Tour to Neocene


The Hunter from Ao Tea Roa



Written and translated by Pavel Volkov
Edited by Timothy Donald Morris

Before the human era, New Zealand was a highly isolated world of flora and fauna. The oldest representatives of the fauna of the Earth persisted here, and the endemism of animals was manifested at the order level. Only New Zealand harbored birds of kiwi and moa orders, as well as reptiles of Rhynchocephala order. Other animal species were also represented mostly by endemic genera and families. After the human colonization of the islands, the appearance of New Zealand nature has changed beyond recognition. People exterminated giant birds, and instead of them, mammals from various parts of the Earth appeared on the islands. Among the newcomers to New Zealand there were hedgehogs, stoats, possums, deer, as well as numerous species of European, American and Australian birds. In addition to these, various domestic animals have appeared in New Zealand. The aliens caused irreparable damage to the unique flora and fauna of the islands. People tried to restrain their numbers for some time, but failed to take control on them completely. With the extinction of humankind, the only deterrent to the reproduction of outsiders disappeared, and they began to settle actively, destroying the primordial types of natural communities that had been formed in completely different conditions for millions of years. After a short period of instability, the destroyed original ecosystems, hitherto rich and diverse, were replaced by new ones, poor in species diversity, but stable in the changed conditions. The evolution of the introduced mammals and birds continued in a new place, and they became a natural part of the emerging natural communities. In the epoch of the ecological crisis, a large number of endemic New Zealand species disappeared, and in the Neocene, the descendants of local species represent only few species in the fauna of New Zealand. One of the most successful species of the Neocene fauna of the archipelago descended from the flightless weka rail (Gallirallus australis). This is the ruakapangi, a large carnivorous bird, one of the top predators in the ecosystems of New Zealand and the largest native bird.
The ruacapangi nest is arranged on the ground among dense bushes, and prying eyes are unlikely to notice it. It is a simple hole that both parents dug together. The inside of the nest is lined with dry fern leaves and down, which the female plucked from her own chest and belly during the hatching. Three large eggs with a smooth mottled shells lie among the nest litter. Due to the shell coloring, they actually do not stand out against the background of the nest, and they are more difficult to notice to a random predator. The ruacapangi female usually stays on the nest and moves away from it for a short time only to stretch her legs, which are numb from immobility. Now she needs to be especially caring and attentive – the incubation period is coming to an end, and the chicks should hatch very soon. Two of the eggs are trembling a little – the chicks inside them are well-developed and ready to see the light within the next few hours. The third egg lies motionless among the litter.
Ruacapangi female approaches the nest. This bird has a camouflage plumage color – it is brown with longitudinal black strokes on the feathers. The bird has no wings – they have completely disappeared already in its ancestor during the human era. The plumage of ruacapangi looks more like wool – the barbs of the feathers do not form a dense vane, and the feather shaft is soft and flexible. The head is covered with bare red skin from the front and sides. A large sharp beak shows that this bird is a predator capable of killing large animals. This beak has taken the lives of many prey items, but now the bird is very carefully touching the eggshells with it. It is the mother of unborn chicks, a female named Harpy.
The night passes anxiously. The male is named Sharpbeak, the father of the unborn chicks, left in the evening, and has not yet returned. He often went hunting at night, and during the day he replaced the female on the nest, giving her an opportunity to hunt and to have some rest. The most important change in the life of birds is that Harpy began to distinguish two voices clrearer and clearer in the silence of the night. They were unfamiliar to her, but the female understood that she had long wanted to hear them. And it looks like a little miracle is about to happen in the life of this pair of birds.
Early in the morning, when abundant dew appeared on the tree leaves and fern fronds, Harpy heard a faint crunch, after which a quiet squeak became much clearer. She carefully raised her body above the nest, and looked at her clutch. Two eggs were moving, and there were several pieces of shell lying among the litter, clearly distinguishable because of their white underside. Each of these eggs was cracked, and tiny grayish beaks protruded from the holes. From time to time the beaks hid inside the eggs, and sometimes they stuck out even more. After looking at the hatching chicks, the ruacapangi female fluffed up and continued the hatching. The warmth of her body stimulated the chicks’ attempts to free themselves from the shells. Each of the chicks, turning gradually inside the shell, punched the shell in a circle with its beak, dividing it into two halves. Then one of the chicks tried to straighten up, resting its feet on one half of the shell, and its head against the other one. The shell fell apart into two halves, and the chick crawled out of it into the nest litter. Later, the second chick broke free of the shell. There are two chicks in the brood of Harpy and Sharpbeak – Fidget, the male hatched earlier, and Motley, the female appeared after him, who inherited speckled fluff on her stomach from her mother and grandmother. Right now, ruacapangi chicks look little like adult birds: they are black, and the skin on their heads is completely covered with down. Only by the time the plumage grows, the down will begin to fall out, and the skin on the front of their heads will be as bare as at their parents. The first minutes of their life, future predators are completely helpless: they are weak, wet, and are unable not only standing on their feet, but even just raise their heads. They hatched with their eyes open, but so far there is little use of sight – the chicks keep under the plumage of their mother, and can only hear her. They gradually dry out and become fluffy. The hatching took a lot of work, and now the chicks are resting. So far, they have not actually seen their own mother, although they constantly feel her presence. The image of the mother for them is composed of the warmth of her body, measured breathing and her heartbeat. The chicks are warm, and they are moving more and more actively. From somewhere above, the Harpy’s voice is heard, which they also remember and add to the image of their mother that is being formed at these moments.
Footsteps are approaching from somewhere in the distance. The chicks do not hear them because of the mother’s thick plumage, but they feel them through the soil. And then two voices were heard at once, one of which was the familiar voice of the mother, and the second was unfamiliar, but similar to it. Chicks instinctively know how to recognize danger signals characteristic of their species, but this time they do not hear danger and do not worry. And then the world they had known for only about an hour changed dramatically.
Harpy, who had been warming the chicks diligently, stood up. Two small chicks, covered with black down, were huddled at her feet. The world that suddenly opened up in front of them was so huge that it scared them. Two chicks saw the sunlight penetrating through the forest canopy for the first time. And they managed finally to see their own mother from the outside. Harpy carefully bent down to them and run over the head of Motley with the tip of her beak, and then touched the back of Fidget with the bare skin of the side of her head. The mother herself looked at her chicks, imprinting their image. Then she uttered a sound like a soft cooing, and the chicks responded to it, peeping a due voci. The connection between the female and her offspring established gradually. The chicks imprinted the appearance of their mother, which is firmly associated now with things they learned about her earlier – warmth and voice.
Next to the nest, another bird wanders, similar to the mother, but different in voice and behavior. This bird looks a little taller than their mother. Moreover, Harpy does not show aggression towards it, because this is her mating partner and the father of two chicks – the male named Sharpbeak. This pair of birds has been keeping together for several years and has successfully raised several young birds. Dangerous predators can be gentle and loving parents. Sharpbeak shows caution, when walking near the nest. He also eyes the chicks thoughtfully, memorizing their voices and appearance. But when he tried to get closer, Harpy snapped her beak, and Sharpbeak took a step back. If it seems to the female that the male shows aggression to the offspring, she can attack him. The ruacapangi family is dominated by the female, and Sharpbeak does not try to argue against Harpy.
The primacy of the female in this species manifests itself almost from an early age. The chicks sat in the nest under the female for several minutes tried to get to their feet. Motley is a little stronger than Fidget is. She tries to get to her feet, rising up among the nest litter, but totters and sits down again. Fidget is also trying to stand up, but his attempt appears even worse – he falls into the litter. However, he does not stop trying to stand up – he makes another effort, and with difficulty rises to his feet.
Chicks signal their parents about their needs with a loud squeak. Harpy and Sharpbill are experienced parents, and they know that the chicks need to be fed. For the first few days, ruacapangi chicks do not know how to eat on their own, and their parents feed them from their beaks. Before hatching the chicks, Sharpbill did not wander aimlessly through the forest. He tried to make his contribution to the rearing of offspring, and therefore hunted until he got a large enough victim – he ambushed a castle rabbit near its feeding tunnel, and brought its meat in his stomach. Sharpbeak opened his beak slightly, made several convulsive movements with his head, and regurgitated a small piece of rabbit meat. This piece is quite large for one chick to swallow, but the parents know how to feed their offspring. Harpy carefully takes it in her beak and brings it to the chicks staying in the nest. This is their first meal in the new world that greets them. For a while, young birds will be able to hope that their parents will feed them, but they will gradually grow up and learn how to get food independently. So far, they don’t even know how to eat. Harpy holds a piece of meat in the very tip of her beak, and carefully brings it to the chicks. Fidget does not react to this act of the female, and Motley only looks, but does not try to do anything. Then Harpy just touches with a piece of meat to the Fidget’s beak. The chick tasted blood and meat, and tried to peck it. Seeing that her brother tried to eat, Motley also decided to peck the meat. She poked it with her beak, lost her balance, and fell into the nest litter. Turning over and struggling to her feet, she pecked again and clung to the meat with her beak. Twitching her head, Motley tore off a piece and swallowed it. Fidget pulled the meat towards him, managed to tear off a piece, and fell with it to the bottom of the nest. At this time, Motley, who was standing next to him, simply snatched the meat from his beak and swallowed it. She learned to eat in the first hours of her life, and expressed immediately her more aggressive temper – this is a trait she inherited from her grandfather, a large male who dominated family relationships, which occasionally happens in ruacapangi reeding pairs. Fidget does not give up – he felt the taste of blood and meat, and his desire took shape: he wants to eat. The young male struggled to his feet and tried to tear off the meat again. Harpy brought the meat to his beak and Fidget hold on it. He yanked, tore off a piece, and swallowed it hastily. Nevertheless, even at such a young age, without seeing his first sunset in life, he is forced to yield to the onslaught of his more aggressive sister. Motley eats more actively, but quickly eats up, and settled down into a sleep. So Fidget calmly eats the remains of the meat that his mother holds in her beak. Then Sharpbeak regurgitated another piece, larger than the previous one. He carefully gave it to Harpy, and she swallowed it. After feeding the chicks and satisfying her own hunger a little, Harpy sits on the nest again, and Motley and Fidget hide under her side and warm up.
The chicks spend several days in the nest. The parents take turns staying with them – one of the adult birds must hunt to provide the offspring with food. Ruacapangi has strong family ties, and the male takes the same part in raising the brood as the female. In the second day of life, the chicks learn to walk. Ruakapangi hunts by chasing its prey, so it is vital for small chicks to learn to be fast. Fidget learns walking, which is difficult for them, faster than Motley. The chick’s legs are disproportionately large in relation to the body size, and the chicks have to tinker a little to master the wisdom of such a simple thing as walking. While walking, the chicks sometimes step on their toes and fall on the nest litter. Fluff and plant litter soften the fall, but all the same the chicks have a hard row to hoe. Here Fidget has the opportunity to overtake Motley in development – he is the first to take some steps in succession without stumbling. Motley begins walking later then him. They do in under the supervision of Sharpbeak, and Harpy hunts at this time.
When Harpy returned from hunting, the chicks had already fully mastered such a complex method of movement. Sharpbeak was the first to pay attention to the rustle of the foliage of ferns somewhere in the distance. He straightened up, looked around, and made a short summoning call. If this is some kind of predator, the ruacapangi male is ready to defend his offspring with all the fury he is capable of. But when he heard a familiar voice in response, he immediately calmed down and even began to preen the plumage. When Harpy appeared near the nest, Fidget and Motley ran to meet her, begging for food. The female did not see how the chicks learned to walk, and is in no hurry to feed them. But the voice of the chicks helps her to recognize her own offspring, and after a little confusion, Harpy begins to feed them. She regurgitates the meat and holds it in her beak, and the chicks try to get it. Now they are more active than on the first day of life. Fidget immediately pulls out a piece of meat from Harpy’s beak and runs away, and Motley rushes after him, trying to take away this meat. But Harpy regurgitates the meat again, and the second portion goes to the Motley. Meanwhile, Fidget hid with his food among the ferns. He got a rather large piece, but he does not want to share it with Motley. Fidget presses the meat to the ground with his paw and tears off small pieces from it. And then he picks up the remaining meat, and tries to swallow it whole. The chick needs to try pretty hard to do this – the piece is quite large for his beak. But it does not stop him, and Fidget begins a real battle with his own food. The meat hardly passes into the esophagus, and Fidget has to spit it out several times, and then try to swallow it again. Eventually he swallows the meat, twitching his neck.
After a few days, the chicks became very active and mobile. Parents are finding it increasingly difficult to keep them in place, and they realize that it’s just a proper time to leave the nest. So one morning Harpy just moved away from the nest and called the chicks to her. Fidget and Motley rushed to her, and their mother led them farther and farther away from the nest. And the male followed the chicks, urging them on if they lagged behind or ran away to the side.
The world in which Fidget and Motley hatched is a world where the descendants of animals introduced by people rule. In New Zealand of the Neocene epoch there are numerous and diverse land mammals – from small creatures to true giants. Large herbivores and large predators on the islands are also mammals. In this world, of course, there are descendants of ancient New Zealand species, although there are significantly fewer of them. Ruacapangi is just one of these species.
From the first day of life, ruacapangi chicks can fall prey of numerous local predators, and even an adult bird cannot feel safe – some inhabitants of the islands pose a threat to ruacapangi. Nature has endowed these birds with many useful qualities that allow them to get food and escape from enemies successfully. Ruacapangi has a strong slightly curved beak, with which the bird inflicts deep wounds on the prey or aggressor, sharp eyesight and good hearing, allowing it to recognize prey or an enemy from afar, and fast legs, providing the bird with good speed when hunting or escaping from a predator. But these qualities help only those who know how to use them, and ruacapangi chicks rely entirely on their parents for everything so far. Nevertheless, they actively explore the world around them, in which, if they are lucky, they will have to live for many years.
Fidget and Motley, left in the care of their mother, wander through the grass. They are looking for a variety of insects, and willingly peck them – this is not a bad food for small chicks, and hunting insects helps to develop hunting skills. But insects alone cannot satisfy the appetite of the chicks, and they have to wait for their parents to nourish them with meat. However, some animals that live on the ground could well become prey even for such inexperienced hunters as week-old ruacapangi chicks.
A very large snail is crawling among the ferns. It moves slowly through the vegetation, looking for food with its head stretched out like a proboscis. It feeds on mushrooms and sappy tubers of plants, but if possible, it willingly eats small burrowing animals. Thanks to its keen sense of smell, this snail can find a worm or a grub at a shallow depth in the thickness of the ground. The shell of this animal is very noticeable – rounded black markings are scattered on a shiny white background. Such coloring cannot go unnoticed, and it attracts ruacapangi chicks very much. When they see it, they immediately decide to get to know this creature better. Motley and Fidget have never seen such animals before, and they are scared a little of the moving tentacles of the snail. They approach it with some caution, and begin to observe this creature, not risking getting close. The snail does not see them – its eyesight is very poor, and it can hardly distinguish even the objects closest to it. But its sense of smell told her that there were two living beings nearby. It continues to search for food, and its slow movements do not inspire ruacapangi chicks with fear. Therefore, Motley and Fidget decide to come even closer to it. When Fidget appeared next to the snail’s head, it slightly retracted its tentacles. Living and moving things attract future predators, so Fidget tried to peck the snail. In response, the snail retracted its tentacles and at the same time its shell moved slightly. The chicks were frightened by this movement and ran away to the side. They walk cautiously near it, not daring to approach the snail again. Having made sure that there was no danger yet, it stretched out its tentacles again and crawled on. Then Fidget decided to peck it again. Perhaps, a weak chick’s beak can scratch the solid shell of a snail. Someday, in a year or more, it will be strong enough to break the skull of prey, but so far even the snail’s shell turns out to be an indestructible barrier for a young predator. Motley is also interested in the snail, and the chicks have already begun to drum on its shell with their beaks together. In response, the snail hid, firmly pressing the edges of the shell against the ground. But the chicks noticed where it had gone and tried to get it out of there. Fidget stuck his beak under the shell from the side, and with a little effort turned the shell sideways. There is no protective lid on the shell of this snail species, and the creeping sole of the snail appeared uncovered for some time. This was immediately taken advantage of by Motley, who managed to peck the body of the mollusk. And in response to her attack, the snail released a copious foamy liquid, and a sharp garlic smell spread in the air. The chicks felt it, but so far they were too inexperienced to understand what exactly this strange creature with such a noticeable coloration was signaling. Having no idea what ways various living creatures can defend themselves, the chicks decided to check whether the substance produced by the snail was edible. Motley and Fidget took turns pecking at the foam, and they both immediately received the first lesson in their lives – their mouths began to burn unbearably from snail secretions. Trying to do away with this terrible feeling, the frightened chicks began to peck the ground and spit it out. Nevertheless, the unpleasant feeling still remained and reminded of itself for many hours after their meeting with the snail. While the chicks were trying to do away with the burning sensation, the snail calmly poked out of the shell and crawled on. This species is named as garlic snail, and, like the ruakapangi, is a descendant of representatives of the native New Zealand fauna. Such an effective chemical weapon was formed in this species as a response to the appearance of small mammals in the fauna of the islands.
After meeting the snail, the chicks could not get out of the disgusting taste in their mouths for some time, and Sharpbeak had to lead the plaintively squeaking chicks to the water so that they could drink and ease their suffering. The meeting with the garlic snail was remembered for a long time by the chicks, and in the future they diligently avoided the snails of this species. Living creatures can stand up for themselves, and the way of self-protect of a garlic snail is far from being the most effective. But ruakapangi is a predator, and as the chicks grow, they will have to learn to face off against their prey, or kill it in such a way as not to give it the opportunity to defend itself. While they are young, they have the right to make a mistake, but an adult bird cannot afford to make a mistake – oftentimes it is tantamount to death.
Over the next few days, ruacapangi chicks have to meet with various species of animals living in their habitat. While the female protecting them was distracted and disappeared into the thicket, the chicks were frightened by the castle rabbit. A beast of the foraging caste crawled out of a hole next to the chicks, and they were terribly frightened by the sudden appearance of such a large animal compared to them. But the rabbit itself was no less scared – ruakapangi is one of the main predators hunting this species. Therefore, seeing the chicks, the rabbit turned around and disappeared into the tunnel immediately. The chicks, full of curiosity, decided to see where it had disappeared. After a short search, they found in the grass the entrance to a tunnel dug by rabbits of the foraging caste. But both Fidget and Motley did not dare to step into this dark and unfamiliar world. After standing for a while at the entrance to the tunnel, they turned around and walked away. They were interested very much in the movement of grass near the bushes – the chicks had not seen anything like this before. They came closer and saw a small black and white animal running through the grass. More precisely, its body was black, and pointed white needles grew on its head and along its spine. This creature is another descendant of introduced mammalian species, the tiny shrew-like hedgehog. The animal does not pay attention to the ruacapangi chicks at all – it has warm blood, and food literally burns in its stomach. Therefore, while the animal is awake, it is constantly looking for insects and cannot afford idle curiosity. It is not interested in ruacapangi chicks, but it becomes an object of observation on their part. Fidget came up to it quite close, and began to examine the animal.
The shrew-like hedgehog sniffs the ground and grass with its long and mobile nose. Fidget became interested in what this animal was looking for, and he approached almost to the very muzzle of the animal. In response, the shrew-like hedgehog turned its back on him and trotted in the other direction, continuing to sniff the ground. To catch up with it, Fidget ran ahead and began to examine the animal almost point-blank. Seeing that the stranger does not want to leave him alone, the shrew-like hedgehog stopped, raised itself on its outstretched legs and squeaked with thready voice, baring its teeth. Fidget wouldn’t have approached it, but his brisk sister did something different. Motley ran up from behind and strongly pecked the animal’s side. This sudden attack angered the little predator, and the shrew-like hedgehog began to display the chicks its readiness for self-protection, despite the fact that each of the chicks surpassed it in height and weight. The animal squealed shrilly, opening its mouth wide and showing pointed teeth.
Seeing its teeth, the chicks retreat in fright, and the animal, inspired by success, continues to frighten them. It bristles pointed needles on its head and makes sudden rushes towards the ruacapangi chicks, jumping high on outstretched legs and arching its back like an angry cat. And then it passes to attack and grabs the Fidget’s fluff with its teeth. The frightened chick recoiled, and the shrew-like hedgehog hung on his plumage like a bulldog. Fidget is seriously frightened by the attack of this animal. He ran to his mother, and an angry shrew-like hedgehog hung on his plumage, squeaking dimly because of the feathers it holds in its mouth. Motley followed him and began to seek protection from Harpy. Seeing that chicks have a powerful defender now, the little mammal immediately released the Fidget’s fluff and tried to sneak away. But a well-aimed peck of Harpy’s beak killed the shrew-like hedgehog on the spot. Now the chicks can calmly examine their abuser – a small animal with fluffy fur and pointed needles. Fidget tried to peck it, but bumped up against the needles and did not try again. He learned another important lesson for the predator – it is necessary to kill the prey as quickly as possible so that it cannot injure him. Someday animals more protected than shrew-like hedgehog will fall his prey, but now even such small creatures can harm him.
Due to activity of people that disappeared millions of years ago, New Zealand is no more a relatively safe world of birds. Now the largest animals of the islands are mammals, and among them there are dangerous species. Many of them share the habitats with ruacapangis, and even the adult ruacapangi prefers to avoid some mammals, although these animals are not predators. The ruacapangi family often finds the signs of the presence of these animals – in some places the bushes are heavily eaten, and large piles of manure lie among the grass. The footprints of these animals were imprinted on the soft ground – these are round marks larger than ruacapangi’s head. Only one mammal of New Zealand could leave such traces – a huge taurovis, a descendant of a domestic sheep once brought to the islands, which grew to the size of a large bull. The taurovis herd is the real embodiment of a force that lacks reason: they are not much smarter than a sheep, and managed to survive on the islands due to the fact that in the first millions of years of evolution without a human, they greatly increased in size and thus became invulnerable.
At some distance from the river, trees and shrubs do not form a continuous cover, and there are wide paths overgrown with grasses among the woody vegetation. This is the result of the activity of the taurovis herds. Huge herbivores eat and trample vegetation, so in places convenient for feeding and going down to watering place, trees and shrubs are destroyed and wide paths overgrown with cereals appear. Here a variety of small animals may be met, so the ruacapangi family stays in these places for a long time. Lizards crawl among the grass, and small tree frogs live in the bushes – these are descendants of an Australian species introduced to the islands in the human era. Ruakapangi is able to catch small animals deftly due to the speed of its reaction. Sharpbeak is particularly successful in catching tree frogs – he manages to grab them almost in a jump. And the chicks have not been able to hunt yet, and they have to beg for food from their parents. The young ruacapangis have grown considerably in recent days. In the chicks, the juvenile fluff has already begun to come out, and from under it the first pin feathers appeared. While they look like tubes, the chicks look very strange, but gradually the feathers begin to unfurl and replace the fluff. Grown-up chicks require even more food, and parents have to share it with the chicks regularly, putting yet another small prey item – a lizard, a frog or an insect – into the invitingly open mouth. However, the chicks themselves gradually master the basics of hunting skills.
