Country of high grasses

 

Tour to Neocene

 

1. Country of high grasses

 

 

«Ex Africa semper aliquid novi» («Africa always presents something new») - the ancient Roman proverb says so. And Africa of a Neocene time completely justifies it. This continent is the world very rich in live creatures. On the plains of Africa similar to savannas of man existence times at this continent, thousands of the different size herbivores are grazed: from tiny creatures up to giants. But we shall not see on these plains the most remarkable herbivores, known to any naturalist and hunter - hoofed mammals. There are no numerous antelopes, elephants, giraffes, zebras, rhinoceroses. There are no lions and leopards who on them hunted. All these animals have become victims of the man or have become extinct at the accidents which have finished a Holocene.
New herbivores of Africa are not so similar to the species making Holocene fauna of Africa. If to fly above plains, it can be seem that nothing has changed. But close striking changes of fauna are visible perfectly.
In bush thickets large animals browse. They break off branches of bushes, using huge incisors. It can seem that they are any species of rodents, but these animals nevertheless are descendants of group of hoofed mammals, survived during mass extinction due to ability to live in extreme conditions. They are flathorns - descendants of damans. On heads of adult giants there are flat horn incrustations. It is impossible to pierce by such “horns”, but it is possible to put the crushing blow which is knocking down off feet. The large flathorn male with huge thick horn knob on the head tears off the branch and slowly chews it. He is calm: the adult flathorn does not have enemies. Beside his cubs frisk; they are twins born by one of females of his family group about one month ago. One- and two years-aged youngsters are the male and the female of the previous pack. For a long time they had established hierarchy and now are simply enjoying food and safety. The little adult female grazes sappy grass: now it is the damp season, and grass is especially delicate. Large incisors allow her to tear out big bunches of grass. In food searches flathorns thin out bushes and do not allow them to grow thicker. In the past such work was making by elephants and rhinos.
Due to work of flathorns bushes do not grasp open spaces. At open parts of savanna the ground is overgrown with carpet of grasses giving the food to other herbivores. From thick grass the long-eared muzzle is shown, and behind it the body with short forward and very long hinder legs appears clumsily out of thickets. The animal moves similarly to the kangaroo: basing on forepaws, it pushes forward at once a pair of hinder legs. But it turns out more clumsily, than at the kangaroo because the tail at this moment does not serve as a support point. This animal is the grass kangoohopper. It lives by groups: after first animal out of a grass the second and third animals are shown... Among them the cubs keeping near to mothers also come. Kangoohoppers are grazers, eating mainly dicotyledonous plants: they eat rigid graminoids only in case of hunger. Awkwardness of these small mammals is deceptive: in case of danger they jump on hinder legs, gathering the big speed. And it is no wonder: the African rodent springhaas was their ancestor. Kangoohoppers have keen hearing and are very cautious: at any suspicious noise the animal had heard it jumps upwards at three meters, looking over vicinities. Having seen the predator, the sentinel notifies herd by sharp whistle, and kangoohoppers instantly seek safety in flight. And now, having caught the snort, one of young females is shooting upwards. But her fears are vain: near bushes harelopes, another herbivores of new Africa, are grazing. Resembling antelopes (but only hornless ones) by the constitution, these animals are descendants of hares. Strong jaws allow them to eat food which is not eaten by kangoohoppers: graminoids. Because of show of unexpectedly jumped out kangoohopper the harelope jumps aside, but quickly calms down and continues to browse bushes. They are not frightened with spikes: the narrow muzzle allows pulling out leaves accurately, not having been pricked.
