Monster of tropical paradise

 

Tour to Neocene

 

25. Monster of tropical paradise

 

 

 

The Earth’s crust is not stagnant one - continents are constantly moving, changing ocean coast line. In Neocene Australia has moved far to the north, and Asia has moved to the south. It has appreciably had an effect at the volcanic activity of Pacific ocean islands.
Tonga islands from Holocene time have considerably “grown up”: some times on it there were the volcanic eruptions destroying all alive on tens of kilometers around. But every time life again won to itself the territories being empty after the last accident. Therefore in breaks between volcanic eruptions Tonga represents the real tropical paradise.
The volcano promoted occurrence of set of lagoons and the small islets combined by basalts, stiffened lava and ashes. And in underwater shallows life prospers. Coral reeves have left in non-existence as reef-building corals had died out at the border of Holocene and Neocene when all biosphere of the Earth was literally turned inside out by terrible ecological accident. But now new organisms, forming high-capacity communities, had substituted place of corals. Under water, in places well covered by the sun the bottom is covered with carpets of seaweed. The green branches, similar palm leaves, or cluster of grapes, or agaric honeys, cover sandy shallows. And on stones crusts of the reddish and brown limy algae forming in due course limy columns, accrue, resembling pre-Cambrian stromatolithes. From time to time colonies of sponges and large actinias bring bright dabs to the monotonous palette of community. These biocenoses most of all resembling first stages of restoration of Holocene coral reeves with the only difference - this restoration has stiffened at the stage of community of sponges and seaweed.
In rich thickets of seaweed numerous animals scurry. Shoals of tiny shrimps of different shapes and colorings search for livelihood among thallomes of seaweed. Not paying attention to them, high-bodied rounded fishes graze rich thickets of seaweed by small mouths. Colouring of these fishes allows masking excellently: spots on their body make fishes imperceptible when they will hide in thicket at the first sign of danger. These fishes are spotted slime-eaters. They do not compete almost to other fishes of these waters, eating non-edible for them species of seaweed. And for protection against predatory fishes sharp spikes in back fin, containing poisonous liquid, serve to them. Their sting will for a long time be remembered to any hungry fish. And still care will not prevent even to well protected slime-eaters. Real danger to them the creatures present, which have chosen this district for hatching posterity. As if the ships, they plough coastal waters, choosing a convenient place to climb out on the coast.
Their way had begun some weeks ago at the open spaces of tropical zone of Pacific ocean. Quiet waters of these places school of long-bodied fishes plough. These fishes about two meters long are dorado croakers. These short-head creatures are predators, their mouths are full of sharp teeth. The flight of dorado croakers keeps together, “associating” with the help of the sounds uttered by swimming bladder. Water carries voices of fishes at the big distance, allowing them to find neighbours and to submit to them signals. Movements of school of croakers are coordinated, as if in ballet. Simultaneously all school can accelerate speed, turn around, rise and fall in thickness of water. But in rhythmical pattering and crash of their voices the new sound rushes - jingling groan. Having caught it, fishes rush in all sides. Such sound can mean only one - the predator is near, and it had started to hunt. But it is not a shark - now in tropical areas of Pacific ocean other monster is ruling.
The quiet surface of water as if blows up: in clouds of splashes sparkling on the sun, the real monster jumps out from ocean. Its body with two pairs of flippers similar to sea turtle’s ones, is crowned with long head with the wide mouth full of sharp teeth. Along the back some rows of osseous plates pass, and the belly is covered with lines of flat scales. “Having stood” on tail for a second, the giant had shot up at height about ten meters from the ocean surface, falls down sideways in water, lifting up clouds of splashes. By thunder-like burst it has declared the rights on this area of the ocean.
The monster had shown itself to the world, is the sharkodile. This descendant of the saltwater crocodile has made the ocean its hunting ancestral lands, having taken advantage of the "anarchy", had proceeded some time after extinction of large sharks, dominated in Holocene, in the beginning of Neocene. The sharkodile crowns the feeding pyramid of tropical seas, being the largest predator of ocean. But its living area is limited only by warm waters, and sharks have evolved in moderate and subpolar waters, and also in sea depths where access is closed to this animal.
When the sharkodile is swimming under water, it is possible to notice, that the basic role in its movement the wide tail plays, and flippers serve only as rudders. This monster eats large top-skimmer fishes - depths of ocean are rather cool for it, and there catch meets less often, than at the surface. But each sea giant should patrol huge fodder territory, not supposing on it neighbours – this is the payment for the big size. However once a year hidden and tangible borders are broken - there comes the breeding season.
The ocean is shaking by powerful rumble - males of the huge reptile submit signals to females. Rhythmically driving air between lungs and throat bag, the sea giant can utter the rolling sounds far resounding in water. Males try to come across each other on eyes as small as possible, preferring threats from apart to direct collision - jaws of furious giant can bite through the backbone of the contender. But sometimes it does not succeed to avoid meetings.
