Tour to Neocene
To the east from eventually extending Atlantic, through the
grounds of the Western Europe absolutely other world is spreaded, in which the
continuous struggle for poor resources proceeds. In this world not only food,
but even water is great value. And in this world only few species have developed
to live and prosper.
Once, in distant Holocene waters of Atlantic have penetrated through Strait of Gibraltar deep into this tract of lands, forming Mediterranean, Marble and Black seas. But during an ice age, had taken place at the Holocene and Neocene border, these seas have dried up, having formed huge salted hollows. Strait of Gibraltar was closed forever when Africa cut into Iberian peninsula, having formed a mountainous isthmus. Therefore with approach of favorable Neocene seas have not returned to their coasts. More damp climate has partly softened conditions of inhabiting in these places - above the Mediterranean hollow rains spill, therefore here and there in mountains even freshwater reservoirs were formed. But these places are accessible to few ones - extensive swamps and lakes with very salty water have appeared at the bottom of this hollow. They became an insuperable barrier to numerous ground animals. The hot sun heats plain, draining few swamps, but all the same the way to the swamp kingdom is closed to many large animals of both continents - thirst will kill them. Here only the elite, champions of endurance, can live. On plain it is possible to see dazzling white areas - but it is not snow, and friable saline soils. And the most part of the lakes seen in the middle of sad landscape, quite can appear the mirage. And still reservoirs are here, but water in them is bitter-salt. But, despite of it, in this water there is a life.
The surface of salty reservoirs looks like colored all shades of green and brownish-red under beams of the dazzling sun. It occurs because in water microscopic unicellular algae breed in enormous quantity. They live not for long, but breed very quickly. Spores of these algae can endure stay in salt layers for many years, but once it is raining as algae hasten to make up for lost time for years of the compelled rest. Such abundance usually involves set of eaters, but in conditions of the increased saltiness (100 grams of salt in liter of water!) not any creature will agree to live. And nevertheless there is one species of the creatures "grazed" in these algae clouds. In layers of salt on the coast it is possible to see not only layers of died out algae, but also masses of tiny, parts of millimeter long, eggs. Small crustaceans, marsh brine shrimps, have laid them, before have died. When in ponds and marshes formed after winter rains, algae appear, the mass hatching of larvae from eggs begins. They quickly grow and have time to give one-two generations before the reservoir will dry up. And in constant salty reservoirs crustaceans breed the whole year.
If to look at this creature closely, the marsh brine shrimp is similar to any toy dragonet. It swims in water thickness, filtering cells of algae by legs. The rich mass of algae is got rolled in balls and disappears in the mouth of the crustacean. Its body is translucent, therefore it is possible to see, how the food lumps goes on intestines, gradually being digested. Crustaceans quickly swim, making dizzy turns. Some crustaceans drag large egg pouch on back pair of pectoral legs. When eggs will be ready to hatching, the crustacean simply will leave them. Adult crustaceans are not dangerous to eggs – egg shell is so dense, that the egg is not damaged, passing through intestines of the adult crustacean.
Plentifully breeding crustaceans became fine food for the most effective inhabitants of these places. On long red legs they walk across swamps by huge herds. They are birds, but they are not able to fly. Swamps became the house for millions of flightless crested flamingoes - natives of these places. Usually flamingoes live as nomades, moving along extensive territory between salty lakes in process of their drying and filling by water. But in the Mediterranean lowland swamps do not dry up, therefore ancestors of these birds were late here forever. Salty marshes, heat and thirst reliably preserve birds against all four-footed enemies. Swamps conceal set of bones of predators which had tried to penetrate to this reserved world, but had been stopped by the nature. Here only elite can live - and crested flamingoes are included to it.
These birds perfectly feel like in so extreme conditions: they find plentiful food and have no enemies. Only two problems are at local inhabitants - salt and water. It is too much salt here, and water,... certainly, it is a lot of it too, but because of salt it is not suitable for drink. However the flamingo drink only this one: bitterly-salt, muddy because of algae. They have unusual heads - their secret is hidden in it. In the crest-looking outgrowth complex salt gland is hidden, filtering from blood surplus of salt. The brine is output through nostrils. From time to time it is possible to see, how the bird lifts up the head and sneezes. Thus from its nostrils two jets of white liquid are pulled out - so the harmful brine is left. Having dipped the head in water, the bird rinses the beak and washes out rests of brine.