Not far from harelopes another family of flathorns grazes. They do not pay attention to the harelopes constantly jumping aside at look of flying up bird or the locust. The keen hearing of flathorns will warn them about any danger. But nevertheless the watcher is desirable, and it is at them. These watchers are miteeaters, the small motley birds surveying huge herbivores. The heavy smell of large animals attracts clouds of bloodsuckers: mosquitoes and horseflies. And very sizable mites waiting them, falling from grass and bushes on animal skin. However, small birds struggle against hordes of these parasites. For a long time ago they have divided savanna to set of territories, protecting by them from neighbours. But, when animals are grazed in their territory, pair of miteeaters processes giants, pecking their parasites. If the giant passes near, birds can involve it: they make the special vertical “candle” flight at the open place, sharply taking wing vertically and slowly falling down, frequently flapping by wings. Bright colouring makes them very appreciable. Besides they perform an advertisment warble consisting of repeating soft whistlings. Miteeaters have keen sight: they see the slightest extraneous movement of grasses and branches, instantly informing about it by loud disturbing cry. Therefore they became as though “flying eyes” of huge herbivores.
But one kind of savanna inhabitants can live without their services of the watcher: it is the largest bird from ever living on the planet. The giraffe ostrich, the giant of the Neocene African savanna, grows up to 6 meters. All vicinities at far distance are excellently visible to it from the height of its growth. And still it does not refuse services of miteeaters: many parasites habit in feathers of this bird and the naked neck is constantly attacking by blood-sucking insects. And weaverbirds willingly sit on the back and the neck of giants, searching for dinner. Giant ostriches keep by family groups of some birds: the male, two or three females and some chicks. Miteeaters from several territories fly to them taking the case to process such family.
Having so good watcher is the big luck for herbivores. Having basked in the sun, the flathorn female has fallen into a light sleep. The uneaten up branch has dropped out of the mouth and downwards the thread of saliva was pulled. The animal has lost attention, which can cost life to it another time. But flathorns live by groups, therefore nothing threatens to the female: neighbours are on the alert. Suddenly the miteeater discloses vicinities by cry of alarm. Grumbling cubs instantly stop the play, and dream flies out from the female, their mother. The alarm is not vain: in grass the spotty black-and-white back of deadlynetta, the most terrible predator of savanna, flashes. Flathorns immediately rise to the defensive formation, hiding cubs behind powerful backs. They roar and shake heads. Simultaneously animals send the chemical signal to neighbours: the bunch of wool on the flathorn’s back rises up and opens channels of the repugnatorial gland giving out bitter musk stink. Other flathorn families, felt this signal, start to smell air and to roar, showing huge incisors.
The spotty predatoress leaves bushes. She is the female, and behind her back, in the small hole between bushes, pair of cubs sits. Cubs are hungry, and hunting of the genette was broken some times during last three days. Flathorns can destroy the shelter of the genette by their work; therefore she has no place to recede. The female is not going to attack: there is no chance to her to conquer the adult flathorn. But she shows to huge herbivores the might, loudly roars, makes lunges (but not coming nearer to flathorns), tears bunches of grass by teeth, and pulls them out, shaking head.
At last nerves of flathorns are weakened, and they slowly depart. The dominant male leaves there last. He departs the sideways, ready to attack. But at the same time he is mown by eye to the side of plains – it is more safely there. Genetta leaves this place too - she does not have need to be late for useless demonstration of force, and her cubs want to eat.
Not only genetta is hunting: in savanna there are also other predators.
Near the tree herd of huge, similar to bear mighty grasscutters grazes. These descendants of the reed rat dexterously cut out grasses almost under the root. Young bushes and the most rigid graminoids are their basic food. The rigid grass is necessary for these rodents: their teeth grow quickly, and they need to be ground off constantly. And they do not have competitors. Anybody, except, for unless, the flathorn, does not eat food, that is eating by mighty grasscutters. But the mighty grasscutter has enemies - its meat is tasty and soft. However it is possible to prey rats, only having taken by surprise. And now the pair of barbed herzogcats hunts them. Male and female creep to giant rodents under covering of high grass.