Motley decided to hunt on her own. She hears the voices of her parents, and keeps in mind which direction to run in order to seek salvation in case of danger. She already shows quite a lot of independence at an early age, and demands food from her parents less often than her brother Fidget. She managed to track down a small gecko among the grass. The lizard is well camouflaged thanks to the pattern of winding stripes on the sides of its body, and it is very difficult to notice it while it is motionless. But sometimes a gecko needs to hunt, and when it moves, it’s easy to spot it. The visual perception of a predator has one remarkable feature – the predator notices movement well. Therefore, the lizard, having inadvertently moved, betrayed itself, and Motley attacked it immediately. One blow with the beak was enough to kill the lizard, and Motley got the biggest prey in her entire short life. And most importantly, there was no Fidget nearby, who could take away her prey. Having grabbed the dead gecko, Motley began to swallow it. This is quite difficult thing to do – she used to get relatively small pieces of meat that were convenient to swallow, but now she feels like a one-day-old chick being fed by inexperienced parents. At the cost of great efforts, Motley managed to swallow a significant part of the prey, but the gecko’s tail was still sticking out of her beak. After catching her breath, Motley continued to swallow her prey, and with great difficulty she still managed to fit the killed lizard in her stomach. She wanted to continue hunting, but suddenly she heard the Harpy’s anxious voice. The mother called Motley for a long time and loudly, and even Sharpbeak joined her. The danger was clearly great, and Motley knew that her parents would not call her in vain. She did not understand what exactly she needed to be afraid of, and only felt a faint tremor of the ground under her feet. Cheeping loudly, she rushed to her parents, around whom a frightened Fidget was already running. When she joined the family, Harpy led the chicks to the thicket of bushes, and Sharpbeak urged the chicks, not letting them fall behind or run away to the side.
The trembling of the ground intensified, and soon the birds heard a rumble like thunder. It was tapped out by dozens of hooves of huge animals – a herd of taurovis moved to watering place. From their hiding place, the birds watched these creatures. At the head of the herd an adult male walked, shaking its large head decorated with short thick horns on the sides. He was distinguished from the mass of his relatives by a very wide forehead, which formed a kind of “visors” over his eyes, which gave the beast’s muzzle a harsh expression. He was followed by females, distinguished by a lighter color, rings of dark fur around the eyes and very short horns. Taurovis calves, huddled to the sides of the females, had a sorrel color. The herd of animals went to the river, not looking around and not sniffing the air, as more cautious herbivores do. As long as taurovises keep each other in the herd, they simply have no one to fear – they are able to trample any enemy to death with their wide hooves.
The ruacapangi chicks were frightened very much by the appearance of a herd of animals that seemed absolutely monstrous ones to them. They pressed themselves against the ground, trembling from the steps of taurovises, and Harpy had to simply cover them with her body to calm them down a little. Finally, the animals’ footsteps became quieter, and then they disappeared completely. Sharpbeak got out of the shelter and looked around, trying to detect danger. However, everything seems to be calm. Sharpbeak uttered a short call, and Harpy came out of the bushes to him, followed by Motley and Fidget. The family united, and the birds continued to search for food.
Ruakapangi is dangerous for the most part of small animals of New Zealand, as well as for young animals of medium-sized species. However, this bird is not the only predator of the islands. Ruacapangi’s neighbor is another animal, which sometimes is frightening even for massive taurovises.
One morning, Sharpbeak brought an unusual prey – not meat, as he had done up to this point, but a whole rabbit at once. Early in the morning, at sunrise, he went to the forest and almost immediately got a young forager of castle rabbit. Now he is ready to teach the chicks the first lesson of how to eat large prey. Sharpbeak threw the rabbit’s body on the grass, and Motley and Fidget immediately began to stare at it. They tasted the meat of castle rabbit – this is the most common prey of ruacapangi. Occasionally they even had to see these animals, which immediately hid in burrows, as soon as the chicks became interested in them. Sharpbeak allowed the chicks to peck at the rabbit carcass a little, but Motley and Fidget were unable to eat anything – they only pulled out a few shreds of completely inedible wool, and that was it. When they walked away from the dead rabbit, Sharpbeak showed them how to deal with the prey. He pressed the carcass to the ground with his toes, grabbed the skin with his beak, and pulled sharply. The rabbit’s thin skin tore easily, and the insides spilled out onto the grass. The chicks watched their father closely, not yet understanding the meaning of his actions. Finally, Sharpbeak tore off a piece of rabbit meat and froze for a second, holding it in its beak. And then he just swallowed it. Then Fidget was the first to decide to repeat his movements. He approached the prey, and after several attempts tore off some meat. Having tasted it, he immediately understood the meaning of the actions of an adult bird. Swallowing the meat, he tore off another piece, but at that moment, Motley sneaked in him from behind and snatched the meat from his beak. With some difficulties, the first “adult” meal of ruacapangi chicks continued, but none of the birds suspects that circumstances are already taking a very undesirable turn.
The smell of meat and blood of a dead rabbit attracted an extremely dangerous guest. A large beast with a spotted skin and a bushy tail was wandering in the bush, looking for food, and quite accidentally sensed the smell of ruacapangi’s food. The animal instantly decided to act at impulsively – it often managed to take prey from weaker animals. After sniffing, the beast determined where the smell came from, and wandered to its source.
The ruacapangi chicks were still tearing pieces of meat from the rabbit carcass when Harpy uttered a sharp alarm signal. The chicks stopped eating and looked in the same direction as their mother. When Harpy began to call the chicks to her, they felt the fright in her voice, and began to squeak anxiously. A large spotted animal with a short muzzle, clawed paws and a long fluffy tail appeared from the bushes. This is probably the only animal that is truly dangerous for ruacapangi – the marsupial pardus, the largest predator on the islands. Even adult birds do not always risk fighting with it, and the ruacapangi chick is an easy prey for this predator. If Sharpbeak and Harpy did not have offspring, they would simply escape, leaving their prey to the predator. However, chicks squeaking plaintively at the feet of adult birds represent a reason for active defense. Sharpbeak uttered a staccato alarm signal, and the chicks hid in the bushes. A pair of adult birds united to fight back against the predator. Nevertheless, the marsupial pardus is not interested in ruakapangis – it is much more attracted to a half-eaten rabbit carcass lying in the grass. This marsupial pardus is just a young animal that recently left its parents. It is still too young to have a family of its own, and so far, it wanders through the forest alone. Lonely, and not yet experienced enough, the young marsupial pardus can hardly feed itself, so it is forced to feed on random prey or take it away from weaker predators. The marsupial pardus has not yet reached full strength and maturity, and it is not going to attack birds with sharp beaks and quick reaction at all. However, it is trying to impress them with its actions. The marsupial pardus lunges towards the birds, tears the grass with its claws and growls, showing its sharp front incisors. In order to enhance the impression, it raises his fur and lifts up a long fluffy tail. Adult marsupial parduses live in family groups and do not resort to such displays – they are quite confident in their own abilities, and ruacapangis would not get into a fight with them. But now the forces of the animals are about equal, and the ruacapangis are trying to resist a single beast. The birds scream loudly, supporting each other, and attack the marsupial predator together. Harpy made a sharp lunge, and almost reached the shoulder of the beast with its beak, but the marsupial pardus managed to dodge. In response, it hit the bird with its paw and tore a bunch of feathers from Harpy’s side. She jumped back, and at the same moment, Sharpbeak managed to hit the beast in the other shoulder with his beak. His beak sank deep into the predator’s muscles, causing a deep and painful wound. This attack decided the outcome of the fight – the marsupial pardus retreated immediately. A small prey is not worth serious wounds that will make it a bad hunter for a long time, or even for the rest of its life. Therefore, the marsupial pardus turned around and left, nervously twitching its tail.
When the predator disappeared into the bushes, the ruakapangi pair did not calm down for a long time. Sharpbeak snapped his beak threateningly after the predator, and Harpy supported him with screams. They gradually calmed down only after some minutes, and after that Harpy in a gentle voice called Restless and Motley, who sat in the bushes, freezing with fear, throughout the whole duel of birds with a predatory beast. The bird family is back together, and Harpy can give herself some time. She carefully touches with her beak the place where the paw of the marsupial pardus tore out the feathers. The claws of the beast left several deep scratches on the bird’s skin, although the plumage greatly softened the blow and saved Harpy from a more severe injury. The wounds will heal soon, and this injury has not affected Harpy’s hunting abilities in any way. It is very important if there are two chicks in the care of adult birds. Another important lesson was learned by the chicks – they have memorized the image of the most dangerous enemy, and now they will avoid meeting it at every opportunity.
Fidget and Motley turned three weeks old. They have changed a lot compared to what they were immediately after hatching. The chicks have overgrown with feathers and have become much more like adult birds in appearance. Only their tails are still rather short. Motley still differs from Fidget in the color of her plumage: on her belly, the feathers have white tips that form an intermittent cross-striped pattern. The same pattern, although less pronounced, is on Harpy’s plumage. The juvenile fluff on the heads of Fidget and Motley has come off without a trace, and the chicks now have featherless faces like adult birds. This allows them to eat the meat of large prey keeping the plumage clean.
The ruakapangi family lives on the South Island of New Zealand, in a subtropical climatic zone. The end of spring in this area is notable for warm and humid weather. From time to time it rains, and the chicks are forced to hide from the rain under the plumage of adult birds. But then drier weather sets in, and ruacapangi family moves closer to the water.
Traces of human activity associated with the introducing of animals to new habitats have been preserved millions of years after human disappearance. And the most notable of them is the abundance of mammals in the fauna of the islands. A watering hole is a place where many species of local fauna may be seen. A variety of animals inhabiting New Zealand roams on the banks of the river flowing in the valley. Some of the most magnificent inhabitants of Neocene New Zealand are ultradamas – huge deer. These descendants of the fallow deer introduced to the islands have become one of the largest deer on Earth. The adult ultradama male is the size of a small horse, but height is not the most impressive feature of the animal at all. The antlers of an adult male of this species represent an impressive sight. Only the horns of the fossil Megaloceras deer can compare with them. The span of the antlers of an adult ultradama male reaches almost three meters. But in the spring, the antlers of the males are still being formed, and the animals do not look as majestic as in the autumn, before the beginning of mating tournaments. In the spring, when it is too early for the mating tournaments, ultradama males treat each other quite peacefully, and form separate herds. Because of their antlers, males prefer to stay in areas of a forest stand disturbed by taurovises, in sparse forests and bush thickets, and even animals that have lost their antlers remain there. In the bushes, males make their own paths, avoiding areas where trees begin to grow. In addition, the ultradama feeds on relatively soft foliage and “trims” the bushes, biting off their tops, preventing them from growing up and forcing them to branch abundantly.
A herd of males of these huge deer is approaching the watering place. Even if the males do not have antlers, they can be distinguished from the females by size and color – the wool of the ultradama males is reddish-brown, and lacks characteristic white spots. By the beginning of spring, their antlers have already begun to grow – they are still small, but the shape they will acquire by the mating season is already guessed. There are individuals of various ages in the herd of males. A pair of young males will grow only small antlers by autumn, which lack lateral prongs. These males only left their mothers and joined the herd of males last winter. It will take several years before their antlers reach normal development, and the animals will be able to take part in mating tournaments. An animal a year older than them already has a short mane on its neck, and its growing antlers have a characteristic “palm”, but lack prongs so far. Several more males have antlers at various stages of the development of the “palm” and prongs, and noticeable brown manes grow on their necks. The herd is headed by a huge mature male with a dark, almost black mane. Its antlers are still small, but by autumn they will reach a span of over two and a half meters. This male has lived for more than fifteen years, and knows from experience that predators most often attack near a watering hole. Therefore, when the deer come to the river bank, he lingers a little. The giant male sniffs the air, flaring his nostrils wide, and carefully looks around the neighborhood, hoping to detect the approach of a predator in advance. The rest of the deer scatter along the riverbank and crouch down to the water, trying not to touch each other with their antlers. The adult male did not approach the water until the first of the deer finish watering and moved away from the river. Only then, he went into the water and began to drink slowly and with dignity.
The characteristic alarm signal of the ultradama, a staccato squeaky bark, repeated many times in a row, is well known to almost all large animals of New Zealand. The senses of these animals are very well developed, and the ultradamas notice the approach of predators from afar. Adult ruakapangis are also very familiar with this voice – although they would never dare to attack an adult ultradama male, these animals often disrupted their hunting, making all the animals around them wary. But now the ruacapangi family does not hunt, and they are not the reason for the alarm at all: the ultradama males do not even see these birds. The young ultradama male was “barking”, looking at several massive animals that appeared from the bushes. Hearing his signal, the rest of the deer moved away from the water and gathered on the riverbank. Even an adult experienced male stopped drinking and looked towards the shore.
A group of massively built animals is walking towards the water. These animals are very close relatives of the marsupial pardus – they had common ancestors introduced to the islands by people. They have large flattened heads with short ears and large eyes, and their bodies are covered with shaggy gray hair with a black stripe along the animal’s back. These are ursine cuscuses, the largest marsupial mammals outside of Meganesia. They trudge to the water on their hind legs, resembling small fur-covered dinosaurs. Near the water, the animals sniff, closing their sensitive eyes a little bit, drop to all fours and quickly lap up the water. If the waking time for ultradama began only recently, then ursine cuscuses are preparing for sleep in the morning. All night they fed on the foliage and branches of low-growing trees, bending them to the ground with strong front paws. After watering, the herd will hide among the bushes, where the animals will not be disturbed by a random predator, and will sleep until the evening. The ultradamas made sure that ursine cuscuses did not pose a danger to them – the young male stopped “barking”, several deer continued to drink, and the adult deer lowered its head into the water, pulled out a bunch of water plants with a sharp movement, and began slowly chewing it, looking at the large marsupial beasts.
A cub rides the back of one ursine cuscus female. When its mother came to the water, it quickly got down to the ground and began drinking also. This cub will soon pass to independent life, but for now, it feels a connection with its mother and always stays around her. In case of alarm, it will definitely seek protection from his mother.
Suddenly, the alarming “barking” of the ultradama resounded again. This time it was uttered not by a young timid male, but by an older animal that is no longer afraid of its herbivorous neighbors. This alarm is no longer illusory, and the ultradamas are beginning to worry. Another male begins to “bark”, then several more animals join it. Slow-thinking ursine cuscuses also realized that the danger is quite real. They stopped drinking, and the cub immediately climbed onto the female’s back and grabbed her fur with its claws. The ultradamas moved away from the water and looked cautiously towards the bushes, and the ursine cuscuses did not figure out where the danger would come from. They reared on their hind legs and prepared to fight back against any enemy that appeared nearby. The powerful front paws of the ursine cuscus are armed with sharp claws, with which the animal can inflict terrible wounds on the enemy.
Away from the ultradama herd and a group of ursine cuscuses, a family of ruakapangis appeared on the riverbank – Sharpbeak, Harpy and two of their chicks. They are not going to hunt and just drink, not paying attention to the beasts. Sharpbeak drinks first – he goes to the water and takes some sips, raising his head high. Harpy drinks after him, and then the chicks come to the water. The birds do not suspect that they, born hunters, have become the object of hunting themselves at this moment.
On the surface of the water, long leaves of eel grass trail downstream. This plant was introduced to the islands by people millions of years ago, and in the Neocene, when the world free of the burden of humankind changed, this plant became a part of the new ecosystems of New Zealand. The foliage of eel grass is very tender and watery, and the adult ultradama male willingly ate quite a lot of this plant. He did not cause much damage to the thickets – within a week, eel grass is quite capable of growing as thickly as before on the vacated part of the bottom. But a large animal disturbed one of the inhabitants of the thicket.
The movements of the legs of the ultradama male startled the animal that lived among the underwater vegetation. Having torn out several bunches of eel grass, the large beast deprived this creature of shelter and forced it to look for a new place of residence. The underwater inhabitant, covered with soft bumpy skin, lay in the shade of leaves fluttering in the current and patiently waited until the fish or crayfish got close enough to snap it. However, this time, instead of hunting, it had to escape from the feet of a huge beast, which raised clouds of sand and silt from the bottom. When one of the deer’s legs got to the bottom not far from this creature, and the beast’s lips pulled out a bunch of plants from the bottom, the animal decided to swim away. It lazily waved its tail and swam, pressing very short paws to its sides. This animal is a representative of amphibians, which is named as neohanasaki. Its evolutionary history is also very dramatic. Like the mammals of New Zealand, this animal is a descendant of the invader, the human-introduced Australian tree frog Litoria caerulea. Millions of years ago, looking at the ancestors of this monster, it was hard to imagine who they would become in Neocene. Neohanasaki belongs to the group of neotenic anurans, and in fact represents an “adult tadpole” whose ancestors lost the ability to turn into an adult frog millions of years ago. This creature, about one and a half meters long, is the largest species of New Zealand amphibians and is a voracious predator similar to the wels catfish. The flat head of neohanasaki has a wide mouth, not far from the corners of which tiny eyes are located in small depressions. This animal does not like to swim for a long time – after swimming a few meters away from the ultradama male, who disturbed it, neohanasaki sank back to the bottom and dug into the ground with several movements. Its wrinkled skin perfectly masks the animal, making it look like a piece of a sunken tree trunk. Skin of neohanasaki is rich in receptor cells. This monstrous “tadpole” has very poor eyesight, but it is compensated by numerous chemoreceptors that catch all kinds of odors, as well as by dense network of lateral line channels that help the animal distinguish between the movement of water and waves that are formed when various objects move in the water. Strong waves spread from the heads of large animals drinking water – they are not attractive to neohanasaki. The animal evaluates their strength, and the instinct of self-preservation suppresses the animal’s feeding behavior. On the contrary, waves radiating from small moving objects attract its attention very much.
Neohanasaki felt two large creatures appear near the shore at first, one after the other, and after them two small ones appeared at once. The primitive brain of the huge “tadpole” assessed the situation, and the animal began to creep up to them cautiously, stepping over the bottom with its small legs. On land, this creature would be completely helpless – small legs are simply unable to support its weight. But in the water it weighs almost nothing, and moves on its legs with the ease of a dancer. This predator often preys on the chicks of ducks and other waterfowl. Now the object of its hunt is a terrestrial creature that is on the shore. The flattened body shape allows the animal to sneak up on its prey almost at point-blank range. The predator noticed ruacapangi chicks drinking water, crept up to them, and then abruptly waved its tail and rushed at the prey.
A huge body covered with slimy skin jumped out of the water suddenly, and adult birds did not have time to react to its appearance. The monstrous “tadpole” snapped Motley by the head and jerked her under the water. The wave raised by the rush of the neohanasaki literally threw Fidget to the feet of his parents, and the predator, seizing the prey, turned around, pushed off from the shore with a wide tail and disappeared under the water, leaving behind itself only clouds of mud spreading in the water. A bubble of air floated to the surface – the last thing left of Motley. The attack happened so quickly that the parents could not do anything to save their chick. Under the water, neohanasaki turned Motley’s body head first and began to swallow it whole. A significant part of the prey entered its stomach without problems, but the long legs of the prey stuck out of the predator’s mouth for a while. Gradually, making efforts, neohanasaki managed to put the whole prey into the stomach. Now this animal with a slow metabolism can not eat for about three weeks.
Life has taught Fidget one of its most terrible lessons. Now Fidget will be very careful near the water while it is too small, and in the future it will also peer into the water carefully before starting to drink. But there is another side to this tragedy: the death of Motley increased his own chances of survival. Now all the food and all the parental care will go to him alone, and Fidget will have a good opportunity to live up to independence.
The seasons gradually change each other even in the warm climate of Neocene. Summer has passed, and autumn has followed it – a time of abundance, when many young and fat castle rabbits appear in the forest. When it got colder, neohanasakis, these huge “tadpoles”, moderated their appetite and began to gather in deep pools. Snow in Neocene New Zealand is found only in the mountains, and the rivers in the valleys do not freeze. Therefore, neohanasakis remain active, but in cold water their movements become sluggish, appetite is reduced in great degree, and they spend most of the time in immobility.
It gets noticeably colder in late autumn. Ruacapangi’s family ties have been preserved for a very long time, and Fidget still lives and hunts with his parents. He learned to get castle rabbits almost as deftly as his father, and he had to participate in a joint hunt for large prey. The ruacapangi family does not starve – thanks to the coordinated actions of the birds, they manage to get grown up ultradama fawns, as well as slow, but dangerous ursine cuscuses. The two most dangerous winter enemies of all animals are hunger and cold. Of course, thanks to the ocean, the climate in New Zealand is not as harsh as in Eurasia, but all the same it gets noticeably colder at night, and sometimes frost appears on the grass, quickly melting in the morning. A family of birds gets together at night and they warm each other. During the time that has passed since the death of Motley, Fidget has grown very much, and now he is only slightly inferior in height to his mother. Perhaps if Motley had been alive, he would not have been able to develop so successfully, and he might even have died without getting enough food. But by the fall he had reached quite a suitable size to start an independent life. However, he does not hunt too well yet and prefers to forage with his parents. Hunting together, ruakapangis have a better chance of getting prey.
Other animals also feel the changes in nature. In the morning, when the fog falls thickly on the bushes, in the distance the loud roar of the ultradama males is heared. In late autumn, the antlers of the males are fully formed, ossify, the dead “velvet” this time peels off from them, and the ultradama males become very aggressive. Meeting with such a male can be very dangerous, so the ruacapangi family stays away from them.
Ruacapangi family sleeps together – it’s much warmer this way. Moreover, Fidget, despite its size, still manages to use children’s privileges – he climbs between his parents, and spends the night in warmth. In the morning, dew settles on the leaves of shrubs where birds hide, and drips on the plumage of adult birds, soaking it to the skin. The touch of cold dew is unpleasant, and Sharpbeak and Harpy wake up from time to time and shake to free themselves of dew drops. Then they wake up at all and begin to stretch the leg muscles that have become numb after the night. Birds must be in good physical shape to hunt successfully. It is especially important in the cold season – in autumn, many small animals like insects and lizards hid in burrows, and random prey is not enough to feed.
The rustle of the bushes warns the birds that someone is approaching them. However, they do not have to look closely to determine that a huge male ultradama has come to them. An animal of enormous stature strides majestically through the bushes, and its head, crowned with antlers more than a meter long, stands out against the background of the morning sky. Although the ultradama is among the herbivores, this beast now poses a real danger to ruacapangis. In autumn, during the mating season, hormones make males easily excitable and aggressive. Moreover, this giant weighs three times more than the whole ruacapangi family. He is an adult, and his antlers are fully formed. From the base of the ultradama’s antlers, two straight pointed prongs branch off, directed forward. With their help, males fight with each other, and when defending against a predator, antlers serve as a terrible weapon – with their help, ultradama male is able to pierce through a marsupial pardus if this predator turns out to be too careless.
Ruacapangi family retreats, trying to keep a sufficient distance, but the beast does not lag behind. Under the influence of sexual hormones, the ultradam male loses caution and tries to hit any animal that gets in his way with its antlers, taking it for a rival. It is very aggressive, and barks in a characteristic manner, chasing ruakapangis. The birds do not try to defend themselves and prefer to flee – they squeeze into the thickest bush, where a huge deer will not fit. The birds hear the animal trying to chase them, pushing the bushes apart with its chest. But soon the chase stops. The ultradama male gets out of the thickets and walks around their edge for a while, shaking its head and barking. But it does not see the hidden birds, and its attention gradually weakens. After walking along the edge of the bush, the animal moves away, majestically shaking its antlers.
When the silhouette of the ultradama male blurred in the morning haze, the bushes stirred, and Harpy got out of them. She was followed by Fidget, who was urged on by Sharpbeak. The birds looked around for a while, but then, finding no signs of danger, they went into the forest.
In late autumn, thickets of shrubs are a very restless place. The ultradama females, ready for mating, leave the forest and go to the large clearings where the mating tournaments of males take place.