The female about thirteen meters long is swimming across the area of sea chosen by the large sharkodile male. The male having found her presence, makes everything to draw her attention: he swims jerky, accelerating speed and sharply stopping. Catching up the swimming female, he rubs by head against her throat and stomach, nestles up to her side and tries to stop her, having pushed out by head on the surface. However the female not once had chose partners for pairing, and this male is not for her: he is too small - only one meter longer than she is. But his neighbour is the experienced male in the prime of his life. His body is eighteen meters long – it is the real murder machine of flesh and bones. And the loud hollow roar of this giant is the menacing warning to contenders. The female heads for territory of this giant, uttering abrupt barking sounds. And they are not remained unnoticed - from blue ocean, as if a submarine, the giant male follows to meet her. Having noticed the female, he turns to her by side and shows himself, by short jerks of tail making the wave to the female body. In reply to his demonstration the female emerges to the water surface, baring to the male her belly. It is the pose of submission - the female shows to the male a weak spot. The male emerges and slowly swims under the body of the female, touching her stomach and throat by the nape. Then he emerges beside and stops. The increasing roar is heard - throat of the male becomes to tremble, and between teeth jets of blown bladders have appear. It looks, the female has accepted his caring.
But at this moment the male had felt by the stomach the movement of the large body under water. It is, most likely, not a fish - even largest fishes try to avoid the meeting of monstrous reptile. It can be only the female... or the contender.
The enormous male loudly whistling gathers air in lungs and dives. It is no doubt - the infringer has impudently intruded to his possession is his neighbour, trying to make court to the female had rejected him. And the lawful owner of territory and the female answers a call. Having dived, he turns under water and, sharply being accelerated, emerges. As if the multiton torpedo, the sea giant emerges from water at all magnificent growth - under water only approximately third of tail had stayed. Few moments having “stood” in air, he falls in water with thunder-like sound. But his contender makes the same, besides - he takes off from water almost entirely. Second item of competitions of giants is the rack on a tail. Contenders almost simultaneously emerge and some seconds balance on tails, as if trained dolphins of far Holocene. Here again advantage is obvious for the mature male – he is almost two meters higher the young contender, and held the rack for some seconds longer. There are no reasons to continue competition - the female and territory remain for the former owner.
After pairing males leave these waters, and females some time are fattened by fishes. In their organism eggs have started to form, therefore they slowly start to swim to the "maternity hospital" of sharkodiles - to waters of volcanic Tonga islands.
Among the reptiles dwelt ever at ocean, only sea snakes and Ichthyosaurs have completely broke the connection with land, giving rise to live posterity. Sharkodiles, as well as their ancestors crocodiles, are compelled to leave water to lay eggs at coasts of islands. But they choose not any islands, and aspire here - to volcanic Tonga islands.
Together with surf sharkodile females crawl out at the coast. It is very difficult for them to move on the firm ground - their flipper-like legs are more useful for swimming, than for crawling. As if huge long-tail seals, huge reptiles one by one creep along the wide track, without any trees which leads to the heart of island. Many generations of these animals, using this road, have pressed stones into ground and have broken out trees preventing to creep. This road leads in depth of tropical forest. But what these giants of the sea do there? The answer is simple.
From time to time females put the bottom jaw on ground. The female searches for a place near which it will spend about two months without food: the place where eggs will be laid. Not casually animals of these species gather at Tonga islands, overcoming huge distances in the sea just as sea turtles searched for that small island in the ocean where they were born. In posterity hatching at Tonga islands there is one colossal advantage to the huge reptile. The terrible forces of nature from time to time destroying all alive, promote breeding of giant crocodiles: sands of island are warmed up by volcanic heat.
Behind the forest zone there are some sandy glades here and there overgrown with grass. Ground is much hot here, than everywhere at the island. The stream flowing nearby is rather unpleasantly smelling: in its vicinities hot sulphurous springs well out. Underground heat does not allow large trees to grow, but has very favorably effect for the incubating of eggs of large sharkodiles.
Clumsily moving flippers and pulling up by whole body, the female from time to time puts the sensitive throat to the ground. The thin skin of throat bag is rich in thermoreceptors, and with its help the female searches for a place where it is possible to lay eggs.
Huge females crawl out across the sandy valley. Many of them had laid eggs on this island more times than once, and they already have constant places for nesting. Between adult females few young ones creep - they yet have not chosen the place necessary for nest. When the young female about eleven meters long carelessly crawls near mature "matron" fifteen meters long, more than one century aged, the huge reptile turns to her with obvious intention to protect a convenient place. "Matron" deeply growls and opens long jaws widely. And when it seems to her, that the young female too slowly reacts to the warning, the impact of powerful tail is used to confirm the warning.
Taken the place and having protected it from competitors, females start the arranging of nest. By back flipper the reptile digs in sand a hole about one and half meters deep. From under its side fountains of grey volcanic sand take off. Work is difficult for the animal: the female interrupts, panting, and some time has a rest, laying without movement. Having finished the hole making, the female lays in it large eggs. After that, clumsily having turned around, the multiton mummy fills up the nest by lateral movements of head. The real test for sea predator now begins - the female will keep the fast about forty days while an incubating of her clutch lasts. She scarcely will dare to have a meal to herself and she will sleep in snatches, waking up at the slightest rustle. During an incubating of eggs females strongly grow thin, some of them can not stand heavy test of motherhood.
Reptiles have the reason to be cautious and sensitive - at yet not hatched crocodilets already there are numerous enemies. Bushes move - in them some small mammals, covered with a dark wool with white marks, scurry. While they do not dare to leave - females of sharkodiles the first time are almost constantly on the alert.