One of rats tears off the bush branch and starts to eat it, having seaten on hinder legs. Its eyes are located on each side of head, giving to it almost circular field of view. And literally by tail of the eye the mighty grasscutter sees barbed herzogcats. If the rat notices the predator from afar, it passes to active defense: rises on hinder legs and tries to impose to the predator the near fight. Group of rats, chattering by powerful incisors and making aggressive attacks on the enemy is the pack of formidable opponents. Barbed herzogcats jump out of grass, but they are already met by all family group of rats. Contrast colouring of their stomachs warns: do not approach, it is dangerous to life! Incisors of orange color and their mighty stings will be remembered to unlucky predator for a long time. But barbed herzogcats apply another tactics at the hunting: predators try to frighten huge rodents. The male fluffs up the mane and shows the power. He roars a full voice, hoping to force rats to run away. He could frighten one or two rats, but it is a group of them, and the amount gives them the confidence. Rats depart to the big tree, trying to secure from rear. They are successfully beaten off from pressing of pair of cats. It seems their defense is indestructible.
The egg endures the weight of the hen, but bursts, when the chick pecks through it from within. And mighty grasscutters had tested it on themselves to the full grade. From branches of the tree the huge black-and-white body falls upon their heads: deadlynetta has taken advantage of failure of barbed herzogcats and has turned it to the success. The predatoress has fallen by all weight on the huge adult rat. By strong jerk of saber-like canines she had throated the rodent. Other panic-stricken mighty grasscutters run up, and barbed herzogcats were not slow to take advantage. They find might for chase and pursuit the young male of the rat. Some seconds later from grass its squeezed rattle overlapped by growl of barbed herzogcats was audible.
Life in savanna is the life the soldier during the war. The long lull and brief minutes of fear make life of inhabitants of savanna. Predators have got their share, the alarm was gone, and herbivores come back again to the habitual rhythm of life. Miteeaters again fall on backs of herbivores and search for parasites.
The herd of harelopes will drive off annoying insects, stirring up ears. But it works not always successfully: under the skin of some animals cambers are visible. These are larvae of hypodermic botflies, developing and parasitizing at harelopes. Before being eaten by birds, botflies have time to infect animals and to provide reproduction of the species. But also here their adaptation is non absolute: harelopes have friend... Or nevertheless it is not absolutely the friend?
The small bird hovers around the herd. It is similar to the miteeater, but the attentive eye will notice distinctions. However it is similar, that harelopes do not notice the fake. The bird sits on the neck of the harelope and surveys skin of the animal. Having found the firm swelling, it starts the operation. The thin strong beak finds an aperture through which stigmas of larva are put out, and penetrates into depth of the fistula. By dexterous movement of the head the bird takes the larva off and swallows it. And farther... it picks open the wound and starts to lick off blood, using long tubular tongue which deeply enters into the wound. The bird’s saliva has theanaesthetic property, and the wound does not cause anxiety in the harelope. It is the bloodbird - the successful simulator and the close relative of the miteeater. Having sated, it departs, hardly flapping by wings. The bloodsucker must be cautious: miteeaters pursue them because of similar colouring. The full bird tries to hide on the tree because of the aggressive relative.
Certainly, work of the bloodbird causes inconveniences to herbivores, but it is the unique bird which is able to take larvae of hypodermic botflies: its saliva will paralyse the larva and it can be taken out easily. As against the miteeater, the bloodbird tries to keep near to herds of herbivores, moving with them during migrations. It too much depends on the specific food. And the posterity of this species is hatching by the same miteeater. From step-parents the juvenile bloodbird also studies to simulate the signal of appeal of herbivores.
The world is penetrated with connections of relations of mutual aid and antagonism between live creatures. Even the giant which, apparently, is out of competition, is compelled to face with it. The huge giraffe ostrich browses leaves of trees, passing from one tree to another. Any animal can not eat at the height accessible to this giant. It especially likes sweetish leaves of the sugar tree growing in the savanna by small groups. But the foliage of this tree appears marvellously rich and green, despite of its appeal to the giant herbivore. Simply the tree has friends too.
But it is completely another history...