Crested flamingoes eat marsh brine shrimps with the help of the modified beak. It is similar to a beak of the ordinary flamingo of Holocene epoch. It is no wonder - the shape of these birds has a little changed from an Eocene: flamingoes always have lived in such places where practically anybody could not live. Crested flamingoes dip beaks in water and gather a portion of water with crustaceans in throat pouch. Then water is thrown out by reduction of ring muscles, and crustaceans are stopped in "brushes" on edges of the beak and are cleaned out by tongue. The bird makes all this actions, not taking out the beak from water. If it is not enough crustaceans, the flamingo “trawls” thickness of water, making lateral movements by neck. Thus the bird’s beak is semi-opened - crustaceans are hooked for "brushes" of the beak, jaws slightly crush them and along the groove on the surface of tongue they get in the gullet.
But not only flamingo consumes crustaceans in these lakes. From time to time on the water surface the creature similar to small turtle emerges. Having hung for a time about one minute at the surface of water, it like an arrow dives in the thickness of water, promptly working by legs similar to oars. But it is not a turtle, and the insect - the large water beetle, the water turtlebeetle.
The water turtlebeetle swimming under water represents an amazing show. It skillfully makes steep turns in thickness of water, sparkling with sparkling, as if mercury, bottom side of the body. Owning to special greasing it is not moistened with water, protecting an insect from salt contained in it. The water beetle hunts marsh brine shrimps. It applies different hunting methods - chase and hunting from an ambush. Nothing suspecting brine shrimps swim a back downwards in the thickness of water, filtering algae. From time to time mouth feet of crustaceans move - the next portion of algae is swallowed. Legs of crustaceans rhythmically flap - as if the wave runs along their row. But unexpectedly as if hurricane rushes in their measured life - on life arena the water turtlebeetle appears. Quickly flapping by legs, the beetle, as if the torpedo, shoots through flight of crustaceans. Brine shrimps rush to all sides and gathering speed dive into soft silt, stirring it up. They simultaneously are hidden and prevent the water beetle to hunt - it relies in hunting not only upon sense of smell, but also upon excellent sight. However their efforts were late a little - the water beetle from the first attempt has caught one crustacean. Due to the dexterity and speed it does not remain hungry.
But in water is dangerously - salt can get in an organism during meal. Therefore the water beetle should leave water... to not die because of dehydration! It crawls to the coast, holding by forward pair legs the still trying to escape crustacean. Now it is possible to have a meal. By sting of strong jaws the bug tears off a head of the brine shrimp and starts to eat its meat. A feed on land has also one more advantage - neighbours will not feel a smell of catch and will not try to take it away. Therefore the trophy almost always gets to the one has preyed it.
The larva of the water turtlebeetle hunts nearby. It hangs in thickness of water, trying to not frighten off possible catch. Only by easy movement of legs tips it directs itself to closest distance to catch, and then puts all forces to one exact throw. Having seized catch, it at once can have a snack - the larva exhausts catch through hollow mandibles, similarly to larvae of water beetles of Holocene epoch. Water does not get in its organism - and this feature allows it to live in this strong salted world.
Life of herds of crested flamingoes is far from being so unclouded in this lost world. Though predators are not present here, flights of parasites - bloodflies - constantly overcome herds of birds. These insects hover by huge flights above the colony of flamingoes, exhausting birds by their importunity. They sit on flamingo feathers and make the way closer to skin then sting skin by proboscis and easily fill the stomach with the bird's blood. The flamingo almost does not feel the sting - the saliva of bloodfly contains anesthetic substance. But after a blood-sucking the bitten area of skin scratches and itches. Birds because of numerous blood-sucking insects are strongly nervous: they constantly scratch the head against the back, or scratch the side by leg to appease somehow an itch from stings.
Having had sucked blood, the bloodfly leaves the bird colony and flies to stony shallow waters and lays here eggs from which larvae excluse soon. The larva of the bloodfly lives in water and eats algae layer on stones. It scrapes unicellular algae by mouth, in which the original chitinous “grater” similar to snail’s radula, has developed. Actually the larva of the bloodfly had occupied the place of gastropods which can not live in so salt water. The great number of worm-like larvae creeps in the shallow waters lit by the sun, eating algae. But their life is not unclouded: they are the delicious food for the water turtlebeetle. On stony bottom it is impossible to arrange a cloud of oozy dregs, therefore larvae are practically defenceless against the armored predator. When the beetle having top speed swims in the shallow water, larvae have only chance of rescue: they reduce muscles of the body and as lumps fail in cracks between stones. But some of them have not time to make it, and the predatory beetle tears off a fat larva from a stone. Holding it in mandibles, the beetle leaves the swamp and eats catch on the stone sticking up from water covered with thin salt film.