Some days had passed. The constant stress has an effect for reptiles - some of them already doze, having slightly opened mouths. One of females lazily slides off the bank in stream, intending to slake and to satisfy. Also it is the chance for natives of island.
From the bush some medium-sized animals run out. Outwardly they are similar to rats, but they are young cat-sized. On their bluish-black wool there are perfectly seen snow-white spots around of eyes and on the chest. Gradually from bushes other animals run out, and soon at the edge of "maternity hospital" of sharkodiles about ten black small mammals are already marking time. The clan of martenrats, natives of island, has went to the food search. Uncaried nest of the sharkodile is the desired plunder for them.
Having stretched in black chain, rodents hasten to snatch the share. They accurately bypass nests near which the females protecting the future posterity lay. The nest staying without supervision is at the opposite edge of the nesting valley, therefore the way to it is dangerous. Rodents rescue themselves only with care and speed. And they had found the superficial small hole in sand the for the sake of what they had made the dangerous way. There, under the layer of sand, there are large eggs of the sharkodile. Martenrats start to dig out nest, working as all clan. Some minutes of hard work - and at the surface white egg shells have appeared. Sharp and quick, these rodents are able to steal eggs of giants – it is enough to undermine an egg sideways and to roll it out by head from the hole. On the sly rats start to dig out the eggs laying from above. They had succeeded to dig out and pull out from the nest five eggs , and some members of clan quickly roll them away in bushes. Probably, the ravage of the nest would be proceeding, but rodents have obviously taken a great interest in work and have not noticed, that mum has returned. Literally at last moment heart-rending squeal of one rat has stopped the working of the clan.
Rodents had thrown by long jumps to all sides, to hide in nearest bushes and thickets of grass. But the crocodile female in time had turned around and had put at pilferers the crushing tail blow. Sharply broken peep has clearly let know to clan members that one of neighbours will not return home – to the dray of rods, taking place on top of small tree. Its body appeared literally crushed by impact of a flat tail of the annoyed crocodile mummy. Long jaws of the crocodile female pick up the little body crushed in flat mass, throw it up and catch.
Having made fair revenge, the satisfied female has returned to the nest. She has accurately shoveled up sand on the dug out eggs and has calmed down, having sprawled on sand. And in bushes the martenrat clan had devoured the stolen eggs. Sharp incisors had crushed the shell of eggs, and small tongues have by turns started to lick contents of eggs. During feeding the severe hierarchy is observed – at first the main by rank animal eats, then subordinates. However eggs will suffice to all. When dominants gorge on and start to lick drops the egg-white and yolk from whiskers, subordinated individuals, pushing away each other, has started to devour the rests of food.
Eggs of the sharkodile are the desired, plentiful, but very seasonal forage. Besides it(he) is difficult for preying - the huge reptile always on the alert and seldom leaves from a nidus. Usually martenrats eat tiny animals - ground crabs, lizards, small birds. Occasionally they diversify the ration with seeds and fruits of plants, and after storm survey the shore in searches of the cast ashore animals.
Sharkodile females on land feel like not so confidently, as at ocean. Here they especially strongly feel weight of the body and the sun heat. To be under scorching beams of the sun is not the same as to be heated in warm water. The skin of reptiles on dry air grows coarse, and its top layer comes off as the corneous film - animals shed. At this time the skin is terribly scratched also reptiles are compelled to waste time for hygienic procedures instead of clutch protecting.
One of females departs from nest. The skin on her back hangs by rags and strongly itches. The reptile crawls near nesting places of several neighbours and creeps to the wood. Appearing in an environment of trees, she turns on one side and starts to rub against the ground by the shoulder. Then by side the female peels the bark of tree, removing the corneous film which is exfoliating down from the body. The reptile with pleasure wallows on the wood litter, wriggling all body. For some seconds she becomes transfixed, laying under trees up the belly. But the bass uterine roar and the thin shrill squeal, hearing from the side of nesting place, discomposes the female. Having instantly turned around, she hasty hobbles to the left nest. On sand narrow traces of martenrats and some small holes are visible, but it seems, small mammals have not got eggs - they were frightened off by the neighbour female, worrying about safety of the own nest.
About five weeks of starvation and heat had passed. It is visible, that the patience of sharkodile females comes to an end - more often one or another female leaves to the river to cool down and feed up. Already almost in all nests martenrats had time to manage for a while. Sharkodile females have fairly grown emaciated, on their necks deep skin plicas were clearly designated. But their patience is recompensed - from under sand all more clearly the sounds similar to doggy bark are audible. Cubs "have ripened" under influence of volcanic heat, and now they are ready to show themselves to the world. Huge jaws have interrupted not one life, now with the greatest tenderness help to be born to youngs about half meter long everyone. Females accurately rake sand above the laying by chins and jaw edges. And soon from sand one by one heads of young sharkodiles appear. Teeth of females accurately pick them up, and youngs one by one are dumped in submaxillary pouch of mother. When the female, having listened and having dug out the nest farther, is convinced, that nobody more will hatch, she leaves warm volcanic sand and creeps to water.
