooth (Machairolynx sibirica)
Order: Carnivores (Carnivora)
Family: Cats (Felidae)

Habitat: Northern Eurasia, Beringian Isthmus, northwest of North America.

Pictures by Sauron from FurNation

After mass extinction at the boundary of Holocene and Neocene the variety of predatory animals has appreciably decreased, and some their families have almost completely disappeared. The most successful among them representatives of weasel and civet families appeared, but except for them in separate areas of Earth representatives of cats (Felidae), the most specialized family of predators, and also some other predatory animals were kept. Large cats have died out, but the family has escaped due to the variety and ecological plasticity of small cats which were developed later to large forms. One of the largest cats of Neocene is Siberian sabertooth, the descendant of lynx (Lynx).
This relic representative of feline family is the large prey hunter. It is possible to guess it easily, having looked at the constitution of animal - this predator is not similar to cheetah or leopard chasing swift-footed catch. Body of sabertooth is very massive: this is a tiger-sized animal (weighting about 350 kgs), but its figure resembles bear more: legs are thicker with wide pads (animal began almost plantigrade one). Back legs are a little bit longer than front ones, back is inclined forward. The short tail has got to this animal as the inheritance from the ancestor. Wool colouring is sandy-yellow with dark-grey spots, to winter it changes to white with ashy shade (this phenomenon is the exception among cats not changing color of wool in winter), stains on winter fur completely disappear. The winter wool is much longer and also thicker than summer one: it is the adaptation to life in conditions of continental climate of Northeast Asia with rigorous snow winters.
The large prey hunter, Siberian sabertooth is perfectly equipped for preying of large thick-skinned animals. Its head is rather large (length of skull is up to 30 cm), the bottom jaw is very mobile and can open widely. In the top jaw long 15-centimetric saber-like canines with the wide bases stick up – it is the main hunting weapon of animal. More successfully to use this weapon, the skull is in addition “strengthened” – bases of canines are very wide, skull is high with short obverse department. Besides at sabertooth there are very strong neck and powerful forepaws – it is directly connected to way of hunting of this animal.
Siberian sabertooth is the tireless nomade of open spaces of Siberia and Beringia. This animal literally “pastures” herds of large herbivores, following them during migrations. The most important catch of an animal is obda, huge herbivorous animal of Siberia. For hunting for this giant sabertooth uses tactics of attack from ambush, but it frequently avowedly attacks animals kept up with herd. Predator attacks catch sideways, striking during the throw by one paw on shoulder, by another one – on head of prey. Usually young or weak animal falls aside, and it is easy for finishing off by bite in throat. At the sting canines of sabertooth pass below backbone (in other way they simply can be broken) and break off blood vessels and trachea of prey. If the chosen prey is strong enough, predator simply wounds it by bite and follows herd, expecting while wounded prey will get behind neighbours, bleeding profusely. One carcass of obda suffices to the predator in summer time for one week - while meat will deteriorate to the uneatable condition. In winter when meat is better kept, the preied animal suffices approximately for two weeks. But more often such catch should be divided with set of feathered and four-footed scavengers; therefore sabertooth had to hunt more often. One animal theoretically should supervise territory 200 - 300 square kilometers, but it leads nomadic life, therefore sometimes “shepherds” of different obda herds meet on summer pastures of these animals. At this time pairing and birth of cubs concepted the last year happen. At summer obda pastures sabertoothes sometimes unite for hunting, together getting the next dinner.
Pairing of sabertoothes occurs at the end of summer shortly before leaving of obda herds to the south. The female ready to pairing calls the male by sounds similar to loud bass mewing. Usually near such female two - three males keep but only choosed by female one can couple with her. Between males there are skirmishes during which contenders beat each other by paws and show force, peeling bark from trees. Males ready to pairing also mark by urine tree trunks – smell plays the important role for the female in choice of the partner. When pair is formed, male and female banish single males together. Pairing at these cats repeats many times during three or four days while the female is ready to accept attention of the male. At this time the male looks after her, licking her wool. He also marks a site of wood around female with urine to warn contenders, that the present female is occupied. During courtship games animals eat of nothing. After pairing the female walks out from the territory marked by male.
Pregnancy at this species proceeds a long time: more than nine months. The reason of it is that fertilized oosperm does not develop at all about half-year. Development of embryos begins approximately at first half of winter, and actually proceeds little more than three months. Cubs are born just when the female comes to the north after wintering in woods.
For birth of cubs the female sabertooth makes a lair under roots of trees or among stones. In pack there are two or three cubs. Newborn sabertoothes are covered with dark-brown wool on which stains are already appreciable. At them eyes and ears are closed, and first two weeks of life they are absolutely helpless and completely depend on mother.
Within four months, before autumn obda migration cubs grow and develop quickly. At this time they actively study to hunt, accompanying with mother. During migrations behind obda herds sabertooth cubs remember district, and later, becoming independent, begin “shepherd” herds.
Young growth stays with mother up to one-year-old age. When families come to northern obda pastures again, young animals leave mother and start to hunt independently. Sexual maturity at young females comes at the second year of life, at males at the third year. Life expectancy can reach 40 years.
In east areas of Northern America Siberian sabertooth is replaced by close species of easier constitution – Nearctic sabertooth (Machairolynx nearctica), or missopeho (named after giant lynx of the North, the hero of Indian folk tales). At this animal canines are shorter; colouring is lighter and does not vary for winter. Constitution of Nearctic sabertooth is more graceful: legs are longer, size of body is less. It is connected with specialization to feeding by smaller swift-footed prey. As against to Siberian sabertooth, these species is settled and territorial.

