Tim_Morris_Golden_Afternoon

This story written by Tim Morris is slightly unusual for the present site, because it tells about the world removed to 25 MY back to the past from the Neocene epoch described here. World shown here is contemporary to us. But people have no chance to meet creatures inhabiting it, because they live in world parallel to our one. This world is called Spec, and not people, but dinosaurs evolved from Cretaceous to present day rule here.
Spec project has something in common with the topic of this site, because it is also dedicated to animals, which are simply nowhere in real world. But they should appear, if the direction of evolution was another...

Pavel Volkov (nick Author)

The Golden Afternoon:
The secret garden of Spec's european forests.

Part 1 - Tiny denizens and their predators.

In the forests and undergrowth of temperate europe, the world goes at a pace of knots. Small denizens of the shade go about living, eating, mating, birthing and dying all through the day and night, for most of the year. In the spring, sunlit glades are filled with countless types of wildflower, with bees and butterflies fluttering about them.

An always-abundant parasite, sucking blood from the titanic bodies of the browsing dinosaurs like streks and therizinosaurs, is the rocking-horsefly (Hippodipterus hippochephalus). So called because of it's long, vaguely equine snout, which it uses to pierce hide and suck blood, it can be seen in swarms wherever the dinosaurs browse a path through the vegetation. As they fly they constantly zip back and forth.

At the level of the forest floor, a rich compost of manure, rotting vegetation, and windfall fruits and branches provides nutrients for a rich carpet of moss, ferns, and orchids. Here roam beetles and grasshoppers of countless kinds, many preyed upon by the west eurasian trapdoor spider (Burkarachne zygoti).

The fiercest insect predators at this level are mammals, the west eurasian pygmy zam (Eumetasorcis minutus), it is no larger than a mouse, it stalks and rips apart any insect or other invertebrate it finds. It closely resmbles a shrew, but is descended from the pediomyids of the Cretaceous.

The eurasian rabbit-ear (Leporomys agilis) is another small but formidable beast, only as large as a small rat. It feeds on seeds and stems, and will also feast on fallen berries and even insects and lizards. It is mostly bipedal, with long, strong jumping legs.

The barb-tongue (Smiloglossus nanus) is another odd mammal. Large for a mammal, it is actually related to the pigshrews, equable in size to a gunea pig, it posesses a long, narrow head. It is almost always seen sniffing the ground, pawing soil with it's long claws, and probing the ground with it's snout. It doesn't appear to feed on anything on top of the ground though, it will locate worms with it's keen sense of smell, and probe the ground, sending it's tongue into the soil, and skewering the worm with it's barbed tip.

Part 2 - higher calibre mammals

One of most dangerous mammalian predator of the forest floor is as mall deltatheridian, the Pygmy False weasel (Eumetictis nanus), preying on other mammals, lizards and large insects. It has a painfull bite thanks to it's sharp teeth and powerfull jaws, it is a liliputian terror however, averaging at 25 centimetres inlength.

The common false-mole (Metatalpa mosseyi), churns up the worm-rich-soil beneath leaf litter in the forest. Another deltatheridian, it preys on worms and mole crickets, and grows to fifteen centimetres in length.

A sligtly more shady relative, the long whiskered false mole (Hispidotalpa carrolae), at thirty centimetres long, is much more cunning. It forages at dawn and dusk, consuming any creature small enough, and also eating vegetable matter. It regularily stalks birds and baby dinosaurs, hiding in ambush and pouncing with quick and powerfull movements.

Part 3 - Dogerpillars, catterpillars, lizards, snails, slugs, beetles and a copper centipede

Higer up, in the lower branches of the trees and the upper branches of the undergrowth, caterpillars of various sorts munch happily on leaves. Most develop into butterflies, but three species stay in their larval state almost their whole lives, before briefly metamorphosing into plain brown large moths to mate, lay eggs, and die soon after. Just after winter in one year the catterpillars hatch and grow, they stay this way until as close as a week before the start of the next winter, they metamorphose, mate, lay eggs and die before winter sets in.