One by one females crawl through thickets and appear at sand beach. Sounds of ocean surf, it seems, encourage them, and females, gathering speed, run into water, as if the ships descending from building berths. Under water the female at once opens the mouth, freeing youngs. They clumsily try to swim, but flippers, similar, badly obey them. Therefore the first some hours of life the young growth will spend on the mummy’s back. Gradually they study to own the body and remain in water longer and longer. When last youngs leave the parent’s back, the second lesson in their life comes - to swim near to mum. Mother abandons shallow waters of island and goes to reeves for hunting. The young growth tries to keep abreast. They do it very easily - they are swimming, almost having flattened themselves against the mother’s body, in the layer of water surrounding her body. However they should to learn hunt. And the reef gives them a wide range - many different species of animals live here.
Shoals of fry of different fishes swim above the reef, at the slightest danger hiding in cracks between stones or in large multi-colored sponges. When danger will pass, they again leave shelters and fussy start to catch smaller creatures. But they can fall prey to prompt and imperceptible predators. Fry hardly will pay attention to some vertical black stripes, had appeared on background of sea blue. However invisible owners of these stripes show the most direct interest to this fry flight. They scatter to the formation as the concave half moon, beginning hunting after fry. The most part of fry succeed to get away, but way of some tens of them is cut off from saving reef by blue high-bodied fishes at whom black vertical stripes pass across an eye. These creatures are blue batfishes, schooling predatory fishes. Turning around of the fry bunched to sphere, they in turn rush to their shoal, snatching fry out one by one.
Relatives of blue batfishes, high-bodied rhombodactyluses, hunt by pairs or alone. Their jaws are extended, and they examine secluded places of the reef searching for tiny animals. By jaws they get from cracks and burrows different worms and tiny shrimps.
However their life is not so silent and careless. On the reef numerous various predators are feeding. From the hole an absolutely improbable creature creeps out: the small head with huge round eyes sticks up on long segmented body decorated with “pendants” on the bottom side. And under the head pair of frightening spiny legs is folded. It is the sea dragonet - the representative of mantis shrimps. As against the Holocene neighbours, it prefers to hunt,
swimming above the reef. Bypassing bushes of sponges and seaweed, the crustacean by sharp-sighted eyes looks for careless fishes.
The rhombodactylus is keenly investigating the bush of sponges: it appears, in pores of sponges the set of tiny creatures, worms and larvae of shrimps, hides. The long snout of the rhombodactylus does not give them chance to rescue - the fish orderly pulls out invertebrates from their refuges. But it will not manage to devastate the sponge completely - seizing legs of the sea dragonet ruthlessly pierce in the body of fish. The rhombodactylus convulsively beats in deadly “embraces” of predatory crayfish, but it does not have forces to escape. Prickly legs tenaciously hold it, and water becomes painted by blood from set of wounds, put by thorns. Soon spasms of fish stop, and the sea dragonet starts to eat slowly the caught fish. However it is on the alert, and the shadows coming from the sea, force it to search for refuge in the huge sponge where the meal proceeds. And above the reef the long body of the open ocean pirate, the dorado croaker, rushes past. Occasionally these creatures come on reeves to gather the “tribute” from their inhabitants.
When the dorado croaker swims away, reef inhabitants continue to live the habitual life. The school of blue batfishes leaves the refuge and gathers for new hunting - small fishes are turning above the reef, forming the globe-shaped school. Then the flight scatters to the long file and blue shining fishes begin the hunting raid above the reef. But when they had swum above large thickets of sponges, the huge fish, the red-banded grunter, had rushed out from them. Having opened the mouth, it literally sucks in one of batfishes, putting others to flight. Having crushed catch by jaws, the huge white-red fish re-catches it from the head and swallows. The red-banded grunter is the expert in camouflage. Due to spotty coloring it easily can mask both among sponges, and in thickets of seaweed, waiting while catch itself will come nearer to it at the distance of sure throw. But this fish swims very reluctantly though occasionally the grunter should inspect borders of the territory, expelling impudent neighbours. Lazy moving by fins, the giant fish bypasses the group of sponges, and... literally collides face to face with the young, only two weeks old, sharkodile. The young reptile already lives without mother’s care: she has left to feed to the ocean. But it had not meet such big animals yet. And the instinct prompts to it the only true way out – to swim away. Promptly having turned round the reptile is swimming away and is hidden in group of sponges similar to high orange pipes. It has standing motionless, when the huge red-banded grunter has swimming near sponges, majestically moving fins.
But after only two years the red-banded grunter himself would turn since a way of the young sharkodile, and after ten years the huge fish would hide in cave being afraid when the sharkodile would visit these waters. But while the young sharkodile can easy become dinner of any large and not so large predator. Emerging to breathe, the young sharkodile draws attention of the hungry sea dragonet. Not especially deliberating, the crustacean rushes to chase - if the sea dragonet will be lucky, it can prey animals of equal weight with it.
Turning bends, the prey and the predator are rush above the reef. They raise clouds of sand, swimming above the bottom, rush through thickets of seaweed, jump out at the water surface... The young sharkodile already has almost broken away from polypod persecutor. But... it has swam out of the territory of reef and the large male of dorado croaker has on the spot caught it and has cut through half-and-half.
For young sharkodiles not only predators are dangerous, but also violence of nature. Young sharkodiles are fed in coastal zone – the most dangerous place during furious tropical storm. During storm heavy waves furiously come down at stony shallows and coastal rocks, breaking, tearing apart to pieces and stunning thousands of sea inhabitants.