Taiga crail (Rallogeranus collaris)
Order: Gruiform birds (Gruiformes)
Family: Crails (Neogruidae)

Habitat: Eastern Siberia, the areas of broken taiga overgrown with deciduous forest and bushes.
Crails are very characteristic migrant birds of Holarctic. Various species of these birds replace each other at the vast territory from Eastern Siberia up to Greenland, and at the wintering it is possible to meet them at the wetlands of China and at the Great Antigua. Crails are ecological analogues of cranes, the birds not sustained the anthropogenous pressure in human epoch. Actually, these are descendants of smaller species of rails, kept, obviously, in territory of Siberia.
Taiga crail is rather large bird: growth of an adult bird reaches 120 cm. The majority of crails prefers wetland habitats, but taiga crail, as opposed to them, settles in dry areas. It prefers to nest at “obda roads”, in bushes and in tall grass.
Appearance of this bird is appreciable enough due to colouring. Taiga crail has white head and neck, and on neck there is wide black “collar”. On body of this bird plumage is bicoloured. The back and wings of bird are of camouflage color – yellowish-brown with dark cross strips on plumage. When the bird drops to the ground and hides head and neck under wing, it becomes almost invisible against the grass background. The bottom part of body is black; plumage on bottom side of wings is also black. On sides of bird there are large white spots, and primarily feathers in the bottom part are white, and the top third of them is also black. During the courtship display, and also at protection of nest and posterity this bird rises almost vertically and stretches wings widely. Thus white marks become well appreciable on black background. If the enemy continues an attack, or the herbivore does not want to come out from nest, bird can pass to active defense and strikes strong impacts by beak.
Courtship games of taiga crails begin right after their retirning from the wintering places, while grass on “obda roads” is still low. Courtship demonstrations of these birds include “dance” of male near the female with wings stretched and run for the female. Inviting the female to the place chosen for nest, male holds in beak blade or stick, and “bows”, lowering thus semi-spreaded wings.
Taiga crails arrange nests at the edge of “obda roads”, in bush. In clutch of these birds there are two or three eggs hatching only by female. Male protects borders of the territory of nesting pair and drives small predators away. By joint efforts the couple of crails can drive away from nest even waheela – protecting nest or brood against large predator, crails peck its nose or eyes.
Incubation lasts 35 days. Chicks hatch well advanced and independent enough. They are covered with yellowish down with black longitudinal strips on body. Having dried under female, they at once leave nest and feed almost independently. Parents occasionally feed them up with insects, holding food in beaks. As against chicks of cranes, crail chicks do not express aggression to each other.
Favourite food of adult birds includes catydids and grasshoppers; birds masterly catch them due to abilities to running and lightning reaction. When chicks hatch, families of these birds keep near to herds of large herbivorous mammals. They feed on their parasites – ticks, horseflies and mosquitoes, gathering them from wool of animals. Besides at movement large animals frighten insects, lizards and small rodents making a significant part of bird food.
In the beginning of an autumn, when obda herds migrate to the south, taiga crails migrate for wintering to the south of Japan Islands and to China. At the wintering these birds keep near to sea coasts and gather various small animals at the coast and in coastal vegetation.