Bestiary

Giraffe ostrich (Deinostruthio altissimus)
Order: Ostriches (Struthioniformes)
Family: Struthionidae



After extinction of large herbivores ostriches there were the highest creatures of a savanna. Experiences on cultivation of these birds in the cold areas, spent in XX century, and also finds of fossils of these birds in the Central Asia have shown the high ecological plasticity of these birds. It allows suppose probable their survival in case of mass extinction of herbivores, despite of the large sizes of a bird.
The giraffe ostrich is the highest animal of the Neocaenic Earth who are not making a concession on the sizes to the giraffe: the adult male in height up to 6 meters (sometimes there are record 7-meter high giants), the female is up to 5 meters, just a hatched chick - 0,7 m. An egg of the giraffe ostrich in volume is up to 7 litres; term of an incubating is about 75 days. In a clutch there is up to 15 - 16 eggs laid by 2 or 3 females. Only females hatch the clutch, the male can not do it because of the big weight (up to 900 kg), but he protects territory around of a nest and takes part in a care of a hatch. It is sluggish bird, at run accelerates momentum only up to 40 kms per hour. The bird eats leaves which are frayed by stones in a muscular stomach and further are fermented in a ferruterous department of a stomach. Frequently eats small vertebrates and a carrion. Giraffe ostrich is capable to drive away predators from killed prey. Enemies are only at nestlings, the adult bird successfully defends by impacts of legs on any predator. Voice of a nestling is a chirp and a peep, adult birds are usually silent, only occasionally issue an indistinct growling. In a breeding season the male utters a powerful hoarse buzzing, inflating a neck and accompanying to it by demonstration of magnificent feathers on the wings unwrapped by a fan.

Miteeater (Ricinivorus medicus)
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Ploceidae

This species is the medium-sized bird of passerine group (Passeriformes), eating small insects and mites parasitizing on large herbivores. It is one of descendants of buffalo weaverbirds. The size is 10 cm (including a tail). It draws to itself the attention of possible "clients" by bright colouring (a yellow belly, red head and a beak, a white tip of a beak, top of a body, wings and a tail are striped, black-and-white) and by loud shouts. At absence of herbivores it is capable to catch insects similar to other birds. It nests solitary in trees, protects the nesting area. The nest is closed, spherical, it is plaited on tips of flexible branches. The number of eggs is 3 - 4, an incubating period lasts 12 days. Nestlings take off from a nest in the age of 15 - 16 days, parents finish to food them after 4 - 5 days. For a season it happens from 2 up to 4 clutches (depending on quantity of grass growing in a rain season and as long time herbivores animals are staying there).

Bloodbird (Sanguiornis parasiticus)
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Ploceidae

The small bird of group passerine (Passeriformes), also descends from the buffalo weaverbird. By colouring it imitates the miteeater, differs from it only by smaller size (8 - 9 cm including a tail), a white beak and a dark tail without strips. Shout is higher by tone, than at the miteeater, but it is similar to its shout on sounding. The nest parasite of the miteeater, substitutes one of nest owner eggs by its. The nestling develops together with foster family, at this moment it studies to simulate advertisment shout of miteeaters. The bird eats larvae of hypodermic botflies and after extraction of larvae sucks blood of a herbivore from a wound, deepening it by tongue with a horn tip. The saliva has anaesthetic properties. The bird is capable to drink blood in quantity up to 60 % of the weight, that’s why the full bird flies very slowly. After a meal the bird tries cover in a tree-trunk hollow or other refuge from the real miteeater, because miteeaters attack on imitators, confusing them with birds of their species. One successful blood-sucking allows a bird to live without other food about 1 day. As against the true miteeater, it accompanies with herds during migrations as does not burden itself with parental duties and does not become attached to the certain nesting area.