After night storm martenrats walk along the coast. They perfectly know by experience - storm means the food abundance. The clan of rats flocks along sand coast, sniffing at storm sweepings. The large male with shining wool is the leader of a clan. He manages all most tasty, that the clan can find. Exercising the right of strength, he takes off and devours any catch which will attract to him.
The coast after storm reminds the magic table-cloth from the point of view of the rat: here there is everything the most exacting four-footed gourmet can wish that. The spotted slime-eater is protected by poisonous spikes, but its meat is very delicate and fat though it stinks as seaweed. If to start to gnaw from the stomach and to not touch gut, it is possible to eat not bad. And the blue batfish differs by soft lean meat, but it is very bony. The most magnificent dish is the dorado croaker. Its tasty fragrant meat will suffice for all clan, but this fish is very cautious and before storm it swims out to the ocean far from the coast. The same rarities in storm sweepings are the huge red-banded grunter and the sea dragonet distinguished by delicate taste. These both creatures in storm hide in underwater caves where the most furious waves are not terrible to them. But sometimes after storm on the coast it is possible to find something what was not possible to take hold earlier: small sharkodiles. Stunned or dead, they frequently lay on the coast after storm. Going out from under parent care, the majority of young sharkodiles perishes at first three years of life. And now one such unlucky young reptile lays on sand having set of fractures and hurt head - storm had pulled it out from underwater cave and had rolled on coastal rocks. But its meat will not be lost - martenrats surround the dead young crocodile and start to eat it, from time to time cheeping or showing sharp incisors to the neighbour.
But not all young sharkodiles have such sad destiny, at this case this species would become extinct for a long time ago. Some of them nevertheless succeed to survive and become those who they are in the nature: the mightiest predators of the tropical seas. And then only few of prey will rescue from deadly jaws with long serrated teeth of the adult sharkodile.
Dorado croakers in school jump out in air, sparkling by sides at the dazzling tropical sun. They make it not because of wish to play: after them under water the giant shadow chases. For one second the monster emerges, cutting waves by knobby back. The strong tail slaps on the surface of water, and the huge creature dives following dorado croakers, leaving on the surface strong whirlpool. The large animal needs a lot of food - about 300 kgs of fish per one week. And it should be large enough fishes whom it is possible to catch one by one by sharp teeth.
The sharkodile pursues school of dorado croakers, from time to time trying to seize one of lagging behind fishes. At these moments fishes jump out of water. As well as dolphins of Holocene epoch, they use jumps in air as a way to increase speed - air resistance is less, than water one. And jaws of the sharkodile already some times had clicked near tails of fishes completely vainly. Fairly being tired, the reptile gathers last might for solving throw, and at last the large dorado croaker is throbbing in deadly teeth. It will not escape - teeth of the sharkodile had evolved specially for holding of the slippery fish: on their back edge the line of teeth and slanting grooves passes. The fish pined on them can escape only with the big damage for itself, but soon it will die from loss of blood - wounds, inflicting by sharkodile teeth, are deep and lacerated.
Having seized the fish, the sharkodile instantly stops chase. Having re-seized prey, it swallows it and at once falls into any pacified condition. The swiftness and speed instantly become replaced by regularity and calmness. Lazily moving by tail, the crocodile continues the route interrupted by hunting. It is necessary to not remain hungry in the future - borders of fodder territory are frequently broken by contenders. And one small neighbour unsuccessfully tries to leave another's territory - its silhouette flashes in the distance.
The young three-year male has swum to the territory of the adult male. It is still insufficiently strong to win own territory and is compelled to live as the tramp, eating casual catch in another's possession.
Strengthen working by tail, the young male tries to disappear from sight of the lawful owner of territory. However it also does not suspect, that is swimming towards to death. Skirmish with the sated sharkodile is fraught at the best by fight though more often it ends only by menacing demonstrations. But the young crocodile heads for territory of the giant old male which already hardly can catch the fast fish, however does not suffer absence of appetite. All is solved for few seconds: from blue distance the body of the old croc appears, huge jaws open - and the body of the young male is already bitten half-and-half. When spasms had stopped, the old reptile accurately re-seizes the carcass of the young male and swallows it from the head side. Similar, catch is rather big for the old hunter - it very hardly swallows prey, pulling by head and the bottom jaw. But after a quarter of hour all is over - the tail of catch disappears in his throat.
Such plentiful dinner will suffice to the old croc for some days. But warm is necessary for successful digestion of food. If the cool-blooded animal will not receive after meal enough heat, the food in its stomach can decay simply. And the old sharkodile heads to small island where there are extensive shallows. Water on shallows is warmed up to +30°С - it is just that is necessary for the old reptile. The huge reptile, living already more than 120 years, creeps out in shallow water. Pulling up by flippers, the sharkodile chooses to itself the most warmed place: its back juts out from water towards to the hot sun. From time to time the reptile puts out nostrils from water and hoarsely breathes. 120 years is rather respectable duration of life for such active and mobile creature, and the old age has already an effect. The sharkodile is, perhaps, one of few creatures on the Earth which can die a natural death.
The old croc remains in shallow water for some days - it is replete and in full safety. Young spotted slime-eaters scurry along its sides, grazing tatter of seaweed accrued on its skin during wanderings. The sharkodile will not touch them - they are too small and dexterous. He can enjoy the high position in ocean ecosystem - untill the following dinner.