Due to the fact that the catterpillars spend the better parts of the year as larvae, the adult form, or imago, which only appears in the late autumn, does not feed. Indeed, it has no mouth, the imago lives off some of the fat that it accumulated as a catterpillar. In this short period of time before winter, the adult hurriedly seeks a mate, soon after mating, the female lays only one large set of eggs. As autumn ends, the imagos die in their thousands, this influx of insect food is usefull to other animals preparing for winter.

The Black doggerpillar (Caninopapillion hirsutus), is a voracious, four centimeter, hairy black catterpillar, that feeds on mainly leaves and buds, but will eat small insects as well. It's adult form is plain and brown, and feeds on plant matter, nectar and sap in the treetops.

Less offensive is the three centimeter, white catterpillar (Felipapillion wuzzii), covered in silky white, non-irritating hairs, it feeds mainly on the leaves of the wild rose. It will take any action in defending it's food source, chasing brown-mouse aphids (Brunoaphidus musoides) and detaching them with it's mouthparts, throwing them onto the ground. It's adult form is a handsome chocalate brown, with a five centimetre wingspan, which feeds on rose blossoms.

The largest and most voracious of all is the Mooncalf catterpillar (Bovipapillion harryhauseni), an eight centimeter, bald green eating machine, it spends all of it's time eating stems and leaves. It's adult form is a simple, fairly large brown moth that feeds on fruit such as blackberries during spring.

Many other butterflies and moths, more normal in their life cycle, grace the forests dappled stage.
Another large catterpillar is the larvae of the European neomosura (Neomosura oweni), which is plain, bald, red-brown and ten centimetres long. After pupation it hatches into one the largest moths in all of temperate spec, the European neomosura, with red-patterned wings and a wingspan of ten centimetres. The only one larger in temperate Spec is the Japanese mosura (Mosura japonicus) at fifteen centimetres in wingspan.

All "mosura" moths have tiny symbiotic mites, Cosmos mites (Mosuraphilus sp.), they keep the adult moth's wooly body and wings clean of other parasites and dirt particles.During the moth's mating period, which is long, as is it's lifespan,the mites also mate. When the moths are intertwined, the mites areable to cross from moth to moth, mate, and lay their eggs. "Mosura" moths feed on the nectar of night blooming flowers.

By far the most common butterfly can be seen in the spring, feeding on the wildflower's nectar. The pupae, little, fuzzy red catterpillars pupate and open by spring to take advantage of the wildflower's bounty. The Bread-and-butterfly (Carollopapillion medius) is the adult butterfly, with five centimetre wingspans and light brown wings which bear yellow blotches.

Enemies of the moths and butterflies, and many other insects, are the lizards.

The British tree-whiptail (Longocaudolacerta agilis) is a common, twenty centimetre lizard of the forest's leafy undergrowth, it feeds mostly on the unremarkable ants and aphids, aswell as catterpillars. Most of the cooler parts of the day and night, it will stay at ground level, when the sun is bright and the air is warm in the afternoon, it travels into the upper reaches of the undergrowth to bask and hunt.

The most remarkable Lizard is the green and brown cuckoolizard (Cuculacerta oviphagus), hence named for the early misconception that it was a nest parasite. It is, in fact, an egg stealer. Most of the year, it can be seen in the undergrowth among the shrubbery, but in the breeding season, spring it takes to the trees to exercise the habits that earn it it's name. In spring it eats a small bird's eggs, scares off the mother, and uses the empty nest to incubate her own eggs. The male and female will take turns basking, incubating and feeding, warming up their bodies and then sitting atop the nest untill the lizards hatch. This lizard is twenty five centmetres ling, banded brown and green, and lives mostly in the forest's undergrowth. When not eating eggs, it preys on insects and occasionally small mammals.

Slugs and Snails are also abundant among the leaves, from the unassuming, Spec-garden snail (Mundanocochlea mundanus), to the brightly coloured green goon snail (Chlorocochlea villanus), with a green shell the size of a golf ball and the thickness of a small seashell, and a huge appetite for leaves, berries, and carrion.

The most interesing are the Brass Wazoo (Monsterocochlea oscari) and the green and gold wazoo (Monsterocochlea wazowskii), not only are their shells brightly coloured and shiny, but have large eyespots on either side to scare off would-be predators, and violently poisonous flesh.