And on land another predator, so quick, as well as adult bloodflies does not give them rest. On sides and backs of crested flamingoes large silver-gray flies with green eyes sit singly. They are hawk robberflies, tireless and ruthless hunters. They trap bloodflies literally near the lunch table. When the hungry fly comes nearer to the flamingo hoping to be sated, the winged predator darts off. The sharp buzzing, indistinct impact, and all calms down less than for one second. The silver-gray lightning force down the parasite in flight and immediately comes back to the post. In forward paws of the predatory fly strong seized prey helplessly buzzes. But its efforts are vain - the sharp proboscis of the predator injects poison and after some minutes an empty skin of the bloodfly falls in water. Hunting proceeds...
All bloodflies hovered around of flamingo herds are the females. Males live absolutely in the other place and look differently. Somewhere the monotony of salt plain is interrupting with small areas of the greenery growing on eminences, where ground is not so salty. Thickets are formed by only few species of plants among which one species - a strange bush or small tree, as if made of green sticks, dominates. Here and there on sappy thick branches the ordinary-looking flowers collected to short clusters and brown-red berries stick up. This plant is the berry salttree. It is capable to grow on salted grounds and increases greenery very quickly. Above it males of bloodflies also hover. Above alone growing plant it is possible to see large green flies flying in a circle. It is courtship dance of males inviting females to pairing. When the young pink female comes nearer to places of air dances, from the ring dance some males promptly separate at once. They pursue the female while one of them will catch it up. When it occurs, other males come back in a round dance, and the formed pair some time flies together, and then both partners fly away. The male can fertilize several females then perishes. And the female after pairing goes to the colony of crested flamingoes to reserve food for the sake of the future generation. Males eat sap of plants - from time to time they sit down on stalks of the salttree and suck sap with the help of sharp proboscis.
But not only their lives have depended on rare greenery of salty deserts. In thickets of tree-like salttrees wide tracks are worn on which the traces of legs similar by something to elephant’s ones were imprinted. They had been left by the surprising creature - one of few vertebrates of this desert. Indistinct separate impacts of feet on the ground announce approach of this animal. And when it appears from thickets, it is possible to forget that now it is Neocene - so this animal is similar to the dinosaur. Thick legs similar to legs of large animals, but covered with massive horn scales, long neck with a dry wrinkled skin, rather small head with eyes looking at the world indifferently, and the mighty body covered with the corneous shell show, that it is the tortoise, the huge Antheos tortoise. Motionlessly having stood, the giant noisily exhales air, and continues the way by measured stepping. The reptile bypasses thickets of the salttree, from time to time browsing the branch from the nearest bush. On trunks of plants consequences of such feeding are visible – branches are short and strongly ramified: they were many times “niped” by jaws of Antheos tortoises. However the biggest dainty for a tortoise are salttree berries. Obviously, it is only thing that makes the sight of this animal more purposeful and concentrated. Having caught sight of berries, the tortoise extends the neck and tries to reach them. Usually it succeeds to the reptile fast: the salttree does not grow very high, and the tortoise has long neck. Besides the plant offers to tortoises this dainty not for nothing: seeds sprout better and more successfully grow, had passed through intestines of the Antheos tortoise.
The huge tortoise tries to not leave thickets of tree-like salttrees - here it has not only food, but also protection against the scorching sun. The large body is quickly heated up and more slowly cools down, therefore the death because of overheat can threaten the tortoise. But the reptile has adaptation for amplification of heat emission – the original "bridle", the plica of thin skin on the top side of neck, between carapace and nape. When the tortoise wants to be cooled, it lies down in the shadow and bends the neck so that the plica of skin is stretched as much as possible. The skin quickly reddens of extending blood vessels, and thus it cools the body of the reptile a little. Also under the tortoise carapace there is the layer of fat interfering the body heating, and coloring of animal is very light, partly reflecting solar beams. Therefore the giant normally feels like in this hot and salty world. The Antheos tortoise gets water from plants though during the rain it willingly drinks fresh rain water.
Occasionally it can be rainy here. At this time poor stocks of water in lakes and bogs are increased. But before the rain season usually there is a season of storms. At this time all live beings, having presentiment the storm, try to hide from it. Insects get into the thicket of plants and tightly seize branches by legs. Water turtlebeetles creep out to the coast and are hidden among stones. Marsh brine shrimps dive and dug in silt. Restless crowds of crested flamingoes leave water and bunch by flights on the coast. They sit on the ground and hide heads in feathers on the back. At this time the group of birds is similar to the reddish pink snowdrift. Usually noisy, birds behave very silently. And only Antheos tortoises with indifferent look wander in thickets. But also they try to choose more richly thickets. And after few hours the sky, in which the sun was ruthless hot before it, becomes clouded. The cool wind blows from the west, from Atlantic. Gradually it gets up and turns to real squall: its speed is over 100 kilometers per hour. The wind lifts sand and salt from plain, and carries them through bogs and lakes farther to the east, to Asia. But it abates quickly: after two hours air above salty plains is again quiet, but it appreciably becomes cooler.