Bestiary

Sea dragonet (Pelagosquilla velonectes)
Order: Mantis shrimps (Stomatopoda)

Picture by Roman Val

Large species of crustaceans of order Stomatopoda, the relative of the mantis shrimp (Squilla). Length of the segmented body is about 50 cm. Coloring is marble: on gray-white background large there are blue dabs. Head is mobile, eyes are very large, spherical, black-colored. This crustacean finds catch basically with the help of sight, but though it has keen sense of smell. Abdominal legs are oar-like, covered with fringe of hairs. The coordinated movements of pairs abdominal legs actively allow the animal to swim, accelerating momentum up to 30 kms per hour, and to pursue catch - other crustaceans and small fishes; sometimes it attacks the catch comparable by the size with itself. It seizes catch by pair of the trap legs covered with thorns.
This species lives in various shelters: in holes digging by itself, in cracks between stones, frequently settles in cavities of large sponges.
Diecious species, the female bears eggs on abdominal legs, passing at this time to non-swimming habit of life. The larva spends the first 3 months of life in plancton.

Spotted slime-eater (Argosoma algophaga)
Order: Percoid fishes (Perciformes)
Family: Scatophagidae

Small (up to 20 cm long) herbivorous fish of family argusfishes (Scatophagidae), the exclusive vegetarian. It keeps in benthonic zone, not rising in water thickness. This species can resist significant fluctuations of water salinity, young growth fattens in fresh water of islands.
The fish is deep-bodied, rounded, compressed from sides. The back fin is divided to prickly and soft parts. The prick of spikes of the back fin is rather dangerous. Head is short, in mouth there are tiny cutting teeth. The body has dark back and “marble” coloring of green irregular-shaped spots on silvery background. The young fish is colored round black spots scattered on golden background, tail is black. On the tail of adult fishes there is a large oculate spot - dark blue with the orange border. The real eye is masked by the vertical black strip which crosses through the head. Fish is fed with numerous kinds of seaweed, including species poisonous for other fishes and crustaceans.
Fishes spawn pelagic eggs with large drop of fat inside. The larva keeps in a plancton the first 2 weeks of life, later falls to the bottom and turns to fry.