Winter in New Zealand is not cold even in the very south of the South Island. Rivers do not freeze, and only on the coldest days in the morning, a thin crust of ice appears on puddles. The trees only partially shed their foliage, and some of them are evergreen at all. It is warmer in the depths of the forest than in the open or in the mountains, and the ruakapangis move to the forest for the winter. During the short winter days, Fidget learned to hunt on his own. He left his parents for the whole day, and learned to get food independently by ambushing the castle rabbits. Often Fidget was looking for prey right next to their building – a huge hill, pitted with holes and reinforced with branches and twigs cemented in clay. Fidget was interested in looking into the holes leading inside the building. Sometimes crickets could be heard trilling from there in the middle of winter, and on the ground next to the rabbit “fortress” he noticed insects frozen from the cold – the inhabitants of the rabbit building, who accidentally appeared on the ground surface. However, a close acquaintance with the rabbits’ building was often interrupted by these animals. If Fidget stayed for a long time near the rabbit “fortress”, rabbits came out of the holes, which were not like foragers he was used to preying. They were very large animals with striped black and white heads – rabbits of the “soldier” caste. Uniting in small groups, they threatened Fidget, baring their sharp incisors, and even attacked him. After several bites, Fidget began to avoid encounters with these animals, and preferred to hunt away from the “fortress”, lying in wait for solitary foragers in the bushes. So far, he had not thought of attacking a larger prey.
The seasons follow one another, and winter gradually gives way to spring. The days are getting longer, the sun is shining brighter, and this stimulates changes in the organisms of birds. Sharpbeak is beginning to behave very strangely more and more often: he runs after Harpy and “dances” around her, whirling awkwardly and stretching his head up. However, as soon as Fidget is near, the dancing of Sharpbeak stops, and he begins to behave as if nothing had happened. But changes are inevitable, and they are coming closer every day.
After a successful hunt, the ruacapangi family gathered near the prey – the birds managed to kill a young ursine cuscus. Sharpbeak and Fidget separated this animal from the herd, and drove towards Harpy hiding in the bushes. Ursine cuscuses are not very intelligent, and the beast did not immediately realize that it was trapped. Only when it was surrounded by three birds at once, it reared on its hind legs and prepared to give the last fight. However, ruakapangis attacked it with lightning rushes, not giving the animal an opportunity to use hooked claws of its front paws. Animals with more complex behavior would be able to repel the attack of the ruacapangi by acting together, but ursine cuscuses prefer to flee, leaving a relative in trouble one-on-one with predators.
The carcass of ursine cuscus is a good prey for ruacapangis. The family can feed on it for several days, as long as the meat remains edible. After making sure that the animal wounded by sharp beaks has died, the birds begin to eat their prey. With an effort, Sharpbeak tears the strong skin on the side of the animal, and the whole family begins to peck at warm fresh meat. During the meal, adult birds gradually push Fidget away from the prey and eat delicious liver and soft insides, not sharing them with him. Fidget is not going to give up his privileged position so easily and demands attention to himself – he crouches slightly, imitating a chick begging for prey, and tries to snatch a piece of meat from his father’s beak. Previously, it passed without consequences, but this time Sharpbeak unexpectedly displays aggression. He straightens up, clicks his beak, and begins to push Fidget roughly away from the prey. In response, Fidget takes the pose of a chick begging for food again. However, this time Harpy joins Sharpbeak, and the adult birds push Fidget together away from their common prey. When Fidget tried to get around them to tear a piece of meat from the carcass, Sharpbeak snatched its plumage. Fidget screamed loudly, but Sharpbeak did not let him go. He only tightened his snatch on his own son’s feathers, and when Fidget jerked sharply, a bunch of his feathers remained in Sharpbeak’s beak. Instead of eating, young Fidget got the first thrashing in his life.
Fidget does not understand the changed relation towards him. He managed to beg for meat earlier, and his parents fed him. Times have changed though – at that time he was small and required parental attention. Obeying instinct, his parents fed him, and if necessary, they could stand up for him, even if the enemy surpassed them in strength. Now Fidget is almost as tall as the female, although it weighs less than her. The parental instinct of Sharpbeak and Harpy has gradually faded away, and they are preparing for a new nesting. The increase in daylight hours caused hormonal changes in their bodies, and the strange behavior of Sharpbeak is a separate element of the mating dance of ruacapangi. Before nesting, the pair of birds becomes more aggressive towards their relatives, and the birds see not a chick, but a competitor in their own offspring. This fact explains their behavior towards Fidget.
While a couple of adult birds are eating prey, Fidget is forced to stay away. When he gets too close to the feasting parents, they turn to him with their beaks and emit warning cries that force Fidget to retreat. Sharpbeak and Harpy tear off pieces of meat greedily and swallow them hurriedly – in the presence of Fidget, they behave as if he is going to take their prey from them. However, they can’t keep eating indefinitely, and the carcass of the ursine cuscus is too big for a ruacapangi couple to eat it all in one sitting. Having had enough, Sharp-Beak and Harpy move away from the carcass and lie down on the ground to have a rest. Then Fidget cautiously approaches the remains of the prey, gingerly looking at the birds, which treated him not so aggressively and considered him as a kin this morning. After the feeding of two adult ruacapangis, there are not very many soft parts left on the carcass, and Fidget gets only scraps of meat. The beak of ruacapangi is well adapted to tearing soft meat, but when all the soft parts are eaten and only the meat on the ribs remains, the bird can hardly feed on the remains of meat. Fidget begins to tear up the remains of meat with his beak, holding the carcass with his toes. When he accidentally approaches the resting Sharpbeak and Harpy, the birds greet him with a warning signal, ruffle the feathers on their heads and necks, and open their beaks wide. And then Sharpbeak stands up and simply drives Fidget away from the remnants of prey.
Parting with his parents is completely routine – when evening came, young Fidget simply did not spend the night with them, but independently chose a place in the bush where he settled down for the night. His connection with his parents weakened, but did not disappear completely: he settled down for the night not far from them.
Waking up the next morning, Fidget began to look for his usual surroundings – Sharpbeak and Harpy. They have always been there for as long as Fidget has lived in the world. But he managed to find only a hole in the soft ground among the bushes, in which some cross-striped feathers lay. Parents are gone – now they have their own life, and Fidget is not a part of it now. The young male is not used to living on his own yet – he looks around, searching for the images familiar from hatching, but does not find them. Until that day, his parents were in his eyes a familiar part of the world around him, and their proximity promised safety and satiety, and later success in hunting. Now everything has changed – independent life has begun, and many phenomena have opened up to the young ruacapangi male from the other side. What was available previously due to the experience and skills of parents, suddenly became unattainable. Now Fidget must hunt and take care of his own safety himself. During this period of life, many young birds die from hunger and disease, as well as from unsuccessful herbivorous animals hunting or in the clutches of predators. Often the marsupial pardus becomes a hunter of young ruakapangis. This predator is merciless, and a bird weakened by hunger or disease becomes its easy prey.
Ursine cuscus, ultradama and taurovis are large herbivore species, and hunting them alone is very dangerous. Even the marsupial pardus does not always risk fighting them one-on-one, and the fragile mobile ruakapangi can simply be trampled, pierced by horns or torn by the claws of these animals. Fidget looks around the neighborhood, and notices an ultradama herd in the distance. These are females with fawns, but their herd is too large to try to attack them. Protecting their fawns, the ultradamas can strike with strong hooves, and Fidget is rightly afraid to hunt them. Nevertheless, he is ready for an independent life – before his parents drove him away, he practiced hunting skills for several winter months, preying small animals. Now this skill is of vital importance for him.
Fidget knows that there are several places where castle rabbits, mammals leading a social lifestyle, live at the territory of the vast river valley. The shelter of these rabbits is a large, solid building with many entrances, tunnels and living chambers. To destroy or at least to excavate it is a task beyond even a large predator. When predators appear, large rabbits of the “soldier” caste come out of the tunnels, boldly attacking the enemy. Fidget knows from experience that it is better not to mess with them. Alone, any rabbit is cowardly, but together the “soldiers” of this species are able to drive away from the colony even an adult ruakapangi. Therefore, Fidget prefers to hunt in a more familiar way: in the forest, in the vicinity of the shelter of these rabbits, he tracks down foraging rabbits gathering food for the entire colony. Tunnels stretch underground for many tens of meters from the “fortress”, through which rabbits get to the feeding areas, and numerous exits lead to the ground surface.
Fidget knows that foraging rabbits do not move far from the exits. If it is necessary to get to a site with more lush vegetation, then they are ready to dig a new tunnel, abandoning the old one, rather than lope some meters on the ground surface. Therefore, Fidget chooses a place for an ambush near the exit from the tunnel. He chose a good place – one of the exits leads to dense bushes, where it is easy to hide. It was dug quite recently – wet ground is noticeable near the edge of the hole. It is quite possible that the first foragers have just started using it, and do not yet know that a predator is waiting for them in an ambush.
Fidget lay in ambush, choosing a place among the bushes where he can clearly see the exit of the tunnel. He knows how to remain motionless, putting all his strength into one exact rush. In addition, its plumage does not stand out against the background of vegetation, and neither the prey nor any of the forest dwellers who can raise the alarm and scare the prey will notice it.
He didn’t have to wait long – soon a slight rustle heared, and the head of castle rabbit appeared on the ground surface. This is a large forager – it has distinct white stripes on its cheeks. Perhaps it could become a “soldier” of the colony – the bright color of the stripes indicates a high level of testosterone in its blood. But for now it is leaving the colony for food. And it is completely unaware of ruacapangi’s presence.
Fidget easily killed it – a peck of his beak pierced the rabbit’s head on the spot. Having grabbed the prey with his beak, Fidget dragged it to the shelter, where he began to tear it apart and eat meat. He can peck only the softest parts of the carcass – the insides, the meat on the legs and some meat in the dorsal part of the prey. The head and ribs also contain a lot of edible parts, but ruakapangi is not able to gnaw bones, and leaves these parts of the prey uneaten.
While Fidget was eating prey, a bird was watching him from the branches. As long as the ruacapangi male was near the prey, it was useless to approach him – in such a situation he could well attack, as he would do with any competitor. But the bird had a completely different goal – it needed more than just this half-eaten rabbit. When Fidget moved away from the remains of the rabbit carcass, a very large bird with a brown head and striped green wings flew down from the tree. Fidget had seen such birds before, but only from afar: if they approached him, his parents drove them away. Now he has the opportunity to look upon such a bird better. The bird also looked at Fidget, and then went to the remains of his prey with a confident gait. The rabbit bones crunched in the bird’s black beak, and then it took a piece of the carcass with its paw and brought it to its mouth. It is a parrot, but of a special kind – the eagle kea, the largest species of New Zealand parrots. Like ruakapangi, it is a descendant of the species of indigenous New Zealand fauna. Biting off pieces from the remains of the rabbit, it looks at Fidget with a watchful eye, being ready to move away to a safe distance at any moment. This parrot is looking for allies in the search for prey, and now its choice was Fidget. Eagle kea is not alone – another bird is waiting for it in the branches. A couple of these parrots will not leave Fidget for a long time. For now, Fidget does not understand what these birds want from him – he has never hunted in cooperation with them before, and his parents did not do so. But eagle keas often conclude such an unspoken alliance with larger predators – parrots eat the remains of their “patron”’s prey, and help it in search for prey. Some of these birds follow the family groups of marsupial parduses and eat the remains of their prey, although this is quite dangerous – marsupial pardus can catch and eat such a parrot.
Over the course of several weeks, the relationship between eagle keas and Fidget gradually strengthens. For the first few days, Fidget perceived his new companions only as freeloaders picking up the remnants of prey. But the parrots did not claim the best parts of the prey that ruakapangi usually eats, and Fidget treated them very indifferently. Every day they appeared next to him in the morning and flew away in the evening, or after a successful hunt, having got their share of the prey. Gradually, Fidget began to understand the connection between the parrots accompanying him and the luck in hunting. Parrots have more opportunities to search for prey – they fly high and have a wider view. But they are much weaker than ruacapangi, and count on joint success in hunting. A pair of eagle keas actively helps Fidget to look for prey. When flying, parrots find suitable prey and attract the attention of the ruacapangi male, landing next to him and indicating the location of the prey with their movements.
Fidget is looking for prey in the bushes, but to no avail. On the ground, he sees piles of manure and the prints of huge hooves – a herd of taurovises passed through the bushes shortly before him. These animals are too large, and Fidget does not try to chase them. But suddenly an eagle kea lands next to him – it is one bird from the pair that accompanies him for the last weeks. Fidget hadn’t seen these birds since morning, but he didn’t attach any importance to it. However, parrots at this time inspected the territory from the air, looking for suitable prey. The bird glances back at Fidget, looks at him for some seconds, and takes some steps. Then the parrot flies up, perches on the bush and looks around again. Its behavior shows that it has found something suitable for hunting. The parrot waits until Fidget comes closer, then takes off and flies a little more. Fidget follows him running, comes out of the bush and looks in the direction where the eagle kea is moving. The parrot did not attract his attention in vain – there is a herd of small animals grazing on the mountain slope.
Large taurovis prefers to live on flat terrain. Herds of these animals are common in river valleys, and are often found in wetlands. On the contrary, in the mountains, on steep slopes, where it is not only difficult for a large taurovis to move, but also dangerous, its close relative lives – orovis, the another descendant of a feral sheep. These animals graze in herd among the bushes on the mountain slope. Orovis’ hind legs are longer and stronger than the front ones, and it is convenient for animals to graze on a mountain slope. An orovis’ head has an unusual shape – males of this species have thick frontal bones, and small horns stick out backwards and serve only for display. The brain of orovis is small, and a massive bony “helmet” protects it when animals establish the hirerarchy. The jaws of the beast are quite narrow – with their help, orovis can bite the aboveground part of plants quite low, thrusting its head into the cracks between the stones. The orovis males live in the same herd then the females, and the animals often remind their relatives of their place in the hierarchy by displaying horns to each other. To do this, the beast lowers its head, and the horns rise up, showing the tips. If the opponent does not retreat, the threat turns into an attack – orovis pushes off with strong hind legs, and strikes the opponent with its head. While the herd is peacefully grazing, two males are busy with establishing their hierarchy: they thud their skulls over and over again. Males are very passionate about the duel, and at this moment, they notice almost nothing but each other. However, while the herd grazes quietly, they can engage in establishing a hierarchy. Females lack such bony “helmets”, and they are less aggressive. Several calves born recently are running alongside them, and some young animals that have not reached full physical development are kept on the edge of the herd.
Fidget takes view of the herd, assessing the success of the attack, and the parrot perches on a tree behind him and falls silent. A second bird appears after it. The parrots know that their part of the hunt is almost done, and now they are waiting for the beginning of Fidget’s hunt. The young ruacapangi male moves around the herd, hiding in the bushes. He goes around the slope on which the orovises graze, and comes to the herd not from below, but from the side. It’s easier to run this way than up the slope, but the bird comes out on the slope quite far from the herd. Fidget is separated from the orovises by a long distance – the bird must overcome about a hundred meters almost in full view of its prey before reaching a good shelter – a large stone behind which it is possible to hide before the attack. But it must be done so to get an opportunity to attack the herd with an exact rush and get a prey. Fidget waits until the animals return to grazing, and then begins the most difficult part of the hunt. He cautiously creeps up to the orovises, moving on half-bent legs, and crouching to the ground at the first sign of animal anxiety. When one of the males raised his head and looked around, Fidget had to crouch down and hide behind a grass hummock. The animal didn’t seem to notice anything – the male started grazing again. Fidget took advantage of this moment, and moved some more meters forward. A pebble popped out from under his foot, which rolled down the slope and clicked loudly on another stone. Hearing this sound, the orovises became agitated – several animals stopped feeding and began to look around anxiously. Fidget had to hide almost in plain sight again. The bird hid in a small pothole near a stone, and lay down on the ground, stretching its neck. The dim plumage serves as an excellent camouflage, and the beasts do not notice Fidget. Finding no danger, the animals began to graze again, and Fidget was able to continue sneaking up. He moved some meters to a stone lying very close to the herd, and hid behind it. Then, choosing a proper moment, he jumped out of his hiding place, and bursted into orovis herd. The animals rushed in various directions, fleeing from a predator that suddenly appeared. Strong adult animals, fleeing for their lives, ran up the slope – it is more difficult so for a predator to chase them, and in the skill of jumping on mountain slopes, orovis has no equal. With the sharp edges of their hooves, they cling to the roughness of the stones and easily climb steep ledges. Some animals just jumped on the big stones and watch the Fidget’s hunting from there. In such places, they feel completely safe – ruakapangi does not know how to climb rocks as deftly, and even a marsupial pardus does not always dare to chase orovis in the rocks, even if it sees the prey. Young animals are less cautious: in a panic they scatter in various directions, and one animal runs down the slope. It separates from the common herd, and Fidget immediately switched to the chase of this particular individual. Orovis rushed around, trying to reach a high stone on which to escape from ruacapangi, but Fidget received unexpected help from his winged companions. An eagle kea appeared above the pursued orovis. The bird clawed at orovis’ fur, and the beast jerked aside in fright. A predatory parrot cut off orovis’ path to the rocks, and forced it to flee to the valley, where it actually has no opportunity to escape from chasing.
Often, success in hunting completely depends not on the skills of hunters, but on a combination of circumstances. A blind chance crossed out all the chances of escape of orovis – at full tilt, the beast got its foot into a hole dug among the grass. It immediately broke its leg and rolled down the slope, having lost its balance. Fidget saw that the prey could not escape, and immediately stopped the chase. He does not repeat orovis’ mistakes, and walks down the slope more carefully. At his approach, orovis jumped to its feet and tried to run away, but the acute pain in its broken leg did not allow it to take even one step – it immediately stumbled and fell. Then, the next second, the figure of ruacapangi rose above him. Fidget delivered one precise peck to the beast’s neck, to the base of the skull, and the young orovis was instantly killed. Seeing that the hunt was over, a pair of eagle kea approached Fidget.
Several times, Fidget has already faced the fact that another predator, which was watching his hunt and appeared at the right time, was taking his prey away from him. Therefore, the first thing he does is hide the prey: he drags the carcass of orovis into the bushes. It is unlikely that anyone will be able to accidentally notice Fidget here, and he has more opportunities to eat quietly. Fidget easily tore the skin of orovis with his beak and began to eat. He immediately pecked out the liver and soft insides, and then began to eat meat on the legs of the carcass. Eagle keas wait their turn patiently – if they approach too early, Fidget may attack them, believing that they are trying to take away his prey. While the birds keep their distance, Fidget feeds without paying attention to them. Parrots have hunted with ruakapangi many times, and they know that they will definitely get a part of the prey. But Fidget tries to eat for the future, and swallows as much meat as possible. It is unknown when he will be able to hunt as successfully again. Having eaten to the limit, Fidget moved away from the remains of the prey, and this was the signal for the eagle keas – the parrots approached the prey, and their powerful beaks began to crush the bones of orovis. With their sharp beaks, the eagle keas dexterously cut the meat between the ribs of the prey, and tore the skin on the legs and back of the orovis carcass. Where the ruacapangi’s beak is not able to tear the meat from the bones, parrots find a lot of edible matter. Finally, one of the birds crushes the side of the head of the orovis, and the birds eat out the brain of the carcass. After eating, the birds take off, and settle down for the night near Fidget. Fidget himself doesn’t want to go anywhere anymore. He is full and becomes very slow and lazy. Having found a convenient place to sleep, Fidget gets into a bush and falls asleep.
The carcass of the orovis is quite large, and even after feeding of Fidget and eagle keas, there are enough edible parts left on it. Some of it might have remained even the next day, but there are always lots of animals who want to eat someone else’s prey, and they are unlikely to leave behind at least some edible matter. After dark, there is some excitement around the carcass. At first, a rustle was heard in the grass, and a gray muzzle appeared among the stems. This creature might look like some kind of rodent, but when it sniffs, slightly opening its mouth, instead of the characteristic flat incisors in its jaws, pointed teeth are visible. A corneous shield grows on top of the animal’s head, and the ears barely stick out of the wool. The eyes of this animal are very tiny and almost invisible among the fur. It sees almost nothing, because it spends most of its time in tunnels that it digs in the soil. This is a taranga – a burrowing predator, a descendant of the stoat introduced by people. This animal behaves very carefully on the ground surface and constantly sniffs – the sense of smell is the most important source of information for this animal. Guided by the smell, the blind denizen of the burrows got out of the grass. In fact, it is another participant in the Fidget’s successful hunting and it is entitled to a legitimate share of the prey. Escaping from Fidget, orovis got its foot into this beast’s hole. If it had not been for this accident, the result of ruacapangi’s hunt would be unclear.
In the foothills and mountain forests, burrows of taranga stretch for many tens of meters shallow from the ground surface, like the burrows of moles in Eurasia and North America in the human era. The spread of taranga in isolated habitats is greatly facilitated by one interesting feature of this animal, common to many invertebrates, but completely unique to mammals. Taranga is an animal capable of parthenogenesis. Any unfertilized female in this species periodically gives birth to cubs, and all of them are also females. Therefore, it is enough for one female of this animal to get into places convenient for life in order to form a breeding population of these animals.
By the smell, the taranga easily found the Fidget’s prey and clung to the remains of the meat. Taranga is very cautious – it rarely appears on the ground surface, because it is adapted to a burrowing lifestyle. It usually feeds on small animals that fall into its tunnel system, and meat is rather an accidental and pleasant addition to the main diet. Like all small warm-blooded animals, the taranga has a very good appetite, and should eat food in an amount of at least half of its own weight overnight. Therefore, it does not miss the opportunity to profit from a free treat, even if she has to leave safe burrows and to go out into an alien habitat for itself – to the ground surface – for this purpose. With its sharp teeth, the taranga easily bites off the meat from the bones of the killed orovis, and its small muzzle allows it to penetrate into places where the beaks of ruacapangi and eagle kea could not tear off the meat. But the taranga should always be on guard – it is very vulnerable on the ground surface, and the remnants of the prey of large predators attract various inhabitants of forests and shrubs, and some of them can also eat the taranga.
Another carrion lover smelled the remains of orovis. It sniffed the air, determined the direction from which the smell was coming, growled hollowly, and went in search of the remnants of Fidget’s prey. The large eyes of the animal flashed yellow in the dark – this animal sees perfectly at night. Some of its congeners also felt an attractive smell. They abandoned their usual food, the leaves of the shrub, and moved in search of a more attractive treat. These animals are ursine cuscuses. During the day they prefer not to face ruakapangi, but at night they become bolder and more aggressive, and can encroach on the remains of the prey of daytime predators. They usually feed on foliage, but if possible, they willingly eat carrion. The animals are adult and large enough not to be afraid of anyone, and there are several of them, which gives them confidence. Hearing their heavy footsteps, taranga rushed to the hole and disappeared into it, and Fidget woke up and looked around. His eyesight is well adapted for daytime hunting, but at night he sees poorly, and so far prefers not to do anything.
The rustle of branches is approaching, and ursine cuscuses come out of the bush one by one. They sniff and quickly find the remains of the Fidget’s prey. After the feast of ruacapangi and eagle keas, there is almost no meat left on the one side of the carcass, but ursine cuscuses easily turn the carcass over and find a lot more edible matter on it. The disturbed Fidget woke up and tried to drive away one of the uninvited guests who came too close to him. But the massive beast reared up and made several sharp movements with its clawed front paws. It is a terrible warning, and Fidget retreats. In any case, Fidget alone would not be able to defeat ursine cuscus. Therefore, night guests eat the prey of ruacapangi without encountering resistance from the rightful owner. Within two hours, they managed to eat almost everything possible, and by morning, only separate bones and gnawed vertebrae remained from the Fidget’s prey.
After a successful hunt, Fidget began to be haunted by failures. Maybe the orovises became more cautious after his attack, or the eagle keas unwittingly betray the approach of a predator – it’s hard to say the reason for of the failures in ruacapangi’s hunting, but for several days in a row Fidget failed to catch anything larger than a lizard. He is very hungry, and must spend a lot of effort to get food literally by the crumbs. Random prey like lizards and small animals is good for a chick, but not for an adult bird – he needs large prey. Fidget tries to hunt in various places, but sometimes he has to save his life – the bird often sees footprints of marsupial parduses on the ground, and occasionally these predators arranged a chase for Fidget, and only his own speed and agility saved him. Another time he tried to get an ultradama fawn, but the females noticed him and simply drove him away from the offspring. Fidget did not want to experience the blows of the sharp hooves of these animals, and he showed prudent caution. However, hunger is making itself felt more and more. Fidget’s stomach is cramped with hunger, and the bird comes to the riverbank to drink – the water will somehow weaken the feeling of hunger. Fidget chooses a secluded place where he will not be noticed by large herbivores or predators, and descends cautiously to the water. He carefully made his way through the thickets of water plants and began to drink, raising his head after each sip.