After such squalls on lakes coasts the edge of water the strip of the cast ashore eggs of marsh brine shrimps appears. It is very favorable time for crested flamingoes: birds wander along the coast and gather this gratuitous entertainment, very rich in proteins. It seems, that in such way they undermine the forage reserve, but actually huge fertility of crustaceans is designed for such losses. If from all eggs larvae of brine shrimps will hatch they simply would eaten all algae and have die out of famine.
Recession of heat marks changes in life of swamp inhabitants: soon there will come the time of posterity hatching. But it will come not at once, and only after rains. However birds feel approach of this time, and already start to prepare for nesting. The flamingo nest represents the heap of clay and silt at which top in the deepening two eggs will be laid. Birds start to build the nest of prior to the beginning of the short period of winter rains though they hatch posterity only after it. Birds nest by big congestions on small islands, choosing the place far from thickets of salttrees. By lateral movements of beaks each pair of birds rake up the big heap of dirt and clay which quickly dries up on air. In this process birds add new and new portions of clay and at last complete the construction to almost meter height. But it is only half the work - the most important part the rain must make.
And at last clouds from ocean carry at first the cool, and then the long-awaited rain. Hard jets of the downpour fall upon the ground, filling dried up lakes and bogs, soaking strong salty-mud crust. And nests of crested flamingoes start to sink and become swollen. Pair of birds does not prevent it, occasionally only readjusting the flowing down dirt by beaks. Jets of water flow down on their backs, and birds are stirred up, though they not become drier from it.
It is rainy only some days, and saline soils are transforming to impassable bogs. Small islands where flamingoes have chosen the place for nesting, have turned practically to shallows from which only became swollen bases of bird nests stick up. When the sun starts to warm, birds begin to repair nests. The rain had made very important work – it had washed up salt from the top layer of clay. Now to the laid eggs of birds the dehydration does not threaten. And in some nests already there appear first eggs. Crested flamingoes are schooling birds, and nesting at them occurs almost synchronously. Soon eggs appear in all constructed nests. This synchronism is provided with that birds constantly see the neighbours. Visual contact is a link of the colony.
Few young birds have chosen a place for nesting far from the basic colony - on the coast of the island covered with thickets of salttrees. Here there is no vanity which usually reigns in the colony, and nobody shows them the superiority. But, though here nothing threatens to adult birds, their nests are in danger. When in nests of the flamingoes eggs appear, birds have the uninvited visitor: huge Antheos tortoise comes out of thickets. It knows, what is it searches. By resolute step the reptile goes to nests in hope to profit by eggs. The desert is not so generous to the forage therefore tortoises use any food, down to dead bodies of neighbours. And flamingo eggs are the really royal snack. Tortoise ravages one nest, not meeting resistance, and goes to next. But here it is met by pair of the parents full of determination to protect the nest. Birds peck the reptile in head and pinch its neck by beaks. In the answer the reptile indistinctly hisses and with fanatical persistence is approaching to the nest. Parents do not succeed to protect the future posterity - toothless jaws of the tortoise crush one by one both eggs with the crunch and the reptile slowly swallows their contents, leaving at the bottom of the nest only little puddle of egg-white. Gradually armored animal ravages all nests. Having looked the last one, the Antheos tortoise slowly walks to the thicket, leaving birds alone with their problems. The next morning all nests appear left - birds had chosen the unsuccessful place for nesting, and they will not nest any more in this season.
At the same time in the basic colony parental cares are in full swing: birds ceremoniously replace each other on the nest, and had become free birds leave to feed. When it becomes hot, the bird on the nest already should not heat the egg, and rather to cool it, standing near to the nest so that precious eggs remain in shadow of the parent.
Past rains have changed not only the flamingo life: in hollows of shallow swamps and ponds filled with water eggs of the marsh brine shrimp had hatched, and soon the thickness of water becomes turbid from clouds of their larvae tirelessly filtering microscopic algae and bacteria. On small islands which began even smaller, tree-like salttrees plentifully grows. This plant sprouts upwards sappy translucent branches. At the bright sun through the thin skin of young sprouts vessels appear through, but soon the thin skin will be condensed, will coarsen, and the old branches will start to become covered by rough bark. Plants generate clusters of tiny flowers which disseminate pollen downwind. The part of pollen by will of the wind will get not on flowers of the next trees, but in water. There it will become food for growing up brine shrimps. Resources of desert are too poor to give them to vanish in vain.