Dorado croaker (Coryphaenocephalus planifrons)
Order: Percoid fishes (Perciformes)
Family: Sciaenidae

Large predatory pelagic fish of croaker family (Scyaenidae); it is up to 2,5 meters long and weights up to 100 kg. In fresh waters of large islands this species forms the dwarfish (up to 70 cm long) slowly growing form migrating down for spawning to the ocean. The body is extended, low, flattened from sides. The forward part of the body is high, considerably narrowing to the tail. The head is short, "wide-foreheaded", mouth is wide - the cut of the mouth comes far for vertical of an eye. Eyes are large. The body is strongly compressed from sides; right behind the head it forms “hump” characteristic for representatives of family. Pair fins are sharp, crescent, tail fin is half moon-shaped. The back fin is low, forming the “crest” along all back. The prickly part of the back fin is not limited from soft one, but is well appreciable that at adult males prickly fin rays form the “crown”. This “crown” is formed by some long forward prickly somactids turning practically on “hump”. At the ends of these beams there are small semicircular black-and-white “tags”. At conflicts of fishes they carry out the signal role - their size directly depends on the level of hormones in the organism of fish. At females “crown” is absent, forward somactids of back fin are only a little longer than the others. Coloring of adult males is silvery-blue with slanting grey-black strips, back fin is red. Females have uniform silver-gray coloring without strips and dark cherry-colored back fin. The body of the female is more fat, it is especially appreciable during the spawning.
Fishes are capable to communicate with each other with the help of the sounds uttering with the help of floating bladder. “Voice” is like the crash, sounds similar to impacts by a stick on the beam, and twittering.
The fish is pelagophilous species, spawning in school. Eggs develop in plancton, only in water of the ocean saltness. Fertility of this fish is up to 300 thousand grains of roe from the adult female. The larva turns to fry at the age of 3 months at length of the body about 2 cm. Life expectancy is till 20 years.

Rhombodactylus (Rhombodactylus zanclosomus)
Order: Percoid fishes (Perciformes)
Family: Monodactylidae

Small reef fish of batfishes family (Monodactylidae) up to 20 cm long. It differs by original body shape: the height of the body 2 - 2,5 times exceeds its length. The body is strongly compressed from sides, allowing the fish to poke into the narrowest cracks of reef. Back and anal fins are peaked, tail fin is triangular. Abdominal fins are reduced up to short spikes and shifted almost on the throat. Eyes are large, the mouth extends forward - it is the adaptation for search of food in narrow cracks. Coloring of the body is contrast: forward part of body is dark, back - silver-gray with large spot on the basis of the tail - false "eye". Unpaired fins are transparent. Fishes of both sexes do not differ by coloring, but the female is larger than the male, with more rounded belly. At the male back and anal fins are longer.
Fish lives at the reef one by one or by pairs, occupying the certain territory protected from neighbours. It eats tiny invertebrates finding in cracks of the reef. In case of danger it tries to hide in bushes of seaweed or colonies of sponges.
The female spawns up to 500 grains of roe, do not protecting it. The young growth hatches the next day, first time stays in plancton, later already generated fry comes back to the reef.

Blue batfish (Neodactylus caeruleus)
Order: Percoid fishes (Perciformes)
Family: Monodactylidae

The representative of batfish family (Monodactylidae) up to 15 cm long. The body depth exceeds 1,5 - 2 times the length; back and anal fins are extended vertically. The body is strongly compressed from sides, colored silvery with blue shade. Through an eye the vertical black strip passes, masking it.
Fish keeps in thickness of water above the reef by schools of 20 - 30 individuals, hunts fry and small pelagic invertebrates (worms, shrimps). The spawning is schooling, at this time some males surround the female ready to spawning and fertilizing eggs spawned by it. When the female spawns all eggs, males search for the next female ready to spawning. Biology of development is similar to the previous species.