Flathorn (Platyceratherium foetidus)
Order: Hyraxes (Hyracoidea)
Family: Platyceratheriidae

Picture by Tim Morris

Initial image by Pavel Volkov

The animal is the descendant of a modern hyrax, or the daman (Hyrax). In case of mass extinction of large forms of herbivores the daman has opportunity to survive: the present animal is adapted to an inhabiting in the extremal conditions of poor mountain vegetation at lack of a water. Incisors, which grow all life similarly to incisors of rodents, make possible feeding of rigid savanna vegetation.
The descendant of the daman is remarkable by the large size and stumpy constitution. The body is covered with a short brown wool, on a waist there is an area of a long white wool. Hoofs on legs have grown up, the leg became similar on elephant’s one. Weight of females is up to 800 kg, newborn cubs - up to 50 kg, mature males - up to 1 ton. Pregnancy lasts 10 months, two cubs, less often 1 or 3 (as a rule, one of a triplet does not survive) are born. It lives by family groups and small herds (up to 40 ones), including on some families under the leading of dominant males. Males have the flat horn pillow on a head used on breeding tournaments. In case of an attack the animal applies active defensive actions, pushing aside a predator from cubs. On a waist of males it is very much advanced specific skin gland, characteristic for the damans, hair environmental of it is long and white. At detection of a predator the animal stands the hair environmental to gland, on end. White color and pungent smell of secretions serve to neighbours as a signal to defense, and for predators it is the warning. Defending animals put to a predator stings and impacts by a forehead. A voice is an indistinct growling, shout of aggression or defense is a loud howl.

Grass harelope (Lepolopa gracile)
Order: Hoofed lagomorphs (Ungulagomorpha)
Family: Lagolopidae

The graceful and harmonous descendant of lagomorphs becoming ecological analogue of antelopes. It lives by herds of some tens of animals on plentiful pastures gathering to herds including 150 - 200 animals. Weighs up to 50 kg, height up to 1,5 m at the shoulder. A constitution is fragile, a tail is short, legs are long: harelopes are adapted to run by jumps (in case of danger it can accelerate momentum up to 80 kms per hour on a short distance and make single jumps up to 5 meters). Claws on legs have turned to a common horn cover for fingers (3 on each leg; on a forward leg only II and III are well advanced, IV does not get up to the ground; on a back leg III is especially advanced). The wool is short, it is coloured in sand color with randomly scattered spots of chestnut color. The hearing and sight are well advanced, sense of smell is keen. Females bear two times per one year on pair cubs with opened eyes, randomly striped. Cubs are brung up by all feeding females of herd: it gives a chance to survive even to the orphaned kids. Males live together with herd, but in a breedind season strongest of them has the right of priority to be coupled to females. A usual voice is a silent snort, let-go cry of the male - a chirp, alarm cry is the loud whistle.

Savanna kangoohopper (Macropedetes timidus)
Order: Rodents (Rodentia)
Family: Pedetidae

Picture by Lambert

Initial image by Pavel Volkov

The descendant of a medium-sized jumping African rodent the springhaas (Pedetes). Lives by herds on 15 - 20 animals, dominating individuals do not happen in herd. Animal looks like long-eared fragile build kangaroo. The size is up to 80 cm in length, a tail - up to 1 m, height is up to 60 cm at the shoulder (in a sitting position), weight is up to 15 kg. Colouring of the body is yellowish - grey with brown longitudinal stripes on a back, turning to spots on flanks. A stomach and forepaws are white. The cub is grey-coloured with irregular brown spots, its stomach is dark. Cubs (one cub in brood) are born twice per year, at the age of one hour they are capable to follow herd. Kangoohoppers eat grasses, leaves of bushes and small trees. Forepaws can dig roots and tubers of plants out of the ground. It is able to live long without drinking water. Animal seeks safety of predators in flight, accelerating momentum up to 40 kms per hour on a long distance, on short one - up to 60 kms per hour.