When the pain in his stomach subsided a little, Fidget looked into the water. His attention was attracted by a small water beetle swimming fussily near a thicket of underwater plants. Fidget watched it for some minutes, hoping to peck it. When the beetle surfaced for air once again, Fidget pecked it, but missed. The frightened beetle rushed to the bottom and disappeared into the thicket, and Fidget began to look into the water again, hoping to catch at least anything edible. The movement near the bottom did not escape his attention. A shadow moves across the stones: it seems that a piece of the bottom has come to life and swam. However, it is not a trick of vision, but a living being – a young neohanasaki individual. Fidget vaguely remembered that there could be danger in the water, but now that he has become big enough, he is not threatened even by an adult neohanasaki. Ripples and sun glare on the surface of the water make it difficult to see, but Fidget still noticed where the creature he saw disappeared. Almost up to his belly in the water, he wandered to the reeds, where he last noticed the shadow of an underwater creature. Previously, Fidget never hunted in the water, but now he has become less picky and clings to any opportunity to get prey. When Fidget is walking in shallow water, clouds of silt and sand rise from the bottom, which are carried away by the current. After taking some, Fidget felt a creature touch his feet. He looked down, and noticed the wriggling body of an underwater creature right below him. He noticed where the flat creature swam, took another step, getting bogged down in the sand, and struck with his beak. Hunting in the water is a strange feeling for a creature accustomed to hunting on land. The water got into the Fidget’s nostrils, and from the pain the bird abruptly pulled its head out of the water and sneezed. Any heron would have struck the prey much more gracefully than Fidget, but it is unlikely that it would have dared to attack the prey that Fidget chose for himself.
After sneezing several times, Fidget looked into the water. He saw that near the bottom something was swaying slightly, casting a shadow. Fidget came closer and touched this object with his foot. He felt a familiar sensation – the touch of something slimy, but this time motionless. Fidget carefully targeted and snatched a young neohanasaki from the water. Fidget’s beak pierced its head and killed it on the spot. An accidental and almost aimless blow allowed the bird to get a good lunch. Fidget hardly holds its prey – the carcass of the neohanasaki is quite heavy and slimy, it constantly slips out of the bird’s beak. Quickly getting ashore, Fidget threw the prey on the ground and began to peck it, pressing it with his foot. Perhaps Fidget is just very hungry, but it seems to him that the meat has a good taste. The meat of neohanasaki is very tender, and the skeleton is rather weakly ossified; it easily succumbs when Fidget tears off another piece of meat.
To the side, the familiar flapping of large wings and then two sharp, raspy voices are heard – a pair of eagle keas accompanying Fidget has found their patron, and both birds reckon upon the remains of his lunch. However, it is unlikely that they will get anything edible – Fidget greedily tears up the prey and swallows it in large chunks. When one eagle kea approached the feasting predator too carelessly, Fidget fluffed feathers on his head and neck, and snapped his beak menacingly. At such moments, it is dangerous to be near him, and the parrots moved away from him. The carcass of the neohanasaki disappears into the Fidget’s stomach piece by piece. Finally, when only the head remained of the prey, Fidget finished his feast. He wandered into the nearby bushes to rest properly. A long-forgotten feeling of satiety made him lazy and sleepy, and the bird decided to find a place to rest.
When Fidget left, the eagle keas approached the remains of his prey. They got almost nothing edible – only the head of neohanasaki with scraps of meat, and several pieces of amphibian’s intestines. The skull crunched in the beaks of the parrots, and then one of the birds picked up a piece of intestines, covered with the ground, and swallowed it. To eat something else, the birds must look for prey themselves. But they will not abandon Fidget – it is much more profitable for them to hunt with him.
Fidget has successfully survived the time of separation from his parents, and he is already in his third year of life. His life has changed significantly compared to the first year, when he just started living on his own. He successfully passed through a critical period of life and managed to avoid death in the jaws of predators or starvation. Now Fidget is already quite large – it is the size of an adult male of his species. But he is still too young to participate in breeding. The time, when Fidget lived on the border of the territories of adult pairs of relatives, has passed long ago and now he has his own territory, which borders are guarded jealously, and strangers are expelled. If necessary, Fidget can get into a fight for territory with any of the relatives. But Fidget can’t control all the borders of his territory at the same time, and strangers occasionally enter his domain.
The branches of the shrub rustle, and another ruakapangi appears from them. This bird is a little smaller than Fidget, and behaves much more carefully. It shudders and looks around when hearing too sharp sounds, and tries to be as inconspicuous as possible. This bird is a female. She is about a year younger than Fidget, and began an independent life only recently. She was lucky to stay in the family a little longer – the male who was her father was killed by a marsupial pardus. Her mother, not having had time to form a new pair for the breeding season, did not drive her daughter away, and this female managed to survive the critical age while hunting with her mother. But this year her mother had a new male, and a pair of birds, preparing for breeding, drove the young female from their territory.
This female has a small sign – several white feathers grow on her head above the right eye. They are inherited by Whitebrow from her mother. It can be seen that the bird is hungry – noticing a large beetle, she pecks it and swallows it with hard elytra. An experienced hunter might not even look at such a prey, but Whitebrow clings to life desperately. Now she has a critical time – the first weeks of independent life. So, she must apply all the hunting skills acquired during family life in order to survive.
There is a rustling in the grass, and the stems are moving – a tiny shrew-like hedgehog is sniffing the grass. This fussy animal must constantly look for food – it has an intensive metabolism. A sticky slimy trace told this animal that a large snail had crawled through the grass – it is a good prey for such a predator. So, the shrew-like hedgehog ran after her. Catching up with a snail is a simple matter for such a mobile animal. It quickly found a mollusc, and it was not deterred by the fact that the snail shell has a too catchy color, white with black spots. The shrew-like hedgehog attacked the snail, clinging to its creeping sole, and in response immediately received a fair portion of sticky and smelly foam with a burning taste. The garlic snail managed to escape from the enemy once again, and the little beast will have to tinker for a while, cleaning the snail’s terrible weapon from its head. At that moment, the animal lost its vigilance, which immediately cost him his life. Absorbed in hunting, it did not notice that a large bird was watching it. Whitebrow struck it one peck with her beak, and immediately killed it. During her independent life, she has already had to hunt these animals. Having got such a creature for the first time, she pricked her tongue painfully with its spikes and left the prey. Later, she adapted to swallow these prickly animals without problems. Shrew-like hedgehogs are quite numerous in the forests and shrubs of New Zealand, and Whitebrow received an affordable food source, having learned to hunt them.
Whitebrow carefully took the dead shrew-like hedgehog, turned it headfirst, and swallowed it whole along with the spikes. She is very hungry if she is tempted by such prey. However, hunting such creatures would help her survive. At one time, Fidget survived precisely because he learned to hunt on his own while still under the protection of his parents.
Being on someone else’s territory, Whitebrow should remain cautious – a meeting with the owner of the territory does not promise her anything good. Unlike mammals, ruakapangi does not use the sense of smell when communicating with relatives, and cannot detect an outsider on its territory without seeing him. But these predators have good eyesight, and their perception helps them to distinguish movement especially clearly.
Fidget walks around his territory regularly, and he has already had to drive away several times the strangers who decided to settle on his territory. A long time ago, he was the tramp like they, and many times he had to flee from adult relatives. But he grew up, withstood the difficulties of life in his youth, and managed to acquire his own territory. If some more birds live on its territory, food resources will quickly run out and all its inhabitants will starve. Therefore, Fidget was very interested in the large bird footprints that he found once on the riverbank. They are smaller than his own ones, but undoubtedly belong to the bird of his kind. Sooner or later there must be a meeting, which consequences will be quite obvious.
Maybe Fidget wasn’t looking for a stranger on his territory on purpose, or Whitebrow kept careful, but, anyway, they met only a week after Fidget found signs of the presence of a relative on his territory. During this time, Whitebrow successfully hunted rabbits several times, and one eagle kea began to accompany her, eating up the remains of her prey. It is possible that Whitebrow could live unnoticed on the Fidget’s territory much longer, but the eagle kea, constantly accompanying her, is too noticeable from afar. So it was this one who led Fidget on the trail of the stranger.
Fidget was hunting when he noticed a lone eagle kea perching on a tree and carefully looking down. On this day, Fidget managed to catch only some lizards and a certain small rodent. Therefore, he was looking for more substantial prey. The presence of a large predatory parrot, which is too patiently waiting for something, perching on a branch, can mean only one thing: a certain predator is eating its prey under a tree. Of course, it may well turn out to be a large marsupial pardus, from which it is better to stay away, but it may also be a relative or a small predator, which you can try to attack and take away prey. Therefore, Fidget decided to get to know what the eagle kea expects for. He began to approach the tree cautiously, looking at the bird, cautiously ducking and ready to run away at any moment if the meeting was too dangerous. Fidget was approaching the tree, using all the shelters along his way. Finally, he looked out from behind a bush, and saw a relative who was pecking at a rabbit carcass, clearly taken from some predator. The fear disappeared instantly, and the feeling of territoriality leapt up in Fidget. Despite the fact that the stranger turned out to be a young female, Fidget is very determined and aggressive. He is still too young to form a family, and his reaction even to representatives of the opposite sex is still simple and unambiguous. Fidget came out to meet Whitebrow, snapping his beak and fluffing his feathers. Instinct prevents the use of weapons against relatives, so Fidget does not beat Whitebrow with his beak. He just displays to her, his own size, straightened out and shaking his fluffed feathers. In response to his display, Whitebrow snapped her beak and shook her plumage several times. Then Fidget rushed at her and pushed her with his chest away from the remains of the prey. Whitebrow barely stood on her feet, and Fidget turned around and began to step on her again, uttering an unpleasant screeching cry. Under the Fidget’s aggressive onslaught, Whitebrow stopped trying to display claims to the territory and began to retreat. Noticing that she is afraid of him, Fidget redoubled his efforts to expel the stranger. He began to make false attacks with his beak, from which Whitebrow barely managed to dodge. Then he once again pushed the retreating female with his chest. His warnings are enough for the female to understand that she has nothing to do in this territory. Whitebrow turned around and ran away, hearing the patter of Fidget’s feet behind her. He drove the female to the border territory, not letting her stop. When the female ran away, Fidget walked several times through the “unclaimed land” that separates his possessions from the territory occupied by a breeding pair of birds that were slightly younger than his parents. After looking around and making sure that the female was not going to return, he returned to his territory and in a few minutes completely forgot about the existence of Whitebrow. For now, Fidget does not need competitors, and he is not going to share his territory with anyone.
Late spring in New Zealand is a time of change. At this time, most of the local animals bear offspring. Ursine cuscuses bear offspring in the winter, completely unnoticed by others. At this time, they are in a state of light winter sleep, and interrupt it only to clean the brooding pouch and feel how an underdeveloped newborn joey crawled into the pouch and attached to the nipple. In the spring, when coming out of hibernation, there are already several fairly well-developed joeys in the brooding pouch of each female. The offspring of marsupials develop slowly, and only at the beginning of summer the young animals will be able to leave their mother’s pouch to continue living on her back. Other mammals, from among the placentals, bring much more developed offspring. Ultradama females gather in large herds for fawning – it’s safer this way for them. Females emit special odors that synchronize the development of unborn cubs, and the offspring of the ultradama are born in a very short time – all females in the herd calf for two to three days.
At this time, the ultradama herds are constantly accompanied by predators and scavengers. If a fawn is born dead, it is quickly found by eagle keas, eating its corpse in a matter of hours. Sometimes these parrots drive newborn fawns away from females and attack them. From time to time, the spotted back of a marsupial pardus flashes in the bushes near the ultradama herd. The beast is not interested in the offspring of ultradamas, but in adult females weakened after the fawning. Sometimes females have postpartum paralysis, and they cannot walk normally. Such prey is easy to catch, and an orphaned cub immediately falls prey of other predators. Among the carnivorous animals accompanying the ultradama herds, ruakapangis are often found.
Fidget watches the herd, choosing his prey. He noticed that one female with a fawn had moved away from the main herd. It is very dangerous to rush into the herd for prey – protecting their own posterity, ultradama female rears up and beats the enemy with her front legs. She lacks the same spectacular-looking and dangerous antlers as the male, and the female of this species is much smaller than the male, but the blows of her hooves are very dangerous: sometimes a careless ruakapangi can pay with its life for a mistake during the hunt. Fidget knows what an angry ultradama female is – once in his childhood he had to escape from the hooves of this beast when he, being only a fledgling, inadvertently moved away from his parents and approached an ultradama female with a fawn. But he knows how to organize an attack correctly, and the best target for his attack is a fawn of the female grazing outside the herd. He is afraid of an adult female, which is larger and stronger than him, and tries to choose a good moment to separate the fawn from its mother. Ultradamas make a network of trails in the bushes, which they use from year to year. Some trails become overgrown over time, and an adult animal cannot walk along them. But the smaller ruakapangi easily makes its way through the bushes thanks to the streamlined body shape and narrow head. Fidget uses the trails of the ultradama to get closer to the herd, remaining unnoticed. He hides in the bushes, trying not to expose himself to the animals. In addition, ultradamas do not distinguish some colors, and Fidget with his mottled plumage, frozen against the background of bushes, is almost invisible to this deer.
Fidget creeps closer to the chosen animals. He tries to use the old trails of ultradamas, not showing up on the wide trails that these animals use. The female and the fawn do not notice his approach, and the rest of the herd also seems to be confident in their safety. It is enough for at least one animal to “bark” so that all adult animals become alert, and the fawns rush to their mothers, seeking protection. But everything is calm so far.
Ultradama has relatively long and narrow jaws. This animal feeds on soft vegetation – mixed herbs and foliage of shrubs. Therefore, animals have to stay in places where it is convenient for predators to hide. Animals compensate for this circumstance by keeping a large herd, in which there is always an individual who notices the enemy in time. However, Fidget still remains unnoticed and gets closer to its prey. When the fawn moved too far away from its mother, Fidget decided to attack it. He jumped out of hiding and rushed to the fawn. At the last moment, the female noticed him and ran after him, but Fidget caught up with the fawn before her, and inflicted a deep wound on it with his beak. The fawn screamed in pain in a shrill, trembling voice and rushed into the bushes, while Fidget ran away and stopped. Somewhere in the ultradama herd, one female noticed him and began “barking”. Her voice was joined by the voices of several more individuals, and soon there was a deafening noise over the bushes. The female, having lost sight of her fawn, began to call it, looking at Fidget at the same time. He tried to keep his distance to avoid provoking the aggression of the female, and at the same time he had to determine by ear where the wounded fawn was. When the voice of the ultradama fawn was heard in the bushes, responding to the voice of the female, Fidget immediately continued chasing it. With several long jumps, he managed to slip past the ultradama female before she launched an attack on him, and the pursuit of the fawn continued in the bushes, where the ultradama female could do little to help her offspring. Fidget managed to drive the fawn away from the female, and the goal of the hunt was almost achieved. The wound on the side of the ultradama fawn was very deep, and there was a red streak of blood on its spotted hide. It was getting weaker by the minute, and Fidget easily caught up with it. Hearing the rustle of branches, the ultradama fawn rushed away, and Fidget ran after it. He chased his prey through the bushes, getting closer to it every second. Finally, the ultradama fawn tripped over a root and fell, breaking its fragile leg bones. The next moment, a peck of Fidget’s beak pierced its skull, and the fawn died. Somewhere on the outskirts of the bush thickets, an ultradama female wanders, beckoning her offspring. But she doesn’t know that it will never respond to her voice again. A lot of ultradama fawns die every year, and their death is part of the natural balance in the habitat of the ultradama deer.
Fidget dragged the prey away into the bushes and began to peck it. He heard the flapping of huge wings, and noticed how a pair of eagle keas, his constant companions, perched on the branch of a small tree nearby. Usually they always helped him hunt and did not interfere with eating. However, now they are more of a nuisance than helpers.
Ruakapangi is not the only one watching the eagle keas. Another predator also heard the noise of the chase and saw two large birds perched on a tree and began to look down somewhere, not flying away for a very long time. This predator is the marsupial pardus, a huge old male, expelled from the harem by a younger rival, but has not yet given up the fight for life. Now that he is forced to live alone, it has become much more difficult for him to provide himself with food. Previously, he could rely on the coherence of the actions of the members of the group where he was the leader, and his group took even such giants as adult taurovis. However, now he has to spend a lot of effort to eat his fill. He uses a variety of hunting techniques and often monitors eagle keas, determining the presence of prey by their behavior. When the opportunity arises, the old marsupial pardus uses the prey of other predators – taking advantage of its superiority in weight and strength it easily drives them away and takes away their food. Noticing that the eagle keas are showing interest in something hidden behind the bushes, the predator decided to check what is there. Looking for prey, he sniffs the air, and his sense of smell tells him where to look for prey. The old marsupial pardus is heading straight to the place where Fidget began to eat the taken ultradama fawn.
Fidget easily tore the skin of the prey and began to peck at the meat. As long as no one else encroaches on the prey, he is absorbed only in food. Fidget tears off and swallows pieces of meat, enjoying the food. Once he had to starve, but now he is an experienced and strong hunter, able to feed himself. But, alas, middle-level predators like Fidget often have to feed larger and stronger predators against their own will.
Eagle keas screamed in squeaky voices and took off. Hearing them, Fidget raised his head and looked around. He noticed some movement in the bushes – obviously, the animal, which he could not see well yet, was the cause of the parrots’ fright. Not knowing whom he would have to meet, but determined to protect his prey, Fidget fluffed his feathers and began snapping his beak. He kept his eyes on the animal that was approaching him, hiding in the bushes. Finally, the uninvited guest came closer, and Fidget felt fear. There was no doubt: he had been familiar with the spotted furry skin of this animal, with its large eyes, long tail and clawed paws since childhood. The marsupial pardus is the only predator species in New Zealand that is dangerous for an adult ruacapangi.
The marsupial pardus male inhaled the air through his nostrils with pleasure. He smelled the appetizing flavor of the blood and flesh of the ultradama fawn. The meat of this animal is very tasty, and the marsupial pardus often hunted such animals in its best years. He was only afraid of the adult males of this deer, but later, when he became the head of the clan, he easily killed even such animals. The predator looked at the young ruacapangi male, who fluffed his plumage and tried to protect his prey. Even in his youth, he did not consider these birds as serious opponents, and sometimes even attacked them and ravaged their nests. It is unlikely that this creature will be able to stop him. Therefore, the marsupial pardus boldly stepped forward.
Fidget tried to protect his prey until the last moment. But he knew that he was unlikely to be able to do it. In the memories of his early age there was a moment when his parents tried to drive away such an animal, saving him and another chick, which was in their brood at that time. Then two adult birds barely managed to drive away a predator that was smaller than this giant. Now he has to retreat when an old marsupial pardus male approaches his rightful prey. Finally, the situation becomes critical – the predator is too close, and attacking him means endangering Fidget’s own life. Caution takes over, and Fidget makes a quick decision – he leaves the prey and runs away. The marsupial pardus did not even pursue him – he picked up the prey left by Fidget from the grass and disappeared with it into the bushes.
The clan, which this male belonged previously, lives in the same territory as Fidget. Marsupial parduses hunt larger and stronger animals than ruakapangis, so they do not compete with these birds. There is a very tense relationship between these predators – marsupial parduses attack ruakapangis and often take away the prey of these birds, taking advantage of superiority in physical strength. But ruakapangi can hunt animals that the marsupial pardus will not be able to catch up with – orovises and young ultradamas. But the marsupial pardus, losing ruakapangi in speed, uses brute force when hunting, and then adult taurovises and huge ultradama males inaccessible to ruakapangi often become its prey.
A herd of taurovises grazes in the river valley. These animals have chosen a rich forage area, where large herbaceous plants, shrubs and trees are found in abundance. In the middle of the day, the animals get hot, and they escape from the heat in the water. The animals enter the river, raising clouds of silt and sand from the bottom. Thanks to their wide hooves, they do not get stuck in sand and marshy swampy soil, and most often live in wet areas, thereby avoiding competition with ultradama. In the water, taurovises can afford to be careless – there are no animals in the rivers of New Zealand that can attack them. Large New Zealand predators also do not hunt in the water, and neohanaszaki does not pose a danger even to a newborn taurovis calf. Adult neohanasakis and juveniles, which have barely developed legs, hastily leave ambushes at the bottom of the river when they hear the heavy tread of these herbivores. Taurovises enter the water up to their bellies, stand in the water for a while, enjoying the coolness, and then lie down, and only their heads and backs remain on the surface of the water. Adult animals move farther from the shore, and the young ones prefer to frolick in shallow water. Taurovis calves arrange noisy games in the water – they jump after each other, raising clouds of spray, rear up and fall into the water with force, or swim near their parents, which doze lazily in the water.
Taurovises willingly eat soft aquatic vegetation. The riverbed is overgrown with eel grass, and its foliage sways in the current like long green ribbons. This aquatic grass, introduced by people millions of years ago, could easily block the river current with its dense thickets and turn shallow waters into swamps. However, taurovises and other herbivorous mammals that feed in the river regularly thin out the thickets, protecting the riverbed from overgrowth. Animals pull out this grass in large bunches, but this does not cause damage to the thickets – the fast-growing plant restores the biomass soon. Also, the favorite food of taurovises is coastal reeds. Animals easily pull bunches of them out of the soft soil and chew them whole. They especially love the sappy bases of the stems and rhizomes of the reed.
The head of the herd, a large male, keeps order among the animals subordinate to him. He lazily chews the soft vegetation, casting glances at the shore and the reeds. He has repeatedly faced attacks by predators hiding in coastal thickets. He has a long scar on one side under his fur – once, many years ago, a young marsupial pardus attacked him in the riverine thickets. At that time, the taurovis male escaped, having made a bolt into the river in fright and the predator avoiding the water had to let him go. For many years, having become the head of the herd, the taurovis male remains cautious when near water. Other individuals from the herd under his control also rest in the river channel and in shallow water. At this time, small birds gather on the backs of taurovises and search for parasites in their fur. They behave very boldly – they jump on their heads, look into the ears and nostrils of taurovises, and even carefully clean the fur near the eyes of the animals. Bone “visors” formed by overgrown frontal bones grow above the eyes of taurovis, and parasitic insects often settle under them. So, the birds carefully take them from there, relieving the itch, and at this moment the taurovis freezes, allowing the bird to search freely for parasites. In addition, birds have sharper eyesight, and notice the approach of a predator earlier.
In the evening, when the heat of the day subsides, taurovises leave the water and graze on land. These herbivores consume a large amount of plant food, and almost all their free time is occupied with eating. Even at night, from time to time falling into a deep sleep for some minutes, these animals do not stop ruminating. Young animals live much easier than adult animals. Among the herd, several calves are frolicking next to the females. They only taste the food of adult animals, and the basis of their diet is nutritious milk rich in fat. On such a diet, they grow quickly and have a lot of free time, which they spend for games. They run after each other around adult animals, and even hit legs of their mothers with their foreheads with a run. While they are small, they are forgiven for such pranks, but when the juveniles grow up, he will have to take the lowest step in the hierarchy of the herd. There are already such animals in the herd: two larger males of three years of age. These animals are already old enough to do without maternal care, but they are still too weak to break through to the highest levels in the hierarchy of the herd. They are busy with not calf games at all – young males measure their strength, butting with their wide foreheads. Their blows are still weak, and their foreheads are not so wide. The forehead of an adult taurovis looks more like an anvil. It is slightly convex, very wide and formed of thick skull bones. Such a forehead withstands the loads associated with the mating fervor of huge males, and if necessary, a blow of such a forehead will easily crush the bones of a predatory beast if it unsuccessfully attacks this beast.