Red-banded grunter (Therapoides megachasmus)
Order: Percoid fishes (Perciformes)
Family: Teraponidae

Very large predatory fish of grunter family (Theraponidae), ecological analogue of huge sea perches cabrilla (jewfishes) of Holocene epoch. Length of the body of adult fish is up to 2 meters, weight is up to 200 kg. Body is short, massive; head is large: it accounts till 1/4 of the length of the body, the mouth is wide, capable to be stretched. Large eyes are shifted to the top half of head. The back fin is precisely divided by space to prickly and soft parts. Spikes of the back fin are poisonous. The tail stalk is thick with wide tail fin, indistinctly divided to two blades. Coloring is bright: on white background slanting wide red strips pass. Fins are covered with “marble” red - white pattern.
It eats fishes and large invertebrates. This is the solitary territorial fish protecting an individual territory against neighbours. “Patrolling” territory, the fish utters loud grumbling sounds reminding pig grunt.
Diecious species; the male is 20 - 25 % larger than the female and is more brightly colored. Spawning takes place in thickness of water. The male after spawning expels the female from the territory. Fry the first time keep in shelters by flights, sometimes can come to the mouth of the rivers and mangrove thickets. Later each fish occupies an individual area at the reef, protecting it against neighbours and expanding it with age. The one-year-old fish is about 10 cm long, further for 6 - 8 years it grows to length up to 50 cm and becomes capable to breed. At the age of 15 years it grows to length 180 - 200 cm, further growth is strongly slowed down. The fish lives up to 40 - 50 years.

Sharkodile (Carcharosuchus deinodontus)
Order: Crocodiles (Crocodilia)
Family: Crocodylidae

This huge sea crocodile (the male is up to 20 meters long) is the apotheosis and the declining of crocodile evolution. The female is much smaller than the male - up to 13 - 15 meters long. Half of length of an animal the tail accounts. This is the descendant of the Holocene saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) - unique species of the group, capable to live at ocean for a long time. The survival of so large animal was possible due to its ability to live both in the sea, and in fresh water - during crisis of the end of Holocene when efficiency of ocean had fallen, large enough populations of saltwater crocodiles had survived in rivers of islands and continents.
The skull is long and rather narrow (the maximal width at the level of cheekbones is about one-third of full length of the skull), teeth are sharp, up to 15 cm long, serrated on back edge. The tail is flatten, with high skin plica, serving as the basic movement organ during the swimming in the ocean. Paws are transformed to flexible flippers with the rudimentary claws, allowing females to move overland clumsy. At the male the claw on the first finger of forepaw is very large, using for keeping the female during pairing. Males are not able to move overland because of the weight, spending all life in ocean, but sometimes crawl to warm shallow waters to be heated. Limb girdles are poorly connected to the backbone, therefore females move by the ground very slowly. The body is colored brownish green; approximately from the middle of trunk up to the tail dark vertical strips, on the body dim, and on the tail clear and contrast, pass. Belly and throat are yellowish-white. Shell plates on the back are strongly reduced, representing small osseous plates, as though by contour repeating figure of plates on the skin of crocodiles of Holocene epoch. Only on the neck osseous scutes are well advanced: they protect neck of the female during courtship games when the male grasps it by mouth directly behind the pairing.
This predator is ecological analogue of sharks, eating large fishes. Each individual has the extensive fodder area protected against neighbours.
Female lays eggs in the sand warmed up by heat of volcanoes. The size of the egg is up to 20 cm long and 15 cm diameter, in clutch there are over hundred eggs. The female protects nest. At last stage of development the young growth starts to utter the loud sounds stimulating development of underdeveloped embryos. As the result all posterity is hatched during 3 - 4 hours. When the young growth is hatched, the female takes them away in the mouth where the young animals spend some time in the throat bag. Having gathered all hatch, she crawls to the sea and lets out its hatch. First time she keeps near to posterity, later young crocodiles swim away and live independently. Life expectancy of females is till 130 years, males can live up to 150 - 160 years.

Martenrat (Dryorattopsis mustelinus)
Order: Rodents (Rodentia)
Family: Muridae

Picture by Viergacht

This ferret-sized rodent is the descendant of the black rat (Rattus rattus), settled due to people in different areas of the Earth. In outward appearance this species resembles the usual black rat, but the head is shorter and wider. The tail is naked, thick, serving for accumulation of fat stock. Coloring of wool is coal-black, throat is white, on each side of head there is the white spot surrounding an eye and reaching the cheek. Paws have strong claws, the thumb is capable to be opposed to other ones, increasing durability of capture and accuracy of manipulation with different objects. The animal is omnivorous, though it prefers food of animal origin: insects, other small animals, fishes cast ashore. Due to natural ingenuity it can even steal eggs of crocodiles from nests. It builds of branches and grass the spherical dray similar to squirrel’s one on low trees; at each pair there is the separate dray. This species keeps by clans with rigid hierarchy. In the clan there dominant pair rules, weak and ill individuals are at the bottom step of hierarchy. Each clan occupies the certain territory, protecting its borders against strangers.
Per one year the female gives birth to 3 packs of 7 - 9 cubs in every one. Cubs quickly grow and already in 4 months become adult and sexually mature. Young animals (about 2-month age) are expelled from clan and form the own groups from time to time interfering to territory of "adult" clans.

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