Siberian woolcreeper (Lanophilornis poststurnus)
Order: Passerine birds (Passeriformes)
Family: Starlings (Sturnidae)

Habitat: Siberia, Northern Asia, Beringia. Wintering in Southern and Southeast Asia.

Male

Female

Picture by Simon
Rendering by Alexander Smyslov

Numerous herds of herbivorous mammals involve various parasites. Diverse dipterans, from midges up to horseflies and botflies, and also ticks are basic groups of animals feeding on mammalian blood. The congestion of these arthropods involves to herds various birds – even large herons. But the great amount of saviors of megafauna from blood-sucking parasites includes passerine birds. On various continents this work was carried out by representatives of various families of songbirds. In Neocene Siberia on herds of giant mammals Siberian woolcreeper, the descendant of common starling (Sturnus vulgaris), is engaged in gathering of parasites.
In human epoch common starlings were frequently engaged in clearing of large herbivores (more often domestic cattle) of parasites, and in same time in Africa there were oxeckers (Buphagus), clearing representatives of local megafauna of parasites. Therefore transition to similar way of life at descendants of starling has passed very quickly and has demanded the minimal changes in anatomy.
Siberian woolcreeper differs from common starling externally very little. It is a small bird (not larger than starling) with short rigid tail serving as a support at movement, and straight pointed beak, with which help bird is able to take easily even strongly clung ticks from skins of animals.
Colouring of this bird is very remarkable and contrast, due to it herbivorous mammals quickly find out these birds and are not frightened of them. Male has black head with white beak, and around of eyes white feathers form a kind of “glasses”. Back, primarily feathers and coverts of bird are also black, and stomach is motley. On stomach each feather is black, but has white tip, and because of it stomach has “marble” colouring. On head and wings iridescent metal shine is clearly expressed. On the background of black plumage of bird there is a bright contrast mark – rump feathers are bright red (this colouring is well appreciable in flight), and feathers of rather short straight tail are white with black tip. Female has more modest colouring: on the top part of body black color is replaced by brown, and on rump there is no red mark. “Glasses” at females are narrower, than at males.
Due to the change of way of life Siberian woolcreeper has got a little bit different anatomy of legs, compared to its ancestor. Starlings were able to walk on the ground well, but Siberian woolcreeper makes it hardly. It moves on the ground by short bounds, and obviously prefers to perch on vertical surfaces. Its paws became shorter and stronger, than at starling. Bird has long toes with pointed bent claws, which help to climb on sides and to keep on animals. But in connection with such features this bird now perches on branches not like starling, across the branch, but like woodpecker or nightjar – along it. Besides Siberian woolcreeper dexterously swarms up trunks of trees.
This kind haвs inherited from starling propensity to nesting in tree-trunk hollows, and requires for nesting available old trees with extensive hollows. Therefore Siberian woolcreepers prefer to live in mosaic landscape, where sites of forests adjoin to open areas. These birds nest at the edges of “obda roads”, where Siberian herbivores mostly live.
Siberian woolcreeper is excellent imitator – it includes fragments of songs of other birds to its own song. In addition young birds listen to adults, adopt from them songs already copied at another birds, and transform them from generation to generation. Therefore depending on habitats of birds their song may vary considerably. And the alarm signal of Siberian woolcreeper is well known to any herbivore familiar with these birds – it is loud and sharp gnashing trill. Due to sharp sight this bird is good “sentinel” of herds of animals, warning them about approach of danger.
In spring males of this kind compete in singing, trying to involve to their territories as many females, as possible. The centre of male’s territory is wide hollow in tree trunk. It is a polygamous species, and every male gathers at its territory up to five females, which in common arrange nest in tree hollow, covering it with wool of large animals, hatch out and in common bring up the brood numbering up to 20 nestlings. Nestlings depending on saturation change their location in nest – the hungriest ones creep up to an entrance of nest, and receive food the first, and then they are replaced by others.
While some birds incubate the clutch, others feed, flying to pastures to large herbivorous mammals. Male protects territory, occasionally taking part in nestlings feeding. During the summer birds have time to bring up only one brood. In second half of summer adult and young birds feed near herbivores together.
Siberian woolcreeper eats insects, gathering them mainly on sides of animals. It prefers to hunt large insects – horseflies and botflies, and also searches for creeping parasites – lice, ticks and caterpillars of obda wool moth. Therefore it does not compete to obda bats and normally gets on with them. Under the tongue of bird there is an advanced sac of extensible skin, used for prey gathering. At females it is advanced better, than at male. This is an adaptation for bringing up of nestlings, which helps to bring to the nest more food for one flight.
All warm period of year Siberian woolcreeper keeps near herds of herbivores, and when autumn comes, it flies out to the south of Eurasia, flying over Himalayas. This bird winters at Hindustan and at Near East. At the wintering places bird is also feeding on herbivores, clearing them from parasites.