Taurovises are careful – they often sniff the air, trying to detect signs of the enemy’s presence in advance. However, evolution equalizes the chances of predator and prey – in response to the appearance of cautious and strong prey, an intelligent and secretive predator that knows how to kill evolves. Millions of years before Neocene, in the early historical epoch, the largest predator of New Zealand was a giant eagle that hunted flightless moa birds. In Neocene, the main predator of New Zealand is the marsupial pardus, the only animal capable of killing taurovis. Ruakapangi rarely dares to hunt the cubs of this giant, and the marsupial pardus keeps taurovis of any age in awe, up to mature males in their prime. Grazing taurovises do not notice that they are being watched by several predators at once, which hide in the thickets. Predators see each other well, and act as a unit. They hunt as a group – this is a more effective way of hunting, more often leading to success.
A clan of marsupial parduses surrounds the taurovis herd. Predators try not to give themselves away with unnecessary movements. They freeze in the bushes for a long time, and their spotted skins serve as an excellent disguise. The main task of predators is to choose a prey, isolate it from the herd, and kill as quickly as possible. The clan of marsupial parduses is a family group run by a young strong male. All the females of the clan are related to each other – these are two sisters and two their daughters. The male, the clan ruler, came from the outside about two years ago. He drove out the old male and killed several of his cubs, which by that time had grown up enough and left the mother’s pouch. Therefore, now the only thing that connects an old male living on the edge of the clan territory with his former family is one cub, which was just a newborn at the time of the accession of the young male, and therefore escaped death while being in the mother’s pouch. The other cubs are the offspring of the new clan master. They do not participate in hunting, staying away from the taurovis herd.
Marsupial parduses gradually close their round-up. It seems that taurovises did not notice them, and the clan has the opportunity to complete the hunt successfully. While the adult taurovises are feeding, browsing the leaves of the shrub, the young taurovises have begun to sort out their relationship again. They behave like adult animals during the rut: they roar, dig the ground with their hooves and shake their heads. They display each other foreheads that have just begun to grow in width, and then rush at each other and lock their horns. For a while, they try to overturn each other, standing up on their hind legs and shaking their heads from side to side, but then they go away of each other and begin to display themselves to the opponent again. Their duel is still of a playful nature – the animals have not yet reached puberty and their maximum size, so they cannot harm each other. However, they were seriously carried away by this game, and did not notice that the herd gradually dispersed, and there was no adult animal left near them. However, it was noticed by the predators surrounding the herd, and the hunt began.
At once two marsupial pardus females burst into the herd and rushed through it, scaring away adult animals. In the first seconds, taurovises cannot understand what is happening and roar anxiously. The herd of giants is panic-stricken, and this is exactly what the predators need. Marsupial pardus females growl and make aggressive attacks on animals that approach them. Their goal is quite definite – to prevent the herd from uniting. The little taurovis calves rushed in a panic to their mothers, counting on their protection, and the females cover them from predators with their bodies. Other animals retreat from the marsupial pardus females, and almost the entire herd gets together. Only two taurovis males, who had gotten into a power play some minutes ago, remained outside the protection of the herd, and now their lives are in danger. They become a target for another female, who was waiting for the opportune moment in an ambush on the other side of the herd. When she jumped out and darted to the young males, they rushed in different directions, roaring anxiously. The females, who scared the herd away, also joined in the chase. One male managed to break away from his pursuers – he ran faster, ran across the road of one of the female marsupial leopards chasing them, turned towards the herd and soon joined his relatives. The second male was left alone, and all the attention of the predators switched to it. Marsupial pardus females did not try to catch up with it, but when the animal tried to turn towards the herd, the predators began running between it and the rest of the herd, preventing the taurovis male from finding salvation among its relatives. It has to run only forward, but he sees that he is overtaking its pursuers. It seems to the young taurovis that it managed to outrun the predators and escape, but actually it is not: it is running towards its own death. The marsupial pardus females drive it farther away from the herd, directing the young taurovis towards a tall tree that rises alone above the thickets. On one of the branches, another hunter, to whom the right of decisive blow belongs – an adult male, the head of the clan – is already waiting for it. Females carry offspring in brooding pouches; therefore they do not risk attacking a large animal for fear of damaging their cubs. They are assigned only the role of beaters. They had done an excellent job – the young taurovis runs to the right place. One by one, marsupial pardus females switch from running to walking. Taurovis also stops. It is tired and breathing hoarsely, and its sides rise and fall. Taurovis sees that somewhere behind it the bushes are moving, and the backs of its pursuers flash among them. Therefore, it continues to escape from the marsupial pardus females, but already at a walk. It’s tired, but the predators can’t keep chasing at the same speed either. However, they do not need it – the marsupial pardus females see the head of their clan carefully sneaking among the branches. Taurovis simply does not understand that death can also come from above.
The marsupial pardus male jumped on its neck with one precise leap, tore its sides with his claws and inflicted several strong bites on its back. An unexpected sharp pain pierced the body of taurovis, and it rushed through the bushes, leaving blood stains on them, and carrying a terrible rider on its back. During the running of the taurovis, the male holds on to it, clutching with his claws, and continues to bite its spine.
The tactics of killing prey in the marsupial pardus is very simple – with strong incisors it bites through the medulla oblongata and spinal cord of prey. The giant ultradama male with heavy antlers dies from one precisely inflicted bite, but taurovis is protected in this respect from the attack of the marsupial pardus. The skin on the back of the taurovis’s head is very thick, and the base of the skull is strong enough to withstand heavy loads – taurovises fight each other by locking horns. Here, the usual way to kill prey does not work immediately, and the marsupial pardus male is in great danger during such a hunt.
Blood flows down the shoulders of a young taurovis, its skin is torn by the powerful teeth of the marsupial pardus, and the animal gradually weakens. The marsupial pardus male has clung tightly to the back of this beast, and blood is pouring from deep wounds inflicted by his claws and teeth. Finally, the male managed to sink his teeth into one of the cervical vertebrae. There was a faint crunch of bone, and the big animal fell. At the moment of the fall of taurovis, the marsupial pardus male jumped off it. When he approached his prey, taurovis was no longer breathing, and one of its eyes stared fixedly at the sky and glazed over. The male licked the blood flowing down the side of the prey and waited for the rest of the clan members. He managed to kill taurovis with almost no losses – only one paw was bleeding from a wound inflicted, apparently, by a branch, when taurovis was carrying the predator on its back, pushing through the bushes.
Branches rustled nearby. The marsupial pardus male raised his head and sniffed. His sense of smell told him that there was no danger – it was the females of his clan gathering. They come out of the bush one by one, and surround the defeated taurovis. The females are very tired – they are breathing heavily. Not every time their hunt ends with such luck, but now their efforts have been crowned with success.
In the distance, the anxious voices of the taurovis herd can be heard, which sound fainter and fainter. Frightened by the appearance of predators and the smell of blood, the taurovis herd goes away from such a dangerous place. Not paying attention to them, the clan of marsupial parduses started eating. The animals easily tear the tough skin of taurovis with their claws, and greedily bite into the warm meat. They broke away from their prey for a few seconds when a rustle was heard in the bushes again. Another female appeared near the clan’s feast place. She did not take part in the hunt, but the clan members do not express any aggression towards her, and she freely approaches the carcass. Everything is explained very simply: a cub is riding her back, clutching her fur tightly with its paws. After this female, several more young animals appear. They are still too small to hunt taurovis, but they can count on a part of the common prey.
These animals eat meat in a rather unusual way – they not only bite it off, but also tear it off with their clawed front paws, and then bring it to their mouths while sitting on their hind legs in an almost vertical position. Marsupial parduses eat quietly – all the prey belongs to their clan, there is enough meat for everyone, and there is no one on the islands who could encroach on their prey. However, there are many creatures, who want to finish the leftovers. The most numerous of the carrion hunters are the ubiquitous eagle keas. These parrots watch each other and quickly gather to the place of successful hunting. A flock of birds is circling in the air, and several dozen of these parrots perched on a tree that shortly before served as an ambush site for the marsupial pardus male. Seeing that the prey of predators is large, all pairs of eagle kea living within a kilometer from this place gather for a feast.
Soon, marsupial parduses get full to the brim and go away, leaving the remains of prey. The meat they have eaten will be enough for the next day, and then they will have to go hunting again. When the last of the predators disappeared among the bushes, the carcass of taurovis immediately disappeared under the bodies of eagle keas gathered for a feast. Screaming loudly, the parrots began to tear up the remaining meat on the carcass. Their voices attract other carnivorous animals, which are not averse to profit from the remains of someone else’s prey. Fidget is among them. The parrots retreat when the ruacapangi male approaches the carcass – the birds fully recognize his priority, and try not to come into conflict with him. Fidget does not pay attention to these noisy birds. He chooses the soft parts of the carcass for himself, because his straight beak does not allow him to tear the meat directly from the bones. He tears off the meat, jerking his head and swallows it greedily. The parrots did not fly away at all when he appeared – they continued the noisy feast, and only stay out of reach of his beak. Fidget likes the taste of young taurovis meat, but in case of hunger he would not refuse carrion already begun to decompose. After eating, he goes away, and the parrots continue the feast. Having already moved away to a sufficient distance from the carcass, Fidget heard a shrill alarm cry of eagle kea. He did not check what happened there – these parrots are usually very brave, and anxiety means that something is happening near the carcass that really scared them.
An old marsupial pardus male, a long-time enemy of Fidget, also found this carcass. If he had come a little earlier, Fidget would have had to leave food and run for his life. He is afraid of this beast, which is very cunning and still strong enough to hunt down and kill Fidget. In addition, he has no permanent shelter and it is unknown where and under what circumstances he may be encountered. Therefore, Fidget was very lucky to avoid meeting him near the remains of the taurovis carcass. The old predator noticed eagle keas gathering for a feast, and hurried to the share-out of the remains of the taurovis carcass. The loud voices of parrots mean that there are no other predators nearby, so the old marsupial pardus is not afraid that he will have to prove his right to share of this meat. He walks to the carcass, scares away the parrots, and begins eating. He rarely gets an opportunity to eat his fill without too much effort – after being expelled from the clan by a young rival, the old beast ate only scraps or preyed small animals. The prey of smaller predators that he took from them was also small, so he had to search for food all day. So, now he has the opportunity to eat his fill. With strong front incisors, the beast gnawes the meat from the bones of taurovis, and nibbles the ribs. But these remnants are not enough for him, and he easily turns the carcass to the other side, where it is less eaten. Here he gets a lot of meat from the legs and sides of the taurovis carcass – this is enough to satisfy his appetite. After the feast of the old male, the parrots will have only some meat, an inedible skin, and bones from which they can easily get bone marrow. Marsupial parduses do not crack the bones of their prey.
Small predators like ruacapangi find it difficult to live alongside stronger and more aggressive predators, such as the marsupial pardus. However, their chances of survival are equalized by the fact that marsupial parduses depend on the abundance of large prey. Each clan of these predators occupies a large territory, and their encounters with ruakapangi are rare enough to harm the populations of these birds. In addition, ruakapangi is characterized by flexible behavior and can inhabit places where it is difficult for both large herbivorous animals and their hunters to live.
Fidget is very lucky to stay alive in the first months of life, when many chicks die from various small predators. He successfully survived the second critical period, when he began to lead an independent life. Now Fidget’s age is about five years. His life is changing – in addition to hunting and protection from enemies, new motives of behavior appear. The body of Fidget has entered the time of maturity, and the fifth spring of life changes its perception of the world around him. While earlier he considered the protection of the territory from his relatives to be his main duty, now he would not drive all his relatives in a row from his territory. Perhaps Fidget is not yet aware of the changes in his sense of the world around him, but he is gradually being embraced by a new feeling that has not yet fully manifested itself.
Fidget is still roaming around his territory, hunting as needed. For five years of his life, he learned to track down prey and kill it quickly and without harm to himself. His territory is rich in prey – there are several colonies of castle rabbits within its borders, and Fidget regularly visits them one after another, gathering a bloody crop from them. In the forest he finds a lot of small animals – lizards, small mammals and chicks of various birds. On the banks of the river and in swampy river bays, he catches aquatic animals – he really likes the tender meat of neohanasaki. With his strong beak, he cracks the shells of river crabs and crayfish like nuts. Only few ruakapangis have mastered catching water animals, but Fidget, thanks to his curiosity, has mastered this activity perfectly and does not remain hungry, even if his hunting on land was unsuccessful.
Fidget takes view of his territory. In the distance, on the riverbank, ultradamas roam. Males have only just begun to grow their impressive antlers, and females are caring for fawns born recently. Fidget prefers not to mess with the males of this huge deer, but he hunts fawns on occasion. Manure heaps lie in the bushes on a wide path, and large round footprints are seen around them – a taurovis herd has passed here. Adult animals are too large and aggressive for Fidget to overcome them, but taurovis calves represent a tempting prey. Some ruacapangi families hunt taurovis calves, although this hunting can be very dangerous. Of course, marsupial parduses roam his territory, considering part of the Fidget’s territory to be their own, but he has learned to avoid meetings with them, and even benefits from the presence of these predators by eating the remains of their prey. So he manages to taste the meat of taurovis and ultradama falling prey of Fidget’s formidable neighbors.
Spring is coming into its own. The cool winter is leaving, the days are getting longer and sunnier, and these changes in nature affect the Fidget’s behavior. His life is on the verge of changes again, and they are no less than when he left his parents and began to lead an independent life.
Inspecting his individual territory, Fidget is looking for prey. Therefore, he immediately notices that the branches of the shrub are moving, although there is no wind. This can mean one of two things – it is either a small animal that can be killed and eaten, or someone of his relatives. Fidget couldn’t figure out what it was, so he began to creep cautiously to the bushes, just in case, being careful. If a marsupial pardus is hiding in the bushes, the meeting may end in death, so Fidget is ready to flee at any moment. But when he took some more cautious steps, the branches of the bushes stirred again, and a head poked out of them. It is a small head on a flexible movable neck. It is a head with a strong and slightly curved beak, similar to the beak of Fidget itself. It is a ruacapangi’s head. Fidget saw that there was no danger, and decided to find out more about this stranger. The other bird also took some steps towards him. It came out of the bushes, and Fidget was able to get a much better look of it. This bird is a little bigger than he is. It is a ruacapangi female. She has a characteristic coloration mark – some white feathers grow over her right eye. This is Whitebrow, whom Fidget has already had to meet once. However, at that time the circumstances were completely different, and he just chased her off his property. Now Fidget is not so aggressive towards her. He cautiously approached Whitebrow, trying to keep his head lower than usual, and darting wary glances at the female. Whitebrow managed to survive and even grew a little larger than Fidget is. If she starts behaving aggressively, Fidget may get several painful pecks, but the conquering of a new territory is obviously not a part of the plans of Whitebrow. The memory of birds is very short: both Fidget and Whitebrow simply do not remember that they have already met in this area about two years ago in completely different circumstances. Now they are getting to know each other, as if they are seeing each other for the first time in their lives. Both birds are ready to form a pair and raise offspring, and aggressiveness towards relatives fades into the background, giving way to the behavior more important for the survival of the species.
Now Fidget felt what the changes taking place in his body meant. All the elements of the puzzle came together to form a single picture – he just became an adult. He did not feel the need to drive Whitebrow from his territory. On the contrary, he would not let her go if Whitebrow decided to leave. Fidget carefully touched Whitebrow’s plumage with his beak and froze. Whitebrow looked at him, and in response touched the bare skin near the Fidget’s eye with her beak. It was an important sign for both birds, signifying the absence of aggression. After this touch, Fidget suddenly took off, ran some steps and spun on the spot, raising his beak up. He performed one element of the courtship dance, just as his father Sharpbeak danced in front of Harpy shortly before Fidget was expelled from the family. Then Fidget ran up to Whitebrow, touched her plumage with his beak and ran away to the side. Stopping, he looked at Whitebrow and shook his plumage. Whitebrow accepted his rules of the game and rushed after him. This element of courtship is very important for birds – while running, they assess the physical condition of the future mating partner, and choose the best one, rejecting the weaker one. It seems, Fidget meets the Whitebrow’s taste well – she barely succeeds not to lag behind him. When he stops, Whitebrow also stops running, but stays close to him, not moving away.
In the evening, Fidget and Whitebrow settle in for the night. They chose a place to sleep in the forest, among the ferns. Whitebrow dug for herself a small hole and lay down in it. Fidget decided to spend the night next to her – he began to rake the ground with his claws next to the hole where Whitebrow got settled. However, she almost immediately showed displeasure – Whitebrow grumbled and slightly pecked Fidget some times, letting him know that he should keep his distance for now. So, the young male retreated, choosing a convenient place for himself not far from Whitebrow.
Over the next few days, the birds gradually strengthen the relationship that develops between them. However, they still hunt singly, as before. After a successful hunt in the riverine shallow water, Fidget brought neohanasaki meat in his stomach. Whitebrow had never hunt near the river, and therefore never tasted the meat of this animal. While treating her, Fidget regurgitated the meat and took it with the tip of his beak – just like adult birds feed chicks. Whitebrow accepted his rules again and crouched down to appear smaller. She lightly touched Fidget’s beak with her beak, and then gently pulled the meat from his beak. Fidget held it for some seconds, but then released it, and Whitebrow swallowed this morsel. Usually, after such a ritual, the female begins to behave like an adult again, but Whitebrow touched Fidget’s beak again, and he had to regurgitate some more meat to treat Whitebrow. During this feeding, the birds took another step towards each other – the female checked the manifestation of the parental qualities of the male, and at the same time tasted meat that she had not eaten before. At night, Whitebrow no longer objected when Fidget decided to settle for the night next to her. She even preened the feathers on the back of his head while he turned in the hole dug for the night.
As the relationship between the birds became even stronger, their ceremonies towards each other became increasingly ritualized. Fidget continues courtship, but gradually begins to bring completely inedible objects to the female instead of prey meat, and the female does not reject them – this means that the material side of the relationship of birds has gradually faded into the background, and the presence of each other is more important to the birds. Fidget often walks around Whitebrow, holding a twig or a dry fern leaf in his beak as a symbolic gift to the female. Bringing such objects, Fidget bows to Whitebrow several times, while tilting his head to one side and looking at her with one eye. Whitebrow accepts these items with interest. She does not swallow them, but begins another ritual – sitting down on the ground, she scrapes the leaf litter with her claws, turning on the spot, and then sits down on the ground and slips the object brought by Fidget under her body. This is a sign that the female is ready to build a nest.
Unlike their ancestors, weka rails, ruakapangi nests not in a hole, but in a secluded place in the forest, hidden from prying eyes. The bird is too large to dig a burrow of a suitable size, and in due course of evolution its building behavior has undergone significant changes. Birds build a nest together. Fidget and Whitebrow dig a hole, scattering the ground far away. Then the birds line the nest with soft material. Usually, Fidget is engaged in its preparation, and Whitebrow has to trample it, forming the inside of the nest. Fidget brings dry fern fronds, bird feathers, and even dried scraps of small animal skins left over from the prey of local predators to the nest. One day the event happened, for which both birds have been preparing for a long time – the first egg appears in the nest. Whitebrow was a little scared of the new feelings of her body when she laid it. After the egg lay down in the litter, she turned and looked at it, and then touched its shell with the skin of her throat. Ruakapangi does not incubate incomplete clutch, as owls do, for example. Therefore, Whitebrow carefully raked the litter on top of the egg, and began to wander around the nest. The appearance of Fidget returned from hunting caused some signs of aggression in Whitebrow – she shook her plumage, and when Fidget tried to approach the nest, stood between him and the nest, looking defiantly at Fidget. The male stopped, dropped the rabbit he brought to the ground, and emitted a short cry. Of course, his voice is well known to Whitebrow, and she calmed down after recognizing Fidget. However, with the appearance of the first egg in the nest, Whitebrow began to show displeasure when the male appeared too close to the nest. So, Fidget had to spend the night separately from Whitebrow again, as in the first days after their meeting. Over the next few days, two more eggs appeared in the nest, and one morning, when Fidget woke up and approached the nest, Whitebrow did not stand up, and met him only with a staccato cry, which she usually uttered to express her displeasure. It was only at this moment that the Fidget noticed that Whitebrow is not in a hole for spending the night, but in the nest. She began incubating, and all the duties of supplying Whitebrow with food, as well as protecting the nest from various nest ravagers and egg hunters, fell on Fidget.
At night, Fidget sits next to Whitebrow and gently, but persistently shifts her to the side. At this moment, for the first time, he directly feels involved in caring for the offspring that has not yet appeared – he touches the smooth eggshell with his skin for the first time. All night the birds incubate the eggs together, and in the morning, when Whitebrow leaves the nest, Fidget replaces her and incubates the eggs on its own. In ruacapangis, the male and female spend about the same time incubating the clutch, but towards the end of incubation, the female stays in the nest longer.
Exactly five weeks have passed since the beginning of incubation. Birds do not keep track of time, but they feel that a very important time comes. At night, when Fidget wanted to get into the nest, as usual, Whitebrow did not let him in. She pecked him several times, and her blows were very painful. Then she growled in displeasure and stood up on the nest. At that moment, Fidget heard some previously unheard sounds similar to the voices of small rodents that he had caught earlier. He did not attach any importance to this, and wandered off to look for a place to sleep.
Early in the morning, as soon as dawn broke, Fidget woke up, hastily preened his feathers and went hunting. His usual prey is a castle rabbit. Fidget has achieved great success in hunting these creatures. He knows how to arrange masterfully an ambush near burrows, and kills these stupid creatures with one peck of his beak. Sometimes lizards fall his prey, or he manages to find the remains of the prey of marsupial parduses, on which the remains of meat are still preserved. However, in this case, the key to success is to get to the remains of the carcass on time. If you are late, eagle keas are unlikely to leave anything edible for ruacapangi on the bones of the corpse. If you appear too early, you can find the hunters themselves near the carcass, and then you will have to save your own life. However, recently Fidget was a lucky hunter, and he always brought food for Whitebrow busy in egg hatching. Fidget managed to kill a large castle rabbit, and he headed for the nest, carrying this prey in his beak.
Whitebrow met him warily, as usual. Fidget had to respond to her voice to calm down Whitebrow. When Fidget approached the nest, Whitebrow lowered her head, fumbled with her beak under her body, and... took out the egg shell with the remnants of the membrane from the nest. Fidget has not seen it before, but he knows how to act in this case. He carefully took the egg shell, carried it away from the nest and threw it into the bushes. As he was returning to the nest, he heard sounds that he had not heard before. Undoubtedly, it was the voice of Whitebrow, but she never made such sounds in the presence of Fidget – she uttered the sounds similar to a quiet cooing. A twig snapped under the Fidget’s foot, and Whitebrow called him in a quite familiar voice. When Fidget approached the nest, Whitebrow continued uttering the same sounds that he had heard before. Suddenly they were joined by other sounds that Fidget had already heard, but did not understand their true meaning – he heard two squeaky voices, which were responded by Whitebrow. When Fidget approached, she got up from the nest, and Fidget saw what he and Whitebrow had to incubate the clutch for several weeks, hunt and defend the nest. Two chicks, covered with black down, are sitting under Whitebrow, not yet completely dried out and barely able to keep their heads up. One more egg laid the first appeared infertile and nobody hatched from it. It was lying at the edge of the nest, and all the attention of Whitebrow was addressed to two small living creatures that carry the genes of both parents. Until these creatures have grown up to realize the best qualities got from their parents, they require only one thing – a relentless parental care.
One of the chicks stirred, opened its eyes and looked at Fidget. The circle of life has closed – five years ago, Fidget came to the light, being the creature like this, and now he has become a father. He will do his best to raise these two chicks, and perhaps one of them will be lucky enough to survive the first years of independent life just as Fidget did. In part, it will be possible thanks to blind chance, but it will also gain advantages in the struggle for existence thanks to the hereditary inclinations got from his parents. Then a new generation of feathered hunters will populate the forests and shrubs of Aotearoa, the land of the Long White Cloud.