Antheos tortoises are eaten off by sappy greenery. Their flat heads reach branches and with the crunch bite them off. Huge bodies lean on trunks, and some young salttrees fall on the ground where all-destroying jaws orderly start to gnaw them at once. But the increase of salttrees so is great, that they easily compensate these losses. And appetite of turtles is not so great, as it can seem: they live a long time, and the annual increase at them is insignificant. Energetic losses of tortoises are smaller, than at warm-blooded animals, therefore at the area where the family of large herbivore beasts hardly would live, tens turtles prosper which weigh many times more.
Turtles eat not only greenery - the protein food is also necessary for them. Therefore some turtles rather expect to profit by tasty eggs in colonies of crested flamingoes. And one gigantic male is solved the rather dangerous step - it leaves the island and walks across shallow water to the colony of flamingo. At first the giant is confidently moving forward – turtles swim not so bad. But later it becomes much worse to it because the colony of birds is surrounded with the shallow of viscous dirt. While the male is in water, viscous bottom is not dangerous to it - hydrostatic force of salty water makes it almost weightless. But when it leaves water, its legs start to knead the dirt squelching. Bubbles of stinky hydrogen sulphide are pulled out from under legs of the armored giant, and to it is more and more difficult to make the next step. It is covered with dirt, and its legs already hardly turn in stinky medley. The colony of flamingoes is already near to it - some birds strive above nests twenty meters far from the reptile. But to pass these twenty meters of salty dirt is more difficult, than twenty kilometers of plain. The tortoise has trapped - at each step the swamp slowly sucks it. When the plastron of the Antheos tortoise male has stuck to the dirt, motion forward became completely impossible. And the tortoise began to immerse slowly in viscous trap. The factor, protecting this world from newcomers from the continent, has turned back against the native inhabitant. Forces abandon the giant - the tortoise lifts the head up less often, less often it moves by legs, hoarse breaths had became more slowly. But bloodsucking flies hasten to take advantage of rich entertainment even ignoring the fact that on the tortoise’s carapace two hawk robberflies already wait of them. Hordes of parasitic insects attack the tortoise and suck blood, sitting on the most sensitive and soft places covered with thin skin – on the "bridle", near eyes and in the basis of legs and neck. This day had come to an end this way, then following and the subsequent days continue... Survivability of the tortoise had became its trouble - the giant bitten by insects had suffered in swamp almost week – it is really torments of Tanthalus. And only in the morning of the sixth day the rising sun has lit up the lifeless giant laying in drying up dirt.
And twenty meters far from it the colony of crested flamingoes noises - birds live by usual measured life. More ten days pass. The body of the huge Antheos tortoise male already was almost decomposed, becoming the food of numerous fly larvae. But in the colony of the flamingo life proceeds and prospers - in some nests nestlings had appeared. Three days later almost all nesting bird pairs become happy parents of one, and even two nestlings. Chicks are covered with snow-white down, and their beaks still straight and on the head an outgrowth of salt gland is not present. First days they will depend completely on parents. Mother and father feed them with liquid formed at them in stomachs as the flamingo of Holocene epoch acted. This liquid contains proteins and fats, and it is a lot of water and even the blood of feeding bird in it.
The young growth quickly grows. After some days after hatching young growth gather in shallow waters to extensive "herds". From afar it seems, that on water snow lays: young birds yet have no remarkable ruby-red feathering of adult birds - they yet do not eat adult food. But with age their beaks gradually start to bend, above the beak the comb-looking outgrowth will develop, and young birds even more often move by the beak along the water surface, trying to feed independently. Therefore when through the chick’s down the unwrapped feathers start to appear, their tips already have pink color - in feathers of the flamingo carotene from the had eaten crustaceans accumulates. And after the second moult birds become ruby-red. Only tips of their small wings become black for the third - fourth year of life when birds will be capable to hatch posterity.
Life in salty reservoirs of the Mediterranean lowland is difficult. Only few species had adapted to existence in this inhospitable place. But they feel like in full safety from newcomers from continent - salt and the sun will kill undesirable visitors.
But there are worlds on the Neocaenic Earth which inhabitants are deprived the opportunity to see the sun. To the east of swamps of the Mediterranean, where in a Holocene Balkan peninsula was, the highland is stretched. In epoch of early Neocene when the world gradually started to recover from space and climatic cataclysms, the rivers flowing from thawing European glaciers, had penetrated deep caves in Balkan mountains. And live beings had taken advantage of it, having occupied even such gloomy world.