The eight centimetre british roadworks slug (Biffeus lazyboyi) is so violently poisonous that it can kill a large man, and is marked with red, yellow, and black, it spends most of it's time munching leaves and secreting virulent poison.

The ten centimetre short-horned-armour-slug (Horaceus slughorni), bycontrast is not poisonous, is a dark green, and has it's backcovered in a chainmail of horny growths, it has bad vision, andcompensates with it's long, white, moustache like chemoreceptorytentacles.

The Blue goon slug (Goonyus insectophagus) is another slightly poisonous, six centimetre, bright blue slug, it feeds mostly on leaves. But in spring, the breeding season for many insects, it eats beetle eggs. It especially likes those of the hairy-faced black beatle-beetles (Beatleus jonpaulringogeorgei), unassuming, abundant,hairy, fingernail sized, leaf eating beatles that produce a wonderfull sounding chirruping song, when they rub their hind legs together. It is thought that it eats like this in spring to provide protein to fuel the production of gametes as a prelude for mating.

Ladybirds and other carnivorous beetles of all sizes and shapes also feed on the small insects and berries that the growth harbours, and scarabaeids revel in piles of guano at ground level, left by large dinosaurs.

The most fierce invertebrate predator is the armour plated, ten centimetre long, copper centipede (Carnomyriapus smilomandibulus), which ravenously devours insects, mollusks and lizards alike with it's huge, venomous, sword-like mouthparts. It is recommended that, however pretty the coppery sheen that it's armour displays, never pick one up, though their venom has no lasting effects, the mouthparts can administer a seriously painfull bite.

Part 4 - tweeties, crickets and grasshoppers, the REAL singers in the golden afternoon

The forests canopy is the part most birds always see. Rustling with foraging birds, basking lizards, singing crickets, grasshoppers, and birds, it is a buzz of activity.

Crickets of all sizes, from small or tiny brown grasshoppers, bright-green katydids, spiny brown bush crickets sit in the lower reaches of the canopy singing in thribulatory musical tones. The largest is the green-brown thumper (Pixarus pixarus), a locust six centimetres long, with a loud and melodious chirruping song and an apetite for leaves.

Birds are the singers of the sunlit canopy-top, Wagtail tweetys, jaubs, false-magpie tweeties. Fawlty birds (Sibilornis fawlteyi) a variety of large wagtail tweety, are the most commonly seen forest bird, the males being gracile and long-legged, feeding on insects with it's slender bill, the females plump and fluffy with a large feathery-crest, feeding soley on seeds, berries and snails with a stout, stumpy beak. The female's call is a raucous "Baaaa-ziiiiiil", replied to with the male's lugubrious "wyes-deear". These birds pair for life, and the male is constantly being harrased and harried by the female, even though they do not compete for food. They are known to do this because the female will only reproduce once a year, and she needs to constantly watch and harrass the male to stop him from mating with other females. The male's mating ritual is strange, the usually quiet male will take a well vegetated branch, and show his vigor by ripping leaves off the branch. This ritual is accompanied my the males mating call, a very loud series of rough, yell-like cries, which makes it seem like the male is extremely angry.

Part 5 - Climbing mammals, high society among furballs

The levels of vegetation also harbour small climbing mammals.

The Black midget-mouse (Minutomys niger), diurnal and tiny, the smallest xeno on spec's earth, weighing only 2 grams and able to stand atop a thimble. It eats mainly insects and seeds, as well as vegetable matter. It lives soley in blackberry thickets, and in spring, it's diest consists mainly of berries.

The chubby tree pseudovole (Gravinanomys potteri) is a tennis ball sized nocturnal xeno that gorges itself on seeds and leaves as well as fat juicy mooncalf catterpillars. It is without a doubt the most common of the canopy's mammals.

The curl-tail tree mouse (Dendromys pardus) is a crepuscular omniviore, and common prey to branch dwelling predators. It is the size of a small rat and can make prodigious leaps among the foliage.

Conclusion:

Many other small and interesting denizens doubtless await us as we study the undergrowth of other areas of spec, awaiting us will be new frontiers, new species, new golden afternoons.

Tim Morris