Garlic snail (Scorodonodora foetidissima)
Order: Stylommatophora (Stylommatophora)
Family: Ground snails (Helicidae)

Habitat: New Zealand, New Zealand, forests and bush of Both Islands.

Picture by Alexander Smyslov

The appearing of mammals in New Zealand is the new factor for endemic flora and fauna, that existed without them within millions of years. Animals introduced by people had changed the direction of evolution of ecosystems of archipelago. Occurrence of various small mammals had caused the reduction of number of large invertebrates endemic for these islands. Many species kept by people in captivity, in reserves and nurseries, had quickly vanished after human extinction, superseded by descendants of introduced species. But some species of large invertebrates managed to survive – at them new protective adaptations had appeared, permitting to resist to new neighbours.
Snails in most cases survived due to high breeding rate and passive protection – strong twisted shell. Some species of snails became poisonous, and it also raised probability of their survival. In human epoch small insectivorous mammals had appeared in New Zealand, and as the answer, many species of ground snails developed effective chemical protection against them.
This large snail with very appreciable white shell lives in forests of New Zealand. Coils of shell are covered with longitudinal black dabs, and such colouring is well appreciable from apart on the background of grass or forest litter. But bright appearance is a part of protection of snail. If any animal disturbs this mollusk, snail emits the unpleasant garlic smell which is frightening off the aggressor. For this feature it has received the name “garlic snail”. But protection of snail is not limited by smell: if the predator does not stop the attack, snail secrets the caustic and sticky liquid sharply smelling as garlic. In air this liquid thickens and it is very difficult to remove. Therefore garlic snail is not afraid of attacks of small and medium-sized predators at all.
Garlic snail almost does not differ in appearance from other ground snails from other parts of the world. At it there are shorter tentacles on head and wide oral blades plentifully covered with receptors, allowing to find out even such catch, which is hidden in ground at the depth of about 10 cm. Garlic snail is the omnivorous mollusk with a bias in predating. It willingly eats delicate greenery of ferns and other plants, and also mushrooms. This snail also eats any food of animal origin, which it manages to find. But its special food predilection includes various ground invertebrates and carrion. Hunting for ground animals demands the special receptions which this snail owns. Similarly to police dog, it finds with the help of keen sense of smell worm or grub digging not deep in ground. Having defined the location of prey, snail plunges head in ground, and starts to dig a tunnel of prey. Thus the head of snail works similarly to body of earthworm – with the help of contraction of muscles it is extended and forces the way forward; when the snail contracts muscles of back part of body, head expands the hole.
Having reached the body of prey, snail uses the deadly weapon. In its mouth there in fleshy tongue – it is the radula armed with several pointed teeth. Teeth of garlic snail are similar to knifes: they lack of poison, but easily cut the body of prey. Snail devours catch, not pulling it out from ground.
Similarly to the majority of ground snails, garlic snail is the hermaphrodite. It lays large eggs in small portions, digging them in friable ground between roots of trees where probability of egg founding or damage is less. For this purpose snail digs by head small holes in ground the same way, as at hunting, and digs them out after egg laying. Egg laying repeats every 7-8 days; the incubating of clutch lasts about 2 weeks. Young snails at once lead predatory habit of life and can emit caustic odorous substance. At first they eat very small invertebrates – soft insects and small worms. They reach the size of adult snail at the age of one year, and can live up to 5 years.