Crested flamingo (Apterophoenix pectenocephalus)
This high-specialized bird species is the descendant of the Holocene flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus). It lives in bogs of the Mediterranean lowland inaccessible to ground predators. Because of it the bird had lost ability to fly, and its wings are pigeon-sized, though growth of this bird is up to 2 meters. This species eats exclusively phyllopod crustaceans constantly breeding in huge quantities in supersalt bogs of lowland. Such diet has made feathers of this bird ruby-red - in them carotinoids are accumulated in which crustaceans are rich. Only at edges of wings primary feathers have kept black coloring. For catch of crustaceans the beak of this bird had a little changed, becoming even higher. On inside edges the beak "brushes" - outgrowths allowing effectively filter catch have appeared. And at edges of tongue rich number of corneous bristles sticking upwards and in sides also had appeared. They allow the bird to clean the crustaceans stuck in "brushes". Along the middle part of tongue deep bristleless groove passes. Beak is white with black tip, red legs are featherless. On the neck in the basis of the head there is an advanced throat pouch about 1 liter volume - in it the bird gathers water for filtering. The swimming membrane between toes is reduced, but edge scales on fingers are strongly expanded as a border allowing the bird to walk on sharp crystals of salt and gypsum when birds leave drying up and exhausted reservoirs.
One of main problems at life in the supersalty environment is catch of drinking water. The flamingo had solved this problem simply - it has own “desalinating station”. On the head of this bird there is huge salt gland, removing salt from blood. Because of it the bird’s head became similar to an axe, which top part is the high outgrowth on the skull in which the thin bone is penetrated with interlacement of blood vessels. At this outgrowth it is double function - there is the salt gland, but also it operates as the radiator, removing from the bird’s brain the surplus of heat. The outgrowth is not covered with feathers, that also facilitate the heat emission. From time to time the bird sneezes - thus there is a clearing the salt gland pouch from the brine which is thrown out from nostrils of a bird as thin jet.
Birds nest in shallow waters, build nests as conic towers in the beginning of rain season. In clutch there are two large eggs, but as a rule only one nestling survives. The nestling is covered with snow-white down (for protection against overheat), after the drying it leaves nest. First time parents feed it, similarly to Holocene flamingoes, with secretions from the stomach, later - with semi-digested crustaceans.
Antheos tortoise (Antheotestudo alta)
Order: Turtles (Testudines)
Few animals can survive in extreme conditions of high temperatures
and lack of the moisture. However there is someone for whom similar conditions
are acceptable. One of these survival champions is the tortoise. On islands
in the middle of bogs of the Mediterranean this reptiles had found the fine
house to themselves and now they are prospering here.
One of tortoise species of the Mediterranean bogs is the Antheos tortoise, the descendant of Mediterranean, or the Greek tortoise (Testudo graeca). It is the huge-sized reptile - length of the carapace is up to 1,5 meters, weight is up to 700 kg (the male is 50 - 100 kg larger than the female). At this tortoise it is the thick saddle-shaped carapace, with expansion above the head as "collar" - such form of carapace allows the reptile to lift head up, reaching up to branches of food plants. Scutes of the carapace are pale - yellow (almost white) colored, this feature helps to reflect a significant part of solar beams and to avoid the overheat. The neck is long, and above the neck to edge of the carapace the thin skin crosspiece – “bridle” is stretched. It is rich in blood vessels and serves for improvement of heat emission, carrying out the same role, as wide ears of the African elephant of Holocene epoch. Besides this "bridle" is brightly colored black and grayish - white colors: it means for submission of signals to neighbours. Head of the tortoise is flat, shovel-like, eyes are protected against sun and branches of plants with small osseous “peaks”. Skin on the head and legs is light-colored, grayish - white. Legs are thick, column-looking, covered with numerous scutes, claws are hoof-shaped. The foot surface of the tortoise is wide due to what the animal can go on swampy ground. The plastron is a little bit reduced, cross-shaped. Due to it legs of the reptile are almost vertical, that increases growth of the reptile and allows to browse high plants. But legs and the head of the Antheos tortoise can not involve under the carapace: it is the consequence of predator absence on islands of the Mediterranean bogs.
The Antheos tortoise can not drink a long time - big internal stocks of the water are stored in its large organism, and losses of water are reduced to minimum. But in case of need the tortoise can drink salty water without harm - it has “desalinating station”, as well as at its neighbour the crested flamingo. In eye-sockets large salt glands are located, excluding the significant part of salt acting in an organism as a rich brine (it seems, that the reptile "sheds tears"). In cloacal bladders the significant stock of the water filtered from blood - up to 7 - 8 litres - is stored. Besides under the tortoise carapace the thick layer of fat accumulates - it serves for heat-insulation, and at oxidation it gives water. But as required the tortoise willingly drinks rain water.
Similarly to the ancestor, the Antheos tortoise eats mainly plants. It eats fruits and branches of tree-like salttrees, and young growth feeds with ephemeric plants growing at the islands among saltwater lakes. However having an opportunity the tortoise diversifies the ration with food of animal origin: it can eat eggs of the flamingo if the nest had been built at the edge of a colony, and also dead birds and neighbours.