The idea about existence of the present species was proposed by Simon, the forum member.

Obda wool moth (Obdobia lanivora)
Order: Butterflies (Lepidoptera)
Family: Tineid moths (Tineidae)

Habitat: Siberia, parasite in wool of large herbivorous mammals.

Picture by Tony Johnes

Insects could go through epoch of human domination rather successfully – among them mainly local endemic species have disappeared, being connected to natural communities damaged from human activity. But a variety of insects at the family level remained almost constant in Neocene. Formation of new groups of terrestrial vertebrates in Neocene resulted in formation of new relations between them and insects. The example of such relations is shown by obda wool moth – rather large representative of its family turned from the inhabitant of organic remains to true parasite.
This species of moths has the maximal wingspan of about 20 mm (male does not exceed 13 mm). Wings of these insects are long and narrow, covered on edge with set of hail-like scales. Colouring of body and wings is soft – brownish-white with grey wavy pattern on front wings. Adult males of this kind do not eat, and females eat flower pollen.
Worm-like mobile larva of obda wool moth lives in wool of live obda. Due to such habitat it keeps activity even in most severe winter colds, being warmed by body heat of this huge mammal. Duuring the winter larva of obda wool moth eats wool of animal. By the end of winter it pupates and when warm season comes, during spring moult of host animal, adult moths appear. They fly rather early in spring, and it is their main protection against predators. Moths of winter generation have time to lay eggs, while the general body of insectivorous animals – birds and bats – has not flied from the south. Adult moths fly low above grass – this way they are not noticed by bats. In addition body covered with thin hair suppresses the echolocation signal, and bats simply do not notice these insects.
For one year three generations of these insects replace each other – the first one, submitted by the largest individuals, appears from larvae wintered in wool of obda. Within one summer two more generations of smaller and quickly developing individuals alternate, and individuals of the second summer generation lay eggs, from which wintering larvae burst.
After the pairing takes place, females search for an animal, in which wool their larvae can develop. Winter and the first summer generations of obda wool moth are not too legible in food – they easily lay eggs in wool of snow harelopes and shurgas. Even berl may carry on its body larvae of this moth. But moths of the second summer generation flying literally in last days of summer, display strict selectivity in choice of the host – they lay eggs exclusively in wool of obda, which at this time begins wandering to the south.
The winter generation develops during the longest time. In winter obdas grow long white wool, and larvae of obda wool moths do not feel any lack of food. Besides obda bat and various cleaner birds spend winter in the south, far from obdas, and do not disturb the parasite.

The idea about existence of the present species was proposed by Simon, the forum member.

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