Neohanasaki (Neohanasaki aotearoae)
Order: Tailless amphibians (Anura)
Family: New Zealand false salamanders (Virilogyrinidae)

Habitat: New Zealand, slowly flowing rivers and big lakes of Southern Island.

Picture by Alexander Smyslov

New Zealand false salamanders are the separate group of amphibians generated in conditions of island isolation. From early Neocene their active adaptive radiation began, and its result is the presence in New Zealand of several variations of these animals, which occupy various ecological niches, avoiding the competition with each other. The majority of New Zealand false salamanders is presented by small animals, but one species represents large amphibian up to one and half meters long. This species is named neohanasaki. “Hanasaki” is the Japanese name of giant salamander, the large amphibian inhabited Japan Islands in Holocene epoch. Neohanasaki is the largest species of “adult tadpoles” of New Zealand.
New Zealand neohanasaki is similar to the prototype from Eastern Asia. At this amphibian there is wide, flat and angular head, on which edges small eyes are located. In corners of the mouth two short wattles with wide bases grow. At neohanasaki, as at all representatives of New Zealand false salamanders, larval features are kept: wide branchial apertures supplied with skinny valve, and skinny fin bordering long tail. The tail makes more than half of general length of this animal.
Skin of neohanasaki is knobby, and on each side of the body small plicas stretch. When this amphibian moves, its skin waves, and it seems, as if the skin was intended for larger animal. But there is a deep biological sense in it – skin helps neohanasaki to breathe, especially in cold season. Neohanasaki moves in water, bending the body wavy and pushing from bottom by short paws. Colouring of neohanasaki is dark brown; throat and stomach are colored beige with small brown spots. When this animal lies motionlessly at the bottom among underwater plants, it may be mistaken for the piece of rotten tree trunk.
By its nature neohanasaki is inactive animal representing the ambuscader like European catfish. Usually it hides under driftwood or motionlessly lies among vegetation, expecting while the prey will approach to it itself to the distance of resultative throw. This species does not pay attention to small fishes and tadpoles, even when they twitch its skin. It hunts for large water animals – crustaceans (river crayfishes and crabs), large fishes, and also medium-sized tetrapods appeared in water. Its prey often may include related species of “adult tadpoles”.
In spawning season this animal turns very active and mobile. Male gets bright courtship dress: its stomach turns yellow with small black spots, and on tail fin the line of jags grows. Trying to impress the female, male turns to her by side and displays the splendid serrated crest on back. If the female is interested in the male, he continues demonstration. During the second part of courtship the male shows bright stomach to the female. It emerges to the surface of water, swims above the site, and splashes by tail, declaring about rights to this territory. From time to time the male pours the female with waves of water, displaying the force to her. This species spawns eggs in big bush of water plants: male and female creep in it together and simultaneously spawn sexual products.
The clutch of neohanasaki may number up to 500 – 600 eggs surrounded with mucous mass. The male displays the care of posterity: it protects territory up to larvae hatching, driving away or simply eating any animals representing danger to eggs. From time to time it slaps by tail on the water surface – it is not only the signal to applicants to keep farther, but also the way of enrichment of water with oxygen. When from eggs tadpoles hatch, male does not abandon them. First days of life tadpoles keep near its head, and male carefully protects them. The top layer of male’s skin at this time starts to swell and to exfoliate. Tadpoles eat it in the first days of life, and due to this feature their survival rate in critical period is very high. The grown up posterity leaves male and swim to the independent life full of dangers. The main danger for young neohanasaki is its congeners: at this species cannibalism is advanced. Therefore till first years of life the posterity keeps in shallow streams, where eats larvae of insects. Sexual maturity at neohanasaki comes at the age of about seven years at length up to 60 cm. Life expectancy reaches 90 years and more.

The idea about the existence of this group of animals is stated by Tim Morris, Adelaide, Australia.

Ruacapangi (Antipodornis ruacapangi)
Order: Gruiform birds (Gruiformes)
Family: “Awful rails” (Deinorallidae)
Habitat: New Zealand, woodlands and forests.

Picture by Alexander Smyslov

Among the order Gruiformes only few species could endure the human activity changing landscape, flora and fauna up to unrecognizability. These ancient by origin birds appeared very sensitive to anthropogenous influence and in human epoch number of practically all species had strongly reduced, and some had died out at all. Representatives of rail family (Rallidae) have especially suffered from people. Before human colonization of planet practically at the each island of Pacific ocean endemic species of rails, moorhens (or gallinules) were found. People had disforested islands, hunted birds, nests and chicks were exterminated by constant people satellites – rats and become wild pigs. As a result from some rail species at all only skins or only descriptions of travellers were remained for science. But in any rule there are exceptions. And among rail birds such happy exception there was New Zealand bird weka (Gallirallus australis). This rather large rail has adapted to life near to the people, and sometimes it even began to harm stealing chickens and ducklings at farms. Mice and rats introduced by people also began to stay at significant place in its menu. This courageous and curious bird had good chance to survive and used it when the mankind has disappeared from the face of Earth.
The descendant of New Zealand rail weka had kept injurious habits and had turned to frighten-looking creature resembling by something tiny variant of fossil bird Phorusracus. The name of this bird – ruacapangi – is taken from folklore of maoris, aborigenes of New Zealand: the huge mythical bird was named so.
Ruacapangi is a bird up to 1.5 m height weighting about 50 kg. In fauna of New Zealand of Neocene epoch this is the largest New Zealand bird. Though Neocene is relatively warm and humid epoch, climate of New Zealand is completely determined by Pacific Ocean. Therefore summer on islands is rather cool and damp, and winter is not frosty but also cool, and snow falls in mountains. Life in such conditions had resulted at theappearance of bird – its feathering is dense and more similar to wool. Only in tail straight wide feathers were kept though this bird does not fly. Tail at male is longer, than at female. Colouring of ruacapangi feathering is soft – feathers are brown with black longitudinal strips; back is darker.
Sides of head, forehead and throat of this bird are featherless and covered with naked skin of flesh-red color. Because this bird is carnivorous, such adaptation helps to keep cleanliness when bird eats prey. Beak is black, slightly bent, thick at the basis.
Wings have disappeared already at ancestors of this species, from them only reduced elements of shoulder grid and rudiment of shoulder bones were kept. But inability to fly is compensated by good running abilities: ruacapangi can accelerate momentum about 60 kms per hour at short distances. On legs of bird short sharp claws providing coupling with ground during run and sharp turns grow.
This bird is the largest predator of New Zealand. It attacks ground vertebrates (basically descendants of species introduced by people), and also gathers carrion at ocean coasts. By hunting habit ruacapangi is more similar to tiger than to wolf: bird reluctantly chases prey preferring to attack it from an ambush, putting short prompt impact.
Usually ruacapangi solitarily or by pairs wander at the territory searching for food. From height of its growth bird looks around watching for carrion or smaller animals. Basically small animals weighting up to 3-5 kg become prey of ruacapangi though some birds (parents and grown up fledglings) can attack larger and dangerous animals in common.
Ruacapangis live in pairs keeping for all life. Male is smaller, but higher and more harmonous than female. Cares of hatch are his occupation when female hunts.
This wingless bird nests at the ground. Nest of ruacapangi represents deepening in the ground up to meter in diameter and about 30 cm in depth. Pair of birds in common digs it in ground among bushes, and covers with dry grass and moss. In clutch there are 2-3 large rounded eggs (length about 20 cm) with motley shell. The clutch is hatched alternately by male and female. The incubating lasts 35 days. Chicks hatch advanced and covered by black down. They at once abandon nest and start to eat. Parents feed them belching pieces of meat. During feeding the adult bird holds a piece of food in beak, and chicks peck it. During feeding they compete among themselves, pushing away each other from parents, but it does not pass to the direct conflict (nestlings of cranes, for example, fight among themselves to death). Young birds develop rather slowly: at them feathers start to grow only at fortnight age. Nestlings keep with parents till the next spring, all this time training in hunting receptions.
The family breaks up in the beginning of summer, and young birds before maturity live solitarily. Sexual maturity comes at them at 5-years age.

Eagle kea (Aquilopsitta horrida)
Order: Parrots (Psittaciformes)
Family: Nestors (Nestoridae)

Habitat: New Zealand, woods and mountains.

Picture by Carlos Pizcueta

Picture by Wovoka

Mass extinction of large ground predators caused by reduction of number of their prey and direct human hunt has affected at the evolution of many groups of vertebrates. Among various unspecialized omnivores species appeared, more or less successfully mastered “speciality” of predator in different ecosystems of Earth. In New Zealand, on islands of continental origin, one representative of parrots occupied the ecological niche of large feathered predator.
It is the descendant of primitive local parrot kea (Nestor), known in human time by predating bents. The Neocaenic feathered predator by validity has name “eagle kea”: it has strongly changed in comparison with ancestor.
Eagle kea is rather large flying bird: its weight is up to 7 kg at wingspan about 3 meters. For it soft colouring typical for ancestor is characteristic: green wings with cross strips, brown head and darkly-green stomach. Tail of this bird is wide and fan-shaped.
Paws of this carnivorous bird have kept structure typical for parrots - two toes are directed forward, and two ones – back. The grip tenacity inherent in these birds was kept, though now paws of eagle kea frequently grip not branches or fern root, but body of catch. The eagle kea spends more time on the ground, rather than its ancestors, therefore its paws are much longer, than at other parrots.
Beak is black, maxilla is approximately twice longer than lower jaw. With the help of long and peaked maxilla the eagle kea cuts catch slicing from carcass pieces of meat. The bottom jaw is massive; with its help bird can crush bones of catch and gnaw cartilages. Around of beak there is strip of naked grey-colored skin protecting feathering from pollution by blood and meat juice.
Eagle kea feeds with most different live catch: it kills mammals and birds weighting up to 20 - 25 kg. Bird does not refuse even “gratuitous entertainment”: it can feed with carrion and gathers rests of catch of large local predatory birds ruacapangi. Sometimes pair of eagle keas imperceptibly accompanies hunting birds ruacapangi, hoping to profit by rests of their catch. Eagle keas usually hunt in pair, only during nesting when one of birds is busy with clutch hatching other bird hunts alone.
This large parrot nests in rock caves and in other places inaccessible to ground animals. In clutch there are two large white eggs. Nestlings hatch helpless, naked and blind. Parents entirely devote themselves to care of posterity: heat nestlings serially, feed them belching semi-digested meat. When nestlings grow up, adult birds start to accustom them to feeding by fresh meat, dragging to the nest big pieces of catch. The posterity develops slowly: young birds fly out from nest approximately half-year old, and after that about one year they live with parents. Thus, birds nest alternate years. But the survival rate of posterity at them is rather high in comparison with other parrots nesting more often and having more nestlings in hatch.
The young birds flied off from nest study hunting receptions at parents. Thus, these receptions are inherited such way from generation to generation. Tactics of hunting happens rather various. Parrots are clever birds inclined to training. The intelligence was one of the components which have permitted these birds to take the important place in ecosystem of New Zealand. Each family develops and keeps receptions of hunting, training posterity to successful tactics of food getting.
At the flat district birds hunt young growth of local herbivores. If it is the cub of any gregarious animal (for example, taurovis), birds wait, while it will separate from group, and then, having chosen the moment, try to drive it off farther. They frighten chasing animal, using their size and loud shouts. If the prey aspires to return to herd, birds attack it and put wounds, compelling it to run to needed side. Parrots prey small and single animals, having hidden in bush or on the tree, and then attack them from ambush like hawk. At the mountain slope eagle keas use limitation of moving abilities of chasing animals. They try or to frighten chosen prey that it stumbles and falls down or actively attack together also to push by impact animal from slope. Similarly to wolves, eagle keas frighten away local hoofed mammals, orovises grazing in mountains to determine, as far as animals in herd are healthy. If any animal escaping from them runs downhill (it is easier to run so), birds drive it until it will stumble against something or will put to itself casual wounds.
Eagle keas living near the sea, visit after storm coasts and eat there dead sea animals cast ashore.
As against to predatory birds of order Falconiformes prevailed in Holocene, eagle keas are rather sociable birds tolerantly concerning to neighbours. During feeding birds keep priority: birds preyed catch eat it first, and only after them other neighbours flied to the feast, eat up rests. The priority is strictly observed: one of birds, owners of catch, drives off other ones while another bird eats, then they vary roles. Such tactics of survival adjoining to altruism, allows each bird to gorge much more often than if these parrots were intolerant of neighbours. Hunting of each separately taken bird or pairs happens successful only approximately in one case from five or six ones. But due to catch of neighbours even the crippled and weakened bird has an opportunity to eat normally.
Attachment of birds to each other is so great, that, happens, pair does not break up, even if one of birds receives serious traumas during hunting and can not have normal life. The bird making pair with it, incurs duties on feeding of the partner, and frequently all other hatch.

Ursine cuscus (Ursiphalanger marsupialis)
Order: Diprotodontia (Diprotodontia)
Family: Phalangers, or Climbing marsupials (Phalangeridae)

Habitat: New Zealand, flatland and mountain forests of temperate climate.

Picture by Alexander Smyslov

In various places of the Neocene Earth it is possible to find consequences of human activity. Certainly, these species, as well as its many contemporaries, have left the trace in paleontologic annals of planet. But there is also other trace: results of introducing of various plant and animal species to other habitats where they did not meet and where could not get naturally earlier. The fauna of some places has very seriously suffered from rash installation of new species, especially fauna of the remote islands.
When the human species had disappeared from Earth face, species delivered by it at all did not gather to die out after it. Simply evolution in those places where unbidden visitors have got has gone by other way, rather than before. In fauna of different places species have appeared which never would get there: in Australia various species of camels, in Europe the descendant of raccoon similar to bear have appeared, and isolated from all continents New Zealands only due to activity of people had got ground mammal fauna.
One of the largest Neocenic New Zealand mammals is the marsupial of huge sizes, the ursine cuscus. It is the descendant of fox brush-tailed cuscus (Trichosurus vulpecula), the marsupial mammal, acclimatized in New Zealand approximately in 1900.
The New Zealand ursine cuscus is a huge ground animal weighting up to 300 kgs. It is one of the largest representatives of marsupials of Neocene epoch. The constitution of animal is massive, vaguely similar to ground sloths Megatherium of prehistoric epoch.
The ursine cuscus spends the most part of life on the ground. The tail of its ancestors, wood cuscuses, was any time adapted for branch seizing at climbing, but at the ursine cuscus the tail is strongly reduced: it is short and nonflexible. During walking of animal it serves as the balance weight, counterbalancing the body. In the basis of tail the fat necessary for maintenance of ability to live of an animal is accumulating – in winter the ursine cuscus becomes languid and slightly hibernates This animal clambers on trees seldomly and very clumsily, preferring to food on the ground. Its hind legs are plantigrade; feet are wide, covered with thick layer of cornificate skin: it permits to go easily both on stones heated up by the sun and on ice. The ursine cuscus moves basically walking on two legs but frequently lowers to all four paws, especially if it is feeding on mountain slope.
Wool of animal is thick, grey with black “cross” on back: longitudinal black strip from nape up to middle of tail, and black stain on hips adjoining to it. Throat, chest and stomach are covered with yellowish-white fur, and on the end of tail the black hair brush grows. Due to thick warm wool animal can normally live in mountains where in spring and an autumn there are light frosts frequently.
At the ursine cuscus there is rather massive head with wide flat forehead. In connection with nocturnal habit of life at it there are large eyes “shining” in darkness as it is characteristic at cats. Pupils are vertical, iris of of eyes is chartreuse. Ears are short and pointed. The ursine cuscus badly distinguishes colors. But it perfectly sees in darkness, has good hearing and keen sense of smell with which help correctly finds edible leaves and ripe fruits.
At this animal there are strong jaws, wide molars and large chewing muscles: the significant part of its diet includes young bush sprouts, and also seeds of grasses. Except for them the ursine cuscus eats roots and tubers of plants.
On forepaws of animal hooked claws serving for ground digging and defense against predators grow. The thumb of forepaw is opposed to fingers – it is a heritage of climbing ancestors appeared very useful, increasing dexterity of movements at food getting. On thumb flat nail grows instead of claw.
The ursine cuscus has nocturnal habit of life hiding in bush thickets in the afternoon. In the afternoon the animal is inactive, especially in hot weather. At this time the ursine cuscus alternates feeding with the periods of short deep dream. After day spending of animals there are traces of their activity in bushes: broken off and picked branches, and also small holes in ground where animals had slept. But at night animals leave shelter and wander in wood searching for forage. They mark the route by odorous liquid from the special gland on hip, sniff at marks left by other individuals. With the help of these marks animals learn about health state and physiological condition of neighbours. They do not avoid direct contacts to neighbours: neighbours treat peacefully enough to each other, they are frequently feeding and have a day rest together. The convinced singles among the ursine cuscuses are rarity. Usually ursine cuscuses keep in groups of 3 - 4 adult animals, but structure of these groups is changeable: in the same structure such groups exist maximally some days, and then they break up - some animals leave it, other ones appear. Usually each animal migrates on wide territory, but does not come out of its borders. Borders of the “inhabited world” at different animals are not coinciding to each other.
During winter cold snap ursine cuscus becomes sluggish and temporarily loses desire to travel. Having found suitable place in wood or among rocks, the animal digs out to itself shelter like den, or expands available one. In this shelter the animal makes a litter, and hibernates. It not true hibernation: in this condition the body temperature of the ursine cuscus is reduced only to some degrees, it periodically moves and wakes up for a little time. At the ursine cuscuses living on plains and in woods of the north of New Zealand, winter lasts not for long – sometimes only about two weeks. At the animals living in colder areas, it can be tightened about two months.
Pairing at these animals occurs in an autumn, but the embryo stops in development up to the beginning of winter. In winter the female gives rise up to 3 cubs. The pouch at this species opens forward. Cubs get into it (at this time the female rummages hibernation for a little, cleaning pouch before cub birth) and start to suck milk. They develop about 15 weeks, reaching to this time of the size of kitten. At this age the pouch becomes cramped for them, and they gradually move on back of mother. Keeping by paws for its wool, young cuscuses gradually start to learn the world and to accustom to adult life. Cubs try food eating by mother, study to distinguish other neighbours; sometimes they even play. At the age of about one year, at weight about 60 kg, they begin independent life. This is the most dangerous time for young growth: they not always can expect for protection of adult animals if the predator will attack. Growing up, young animals become capable to protect themselves. The main weapon of the ursine cuscus is sharp claws on forepaws by which the animal inflicts deep wounds to the aggressor.
At the age of four years, young animals can bear posterity.

Marsupial pardus (Marsupardus aotearoae)
Order: Marsupials (Marsupialia)
Family: New Zealand predatory marsupials (Paradasyuridae)

Habitat: New Zealand, forests and woodlands, shrubs.