Reptile breeds at the end of summer, the female lays up to 50 eggs (size of the egg is like chicken’s one) to small hole in the ground among plants. The smaller size allows the tortoise female to crawl into bush thickets where heavy males do not walk. The incubating of eggs proceeds up to late autumn, and the young growth hatches in the winter when it is little bit more cool and fresh vegetation grows. Sexual maturity comes at 10-th year of life at females and on 7-th at males, life duration is till 150 years.
Marsh brine shrimp (Artemiopsis mediterraneus)
Order: Fairy shrimps (Anostraca)
Numerous species of phyllopod crustaceans (Phyllopoda), one
of the basic inhabitants of hypergalin reservoirs. Due to high number and fast
alternation of generations this species had became the basis of food chains
of salty bogs.
The length of the adult crustacean body is up to 3 centimeters, usually it is smaller. Its body consists of 50 segments; on the first 12 ones there are feather-like swimming legs, on 13-th segment the long legs intended for bearing of the next portion of eggs. Head is well appreciable, large, with small complex eyes containing 180 - 200 facets everyone. Between them the simple unpaired eye is located. On the head also there is pair of lobe-looking antennas serving as rudders at swimming, and three pairs of simple mouth feet. The abdomen is not terminated from thorax, differing from it only by reduced legs. On the end of an abdomen there is pair of long threadlike outgrowths.
The crustacean is parthenogenetic, males appear extremely seldom (approximately 1 to 1 million females) and only at sharp changes of habit conditions. Females spawn in water up to 500 fine eggs within one week then perish. From eggs if they have not dried up within one week, nauplius larvae hatch. They quickly grow, eating microscopic algae and chemosynthetic bacteria which are especially numerous in hypersalt reservoirs. After one week the crustacean becomes sexual mature and starts to lay eggs. If the reservoir in which eggs are laid, dries up, the egg stops the development at the station previous to hatching. The embryo falls to diapause which can last till 10 years, and continues the development only then when the egg will get in water. Dry eggs of crustaceans can be carried by wind to the big distances.
Water turtlebeetle (Dytiscemys argyroventris)
Order: Beetles (Coleoptera)
The large water beetle of family Dytiscidae adapted for inhabiting in salt
reservoirs. Insects, as a rule, avoid saltish and sea water, and, of course,
hypergalin reservoirs. However the present species had developed so unusual
habitat as it had found in these places rich, practically constant food source
- phyllopod crustaceans - and full absence of competitors. It grows to length
7 - 9 cm, the female is larger than the male. Body is oval-shaped, flatten,
with the "marble" tracery a little bit similar to a pattern of the
tortoise carapace. In coloring of this insect yellow and dark brown colors are
combined. Second and third pairs of legs are flat, covered on edge with hair
fringe. Forward legs are adapted for catching and holding of catch, at representatives
of both sexes there are advanced suckers (at Holocene water beetles this attribute
is expressed only at males). This is the adaptation for holding of crustaceans
with smooth covers. At males wings are well advanced, females are wingless.
The larva is up to 15 cm long; it is the predator, similar to larvae of Holocene
water beetles, differing only by large size. It perfectly swims, pushing by
legs or bending all body, as if the fish. The larva eats crustaceans and larvae
of water insects.
For protection against salty water the beetle has a special adaptation - glands on the body produce the special wax greasing, by the consistence similar to cream. The beetle occasionally gets out of water and smears on the bottom side of the body this secretion, carefully smearing head and abdomen. Greasing is not moistened with water, therefore at the swimming beetle all bottom surface of the body seems silvery because of air layer, keeping by greasing. It protects the beetle against salty water, besides it serves as an additional air stock.
The bug eats catch outside of water, or having jut out from water the head: it helps to prevent getting salt in an organism. The larva has no such problems, because it simply exhausts catch similar to larvae of Holocene water beetles.
The female does not lay eggs in stalks of plants as Holocene species - in salty reservoirs the higher flowering plants do not grow. It carries clutch of 50 - 60 eggs on the back under elytrums - it protects eggs against dehydration. Specially for this purpose elytrums of the female are more convex, than at the male: it increases the volume of brood pouch. Hatched larvae leave mother, having received from it a little water-repellent greasing. Development of larvae lasts about 3 weeks after that the adult larva leaves the water at night and buries in ground, turning to pupa. The metamorphosis lasts 2 weeks, the adult insect lives till 1 year, making during the life 3 - 4 clutches.