Mighty grasscutter (Megarhizomys ferox)
Order: Rodents (Rodentia)
Family: Rhizomyidae

One of giant rodents of a Neocene, the descendant of African reed rats. Reaches the size of a brown bear. A constitution is massive, paws are short, a head is large and massive. Lives by family groups of the main female, the male and cubs of two last packs. Elder youngsters leave parents and form herds inside which the pairs giving the beginnings to family groups later are formed. In a pack usually there are 3 - 4 cubs. Eats sprouts and roots of plants, is able to dig out tubers by incisors (length up to 25 cm). In case of need animal is able to climb trees. Colouring of a back is gray-brown with dim small spots, a stomach is black with contrast white irregular-shaped spots. Defending of predators, the group of animals rises on hinder legs in a circle, hiding cubs of last pack, and shows to a predator contrast-coloured bellies (warning colouring) and large bared incisors. From time to time one of animals lunges on a predator, trying to bite it. Voice sounds like a grunt, during defense or breeding tournaments animals utter hoarse growl.

Barbed herzogcat (Pseudoleo barbatus)
Order: Carnivors (Carnivora)
Family: Felidae

After mass extinction of large herbivores large predators of feline family - lions, leopards, cheetahs, tigers, cougars and jaguars - also have become extinct or turned very rare. The predators depended on small prey which number is quickly restored have more easy gone through this accident. The barbed herzogcat descends of an African wild cat - one of the species who have survived extinction. It has increased in the size (in size with the leopard) and has got the special features of a sexual dimorphism. Main colouring of animals of both sexes is gray-brown with the black spots merging on a ridge in longitudinal dabs, and on a tail and paws - in cross rings. The male has the light white lengthened hair on a chin, reminding a beard. On his shoulders and chest red-brown long hair form similarity of a mantle, the wool on a head is slightly lengthened like a cap. At the female hair on a chin are yellow-coloured. Animals live and hunt by pairs, the male brings to bay prey to the female who has hidden in an ambush. Cats eat herbivores of the medium and small size, cubs of large herbivores, birds and reptiles. At birth of cubs (up to 4 - 5) only the female hunts, the male protects a lair and environmental area from predators and large herbivores. Pairs are formed on different time: at young animals - to one season, at grown up ones to all following life. After death of one of partners the stayed animal can join to family of one of the descendants, taking part in hunting and family affairs. A voice is a mewing and rumbling (as against the present large cats barbed herzogcats are not able to growl), at the case of danger - loud squeal.

Deadlynetta (Necrogenetta deima)
Order: Carnivors (Carnivora)
Family: Viverridae

Picture by Leonard Popov and Eugeny Hontor

Initial image by Pavel Volkov

The representative of civet family (Viverridae), the descendant of the genette. One of the most successful African predators of a Neocene. It is capable to kill large prey: animal has advanced saber-like canines. Jaws are short, are capable to be opened widely (to the corner up to 130°). Weight is up to 120 kg, length - up to 1,5 meters, a tail is 1 m long. Males are larger than females. Colouring of a wool is gray-white with black ears, "mask" on a muzzle, paws and a tip of a tail. On a body there are an irregular-shaped black spots, their pattern and number are individual for each animal. The animal is of fine constitution, it is capable to climb trees and to swim. It prefers to conceal prey from an ambush or pursues on short distances, developing thus speed up to 60 - 70 kms per hour. Usually animal is a lone hunter, only pair in a breeding season, or the female with young growth hunt together. Animals are very territorial, the female having young growth is aggressive to neighbours. Pregnancy lasts about 6 months, 2 - 3 blind and deaf cubs covered with a wool are born. They remain in lair about 2 months, later the female starts to train in their hunting. After 1 year cubs become independent. The voice is the low growling, aggressively adjusted animal growls loudly.

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