Saltland bloodfly (Halotabanida sanguisuga)
Order: Two-winged (Diptera)
Picture by Alexey Tatarinov
Food resources of salty swamps include not numerous plants living in so extreme
conditions, and animals eating them. But if to the species standing at the basis
of a food chain there are many hunters, sometimes it is more favorable to move
upwards along this chain. Some two-winged flies (Diptera) had made it, becoming
blood-sucking parasites. In general, in this group bloodsuckers are presented
richly: mosquitoes, midges, horseflies and some flies are all known consumers
of blood of large animals. Saltland bloodfly is one of such species evolved
in the Mediterranean swamps.
The present insect is the large fly eating blood of flamingo. It belongs to family horseflies (Tabanidae). Length of the body is up to 2,5 centimeters. The body is compact, an abdomen is strongly extensible: it is adapted to containment of big volume of the exhausted blood. But only females eat blood - the male with the help of long proboscis sucks sap from stalks of tree-like salttree. The body of the female is colored bright - pink color that makes an insect difficulty distinct for the flamingo and allows an insect to eat more effectively. And the male is colored dim green color and is imperceptible on the background of salttree trunks. Wings of the female are transparent, and at the male on wings there are dark spots. Eyes of an insect are large, grey with iridescent shine; antennas are short. Oral organs have turned to sharp haustellum, in rest it folds along the body on the bottom side, at the feeding it is straightened. For one act of feeding the female can drink blood up to 60 % of its own weight.
The breeding ritual is preceded to blood-sucking: the females just hatched from pupas fly to any tiny green randomly flickering objects adequate to the native image of the male. Males of the present species involve females, making circular flight above large bush of salttree. And they make this dance most willingly in group, becoming more appreciable from apart. When the female comes nearer to "round dance", some males arrange chase for it. The strongest one is coupled with the female directly in flight, and then returns to "round dance". Fertilized eggs in organism of the female some time develop, and then fall to pause, expecting the moment of blood-sucking. After the blood-sucking in female organism there is the rapid development of eggs. It finds a quiet reservoir and lays them in water near the coast. The larva is 5 cm long; it lives in water and eats microalgae, scraping it from stones by bottom oral "grater" - modified jaws. All development lasts about 3 weeks.
Hawk robberfly (Praedoniasilus asturinus)
Order: Two-winged (Diptera)
Picture by Alexey Tatarinov
Species of family of robberflies (Asilidae) meet in dry and hot districts,
therefore it is no wonder, that the Mediterranean swamps had became the house
for some species of these flies. The hawk robberfly is the large predatory fly
(length of the body is up to 5 - 6 cm), eating flying insects. Eyes are large,
spherical-formed, located on edges of the head on the special eminences. They
allow the fly to have practically full circular field of view. At males eyes
are larger, than at females, green. At females eyes have blue shade. Mouth is
turned to sharp haustellum. Forward legs are covered from the inside with the
numerous spikes, assisting to keep the caught insect. The body is covered with
the grey shining hairs reflecting significant part of sunlight. Wings are transparent,
only thickest nerves at the wing basis are colored black.
This fly catches prey by sharp throw and eats in flight or on the seat. It can hunt, trapping catch on the body of large birds.
The female lays the developed small larvae in damp silt. Simultaneously in an organism of the female up to 10 larvae develop which are laid one by one in different places. The larva has digging habit of life, lives in silt on coast of reservoirs, eats larvae of other flies. At a larva the respiratory tube is advanced extending for length of a body allowing it to hunt water animals.
Berry salttree (Halosuccodendron baccatum)
Bushy plant of family Chenopodiaceae; sometimes it grows to small tree up to 3 meters height, with fragile poorly lignescent stalk. It grows on saline soils, forming rich thickets. This tree differs with high viability, fast growth and active vegetative breeding – it gives underground sprouts and forms plenty of root shoots. Roots grow to depth 20 - 30 meters, but usually reach only a level of subsoil waters. The special properties of cell membranes allow the plant to filter salty water and to grow, thus, in conditions of salinity of ground.
Leaves are reduced up to small scales in stalk nodes; photosynthesis function is carried out with thick cylindrical succulent young sprouts. Flowers are tiny, ordinary-looking, unpleasant smelling: they are pollinated by flies. Fruits are saltish-sweet false berries (juicy non-explosive pods), seeds have dense peel. Flowering and fructification at a plant occur during all year, but are especially plentiful after the season of rains. Seeds are carried by the Antheos tortoise - only large herbivore of the ecosystem. At passing through intestine of this tortoise seed shell becomes thinner, that facilitates germination. Getting in ground together with dung of an animal, seeds sprout much faster, than without it. Besides the dung serves for sprouts as nutrient source. The plant lives till 50 years, forming depending on conditions the form of growth from treelike up to climbing one (on hillsides).