Picture by TS-cat

In the human era, the mammals of New Zealand were represented by only some species of bats and by aquatic forms, pinnipeds. Fossils indicate that the most primitive representatives of the mammalian classus have been preserved in New Zealand for the longest time. The poverty of the native mammalian fauna is evidence of the prolonged isolation of the archipelago.
In the human era, everything has changed. People deliberately introduced to the islands a variety of mammals – ungulates, predators and rodents that could not reach these islands in natural way. Among the new settlers in New Zealand there was a representative of marsupials – the brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula). After its settlement in a new place, the ecology of this species has changed, and it has become a dangerous animal for the local fauna: this marsupial has switched from a plant-based diet to feeding on bird eggs and chicks. In the Neocene, the descendants of brushtail possum diverged into several phylogenetic lineages differing in ecology from each other. One of them led to the appearance of the ursine cuscus – a large ground-dwelling herbivore. Another branch, being adapted to predation, formed one of the largest New Zealand predators in the Neocene – the marsupial pardus. It is very different in anatomy and ecology from other descendants of brushtail possum and forms its own family of carnivorous mammals.
The marsupial pardus looks very similar to cats and, but differs from them in a heavier constitution. This animal is larger than a leopard – an adult marsupial pardus weighs up to 200 kilograms. It resembles extinct prehistoric marsupial lions (Thylacoleo) from Australia significantly more than felids. Marsupial pardus has a large head, relatively short paws with sharp claws, a flexible body and a long bushy tail. Like marsupial lions, the marsupial pardus has large incisors, with which this predator deals a fatal blow to prey. The animal has a short muzzle, and the jaws can open wide. The animal’s ears are relatively short and rounded, and the eyes are directed forward and provide acute stereoscopic vision.
The fur of the marsupial leopard has a mottled pattern of a large number of irregular brown spots scattered over the yellowish background. They are large on the body, and smaller and sparser on the paws and head. There are white “eyebrows” above the animal’s eyes.

Picture by TS-cat

The paws of the marsupial pardus are relatively non-specialized – due to it the animal can live equally successfully in various landscapes – from shrubs and woodlands to mountains and dense forests. The front paws of the animal are plantigrade, and the hind legs are semi-plantigrade: the animal supports on the tips of its toes only when walking on flat terrain. The claws of this beast are not retractable; with their help the marsupial pardus climbs trees and rocks well. The tail at this time serves as a balancer. The fingers of the beast are mobile; with their help the animal can dismember prey and even bring pieces of food to its mouth.
Unlike the predatory marsupials of the Holocene epoch, the marsupial pardus is distinguished by good intelligence. It is the result of competition with placental predators introduced to New Zealand, and adaptation to hunting large prey – ungulates and other local herbivores. Due to its size and strength, the marsupial pardus can attack almost any herbivore in New Zealand – the huge ultradama deer and the taurovis – the bull-like descendant of the domestic sheep. When attacking prey, the marsupial pardus bites its prey in the neck or at the base of the skull, biting through the vertebrae and trying to damage the spinal cord and medulla oblongata. These animals often hunt in a group, and then an adult taurovis can easily fall their prey.
This species lives in pairs, and in places where prey is especially abundant, stable breeding groups are formed, persisting for several years in a row and consisting of a male and two or three females. The male of this species is much larger than the female – on average, an adult male weighs 40-50 kg more than a female. A group of animals marks the territory with musky secretions from glands located at the base of the tail. During conflicts with trespassers, these animals utter a long, dull roar. During the mating season, the male claims the territory and the females, uttering staccato screeching cries in the evenings and in the first half of the night.
After a very short pregnancy, the female gives birth to 5-8 joes. The brooding pouch of this species is well developed and opens back, but there are only four nipples in it, so only those cubs survive, that managed to crawl into the pouch the first. Gestation of offspring in the brooding pouch lasts about ten months, and only in the late spring of the next year the cubs become developed enough to move independently. As a rule, only two cubs survive until this time. The female carries them on her back, but takes them off during the hunt and leaves them in the shelter, returning for them later. The cub has a dark brown coloration, on which a lighter pattern appears over time. At the age of one and a half years, the young animal leaves the parental group and leads an independent life.
Young animals reach the size of an adult animal at the age of 4 years. At the same time, they become sexually mature.

Tiny shrew-like hedgehog (Microerinaceus minutissimus)
Order: Hedgehogs (Erinaceomorpha)
Family: Hedgehogs (Erinaceidae)

Habitat: New Zealand, woods in foothills.

Picture by Alexander Smyslov

From the beginning in New Zealand there were no small ground mammals – islands were separated from the common body of southern supercontinent Gondwana too early. Therefore in absence of competition one local New Zealand bat, Mystacina tuberculata, which had adapted to partly terrestrial habit of life, replaced them. Introducing of mammals by people had radically changed the situation and had changed the direction of evolution of local species of animals. Among the introduced species of mammals there were hoofed mammals, predators and marsupials. From the group of insectivorous mammals the European hedgehog had got to islands. It had easily accustomed in new place of inhabiting, and its descendants had equally easily outlived humans.
The Neocenic descendant of hedgehog, tiny shrew-like hedgehog has occupied the ecological niche of small insectivorous animals, finally having superseded bats from it. This creature is the tiny mammal similar to shrew in size and habits. At it needles characteristic for hedgehogs are reduced and have remained only on head, and grow as the longitudinal strip on back. It is connected to change of way of life: the former sluggish creature has turned in fast small mammal scurrying among bushes and grasses; speed has replaced to it passive protection with the help of needles. But in behaviour of shrew-like hedgehog nevertheless there are the features inherited from an ancestor and connected with ability to be self-protected by means of needles. Tiny shrew-like hedgehog is rather aggressive, despite of small size. At the attack of predator even if it is much larger than this mammal, shrew-like hedgehog is protected actively. It bites the enemy by peaked needle-like teeth, runs into it and tries to strike bristling needles growing on head.
Shrew-like hedgehog is colored very contrastly. Its needles are colored white, and wool on body is black – it is warning colouring which is perceived even by animals lack of color sight. Being protected from the enemy, the animal utters shrill peep (almost ultrasound) which is not loved by many animals with keen hearing. Therefore birds and mammals usually avoid attacking tiny shrew-like hedgehog, and kill it casually in small amount. One of main enemies of this animal is large New Zealand mouse-eating gekko, the large lizard living in wood litter and hunting from ambush.
Tiny shrew-like hedgehog is solitary territorial species. The individual site is carefully marked by musk substance which is secreting from glands located near the anal aperture. This animal is active in twilight and at night though separate animals hunt in the afternoon, especially in shady cool woods. Males and not sexual matured females do not arrange constant shelters and spend day in temporary refuges. Only the pregnant female arranges a constant nest in bush: she digs out a hole up to half meter deep, or occupies another's one. The entrance in hole is disguised and protected by branches.
Occasionally shrew-like hedgehogs get in holes of castle rabbits – herbivorous animals, settling in big colonies. In holes these small mammals eat various insects, and sometimes attack newborn rabbit cubs. But such cases are casual, and take place only in weak colonies, where there are few adult animals.
This animal is carnivorous, and also eats only insects and other small invertebrates. Shrew-like hedgehog has inherited from ancestor exclusive resistance to poisons; therefore it frequently attacks even on poisonous centipeds and eats them without harm for itself. It bites such dangerous animals in head to kill on the spot. Frequently shrew-like hedgehog attacks lizards twice heavier, rather than itself. In this case it carries off catch in bushes (despite of small size, it is very strong) and stays near the catch, yet will to have eaten it completely. Rate of metabolism at tiny warm-blooded animal is very high; therefore shrew-like hedgehog is compelled to eat almost constantly, with small breaks on. For day it eats the amount of food one and half times more, than it weighs.
This animal lives a little and very quickly. The female matures at the age of about two months. After pregnancy, which lasts about 12 days, she gives rise to 5 – 8 tiny, blind, helpless cubs. They completely develop at fortnight age, and three-week old mammals already lead independent life. Bringing up posterity, the female is strongly exhausted. In one month after the posterity has abandoned the female, she restores the physical condition and is ready to pairing again.

Picture by Alexander Smyslov

A related species, mountain shrew-like hedgehog (Microerinaceus montanophilus), lives in mountains of New Zealand. It is larger (rat-sized) and more aggressive species of mammals. Needles on its head are reduced, but on back there is a crest of firm cross-striped needles. At danger it rears needles and stirs them up, turning to the opponent sideways. This species also leads solitary way of life and is a predator. It frequently attacks lizards and small mammals.

Taranga (Taranga partenogenetica)
Order: Carnivores (Carnivora)
Family: Mustelids (Mustelidae)
Habitat: New Zealand, woods of southern part of archipelago and mountain areas of islands.

Picture by Carlos Pizcueta (Electreel)

Before people colonization and the introducing of various species of animals the nature of New Zealand was the most original and ancient by origin one in the world. New Zealand is the archipelago isolated from continents since Mesozoic era; therefore the majority of animal groups, characteristic for other areas of the Earth, simply could not settle it. Before people occurrence mammals of New Zealand were presented only by bats and seals. Humans had introduced numerous mammals to islands – predators and hoofed mammals which had changed a nature of this isolated world up to unrecognizability. Native species of birds, reptiles and invertebrates hardly resisted to the impact of introduced species, and the majority of them had disappeared in human epoch or during some tens thousand years after people disappearance. Descendants of introduced species occupied ecological niches had been empty earlier, superseded New Zealand endemic species and after millions years had generated the balanced ecosystem. Primary it had been no digging mammals at New Zealand, but in Neocene one of introduced species evolved to true underground inhabitant.
One of the most successful and nocuous for native fauna introduced species was hermin (Mustela erminea). In human epoch this mammal became the reason of reduction of number and disappearance of numerous species of New Zealandian birds. But time of its prosperity had approached to the end in glacial epoch, when the climate had changed. Ecosystems of the past degraded, and inhabitants of islands should search for new sources of forage to survive. One of descendants of hermin had turned to digging animal, having replaced moles absent at these islands. Taranga – the new species of digging mammals – had appeared so in New Zealand. In myths of New Zealand Taranga is the female, in the afternoon leaving the land for the underground world. This animal, as against the mythical prototype, had gone under the ground for ever, becoming the species deeply specialized to underground habit of life.
Body length of taranga is about 20 cm, from which about a quarter falls to a tail. The body of this small mammal is covered with rich velvety wool of grey color. Populations from mountain areas differ in longer and denser fur. Head of this mammal is very short and flat; on nose bridge the wide corneous scute is advanced. Taranga digs holes with the help of forepaws. They are similar to paws of the mole: short, wide, strong, with palms turned back and long thick claws. The body of taranga is lengthened, hinder legs are rather weak – animal pushes by them from walls of hole during the movement.
The skeleton of this mammal is additionally strengthened: it is important for underground habit of life when the animal is threatened constantly with danger to appear filled up with stones. Cranial bones of taranga are very thick; ribs are expanded and strong. Vertebrae are strengthened by numerous additional shoots and jags forming additional mechanical coupling. By structure of backbone this animal is convergently similar to girder-backed shrew (Scutisorex somereni) from Uganda lived in Holocene epoch.
Sense organs at taranga are advanced differently, rather than at hermin. Eyes of animal are very small; sight sence is substantially degenerated: the animal badly distinguishes contours of objects and does not distinguish color at all. Sight is useless at life under the ground, and by importance for animal it had been completely replaced with well advanced sense of smell.
Sharp thin teeth specify that taranga is active predator. This animal eats rodents, worms and reptiles creeping in its holes.
Taranga does not like stony soils and lives in soft wood ground rich in humus. Separate populations of taranga exist in mountain areas of New Zealand, but they are settled in places where there are woods with thick layer of ground. Also taranga does not live in tropical woods of the north of New Zealand, where the layer of ground is rather thin.
This is the solitary animal. Each individual digs system of holes and marks borders of territory with musk secretions. If two animals meet in the common system of holes, there is a fight between them, frequently ending by the death of one of animals. For these animals the cannibalism is characteristic, especially at the lack of food.
Only the female ready to pairing can admit the male to the territory, but right after pairings she banishes him. At this species of mammals the number of unique features of breeding is developed. The hermin – the ancestor of taranga – strongly depended on number of rodents, and at it the special adaptation permitted to restore quickly the number of species had developed. The male of this species had coupled to newborn females, and they grew, being pregnant. At taranga this adaptation had undergone change in connection with warming in early Neocene and rather constant conditions of inhabiting. This animal is able to parthenogenesis: young females grow, and at them the new parthenogenetic generation of cubs already develops. All newborn individuals of parthenogenetic generation are females. If the female ready to pairing has not met the male, at her the occurrence of parthenogenetic pack is also possible. In ovocites there is the doubling of chromosomal complement which is not accompanying with cell division, and from them normal cubs develop. In mountain valleys there are the populations of taranga including only females – possible, this is the parthenogenetic posterity of the single foundress individual. Taranga breeds two times per year; in litter it may be 4 – 5 cubs.
This animal grows quickly, reaching the maturity at the age of half-year. But the life expectancy of taranga exceeds five years seldom.
Taranga is not unique species of underground predators on Neocenic Earth. At the territory of Europe the blindweasel lives – it is another species of underground mustelid, completely lost sight sence, but not adapted to burrow digging.

New Zealand ultradama (Ultradama megaloceros)
Order: Artiodactys (Artiodactyla)
Family: Deer (Cervidae)

Habitat: New Zealand, South Island; woodlands, shrubs in temperate and subtropical climates.

Picture by Alexander Smyslov

The fauna of New Zealand before the advent of human epoch was the oldest and most distinctive fauna on Earth, with a high percentage of high-level endemic animal groups. But during the human epoch this peculiarity was violated. Man has exterminated many species of New Zealand endemics and introduced a large variety of animals to the islands. As a result, by the end of the human era, the fauna of New Zealand represented a bizarre mixture of wild and domestic animals from different parts of the world, with the addition of single descendants of the original indigenous fauna.
Among the animals introduced to the islands were deer of various species, including the fallow deer (Cervus (Dama) dama). In their homeland, in the subtropical regions of Asia, fallow deer and many other deer became extinct due to strong anthropogenic pressure and habitat destruction, but in New Zealand they managed to survive, despite systematic operations to reduce their numbers. In the process of evolution, one of the descendants of the fallow deer turned into an animal of impressive size - the New Zealand ultradama.
Ultradama lives in woodlands and mountain valleys, preferring areas of subtropical climate, close to temperate. This animal is a descendant of large deer species that appeared in New Zealand during the Ice Age at the turn of the Holocene and Neocene. Ultradama has retained the large size characteristic of its ancestors: the growth of this species at the withers reaches 170 cm, and its weight exceeds 400 kilograms. Males of this species are much larger than females (the weight of the female is approximately 2/3 of the weight of the male). Despite its massiveness, the ultradama retains the appearance characteristic of deer. The animal's coat has a reddish-brown color, and sexual dimorphism is clearly expressed in its color: female ultradamаs retain the spotty color characteristic of cubs throughout their lives. Males, on the other hand, have a single color without spots, and a brown mane develops on the sides and front of the neck.
Another feature of sexual dimorphism is the development of horns. Females of ultradama are hornless, and in males the horns reach an extreme stage of development. The ultradama is characterized by a huge span of horns - up to 250 cm; in this way, this species of deer is only slightly inferior to the extinct Irish elk Megaloceras. The horns of an adult male ultradama weigh about 100 kilograms, and this significantly reduces the speed of his running. In the highlands of New Zealand, fast-footed predators are rare, so males can be slow and heavy - for gene transfer, it is much more important to be attractive to females. The horns of the ultradama have a peculiar shape - the thick cylindrical base of the horn smoothly turns into a flat polygonal “palm” (like the horns of an elk), on which up to five - six long and almost straight processes, directed to the sides and slightly upward, develop. Another process departs from the front edge of the base of the horn - straight, directed forward and slightly to the side.
The horn of the ultradama develops to this state over many seasons. The first horns of a young male, growing at the age of one year, are straight, subulate, about 50 cm long. In the second year of life, the horn branches out - a short lateral process appears, and the “palm” of the horn slightly expands. In the third year, the lateral process is already well expressed, and on the “palm” there are short rudiments of the horns, which increase in length every year. The horns of the male ultradama reach full development in the eighth year of the animal's life.
Ultradama females and males choose different habitats for life: females and young males (up to about two years of age) can live in a relatively dense forest, where it is difficult for the male to move because of the large horns. Males live in open woodlands and among bushes, where there are no obstacles to movement. Possessing a powerful constitution, they easily lay paths among the bushes and young forest stands along which a herd of such animals moves. Closer to the breeding season, animals form mixed herds, which are divided into a number of harems during the mating season. Antlers bring some inconvenience to males in life: often males of ultradamаs drown in swamps, as in the Pleistocene male big-horned deer drowned. But the decrease from accidents does not affect the reproduction of these animals - during the breeding season, males with huge horns gather the largest harem.
Ultradama feeds mainly on the leaves of shrubs and low-growing trees, and also bites the tops of tall grasses. Due to such a diet, the teeth of the animal are relatively weak, and the jaws are long.
Outside the breeding season, having shed their horns or having soft, incompletely formed horns, ultradama males are non-aggressive towards each other. They keep in herds of 10-15 individuals, feed and rest together. Calcium is vital for them to form horns, so males seek out and regularly visit limestone outcrops. In these places, they eat the soil and lick the limestone crumbling under the roots of plants. In autumn (in the southern hemisphere - in April) the horns of males complete development and ossify. Dead skin peels off them, and the males clean the horns, butting the tree trunks. And later, by the beginning of May, mating tournaments begin. Males roar trumpetly, challenging their rivals. The duel of males is very ritualized. Huge animals converge with each other, cling to the horns of the enemy, and wage a power struggle. Each male tries to pry off the opponent's horns with his horns from below and raise his head from the ground with the effort of powerful neck muscles. The defeated male retreats, and the winner emits a victorious roar. There can be up to fifteen females in the winner's harem.
The female gives birth to two cubs with a spotted camouflage coloration. In the first weeks of life, they gradually try to eat grass, although they feed on milk up to four months of age. Young animals become completely independent at the age of six months. Sexual maturity of males occurs at the age of four years, and females give birth to offspring already at the age of three.

Translated by Alexander Smyslov

New Zealand orovis (Orovis austro-alpinus)
Order: Even-toed ungulates (Artiodactyla)
Family: Bovids (Bovidae)

Habitat: mountains of New Zealand from wood zone up to Alpine meadows.

Picture by Alexander Smyslov

New Zealand during millions years had remained “the lost world” even more forgotten rather than South America of Paleogene and Neogene epochs. There were no even mammal species there except for pinnipeds for which ocean open spaces are not a barrier and bats have arrived to these islands by air. People have thoughtlessly “enriched” unique fauna of islands with various species of domestic and exotic mammal and birds. Thus catastrophic damage was put to local fauna.
After human disappearance on Earth New Zealand has remained in any measure to the “lost world” condition separated from other world by Pacific Ocean. Animals belonging to groups dyed out or fairly degrading in “big world” had kept here. So, when number of hoofed mammals on continents had reduced, in New Zealand one of their species had roughly evolved. Pacific Ocean by its heat had kept this ground from congelation and has provided enough precipitations for grass and trees developing on these islands. And in Neocene descendants of one of survived species, domestic sheep, wander among meadows and woods. There are swift-footed wood animals, massive inhabitants of plains and light forests, and also dexterous and mobile inhabitants of mountains among them.
New Zealand orovis (literally: “mountain sheep”) has returned to habitat where distant ancestors of these animals lived: in mountains. Here, on Alpine meadows, small herds of these animals under the leading of dominant male graze.
Orovis is medium-sized animal (domestic goat-sized one). Back legs at it are longer than front ones: it is a characteristic feature of mountain animals. At such constitution it is more convenient to graze on slope.
Neck of animal is strong especially at the adult male - animals establish hierarchy butting. Horns are short, straight, with thick bases, sticking up back and in sides. Forehead is very wide, at the male it sometimes acts as osseous “helmet”. Muzzle of orovis is narrow and rather long: it helps to nibble grass growing between stones.
Hoofs of orovis are strong and wide. The bottom surface of hoofs is concave and edges are rather sharp: with the help of such hoofs animal can walk on abrupt slopes and keep on smooth rocks.
In mountains it happens coldly enough even in warm climate of Neocene. Therefore orovises differ in dense and thick wool. Adult animals have grey wool on the body, dark legs and “belt” (longitudal stripe) on back. For recognition of neighbours on cheeks of adult animals there are white stains varying by size and form at different individuals. In summer animals fade and wool becomes shorter and thiner.
Summer is time when air rings from flights of different blood-sucking flies. Therefore tail of orovis had turned to excellent fly-beater – it is long and flexible with brush of long hair on the tip.
Orovises migrate in herds in mountains of New Zealand. In each herd there are large dominant male (large head with thick horns distinguishes it), females standing lower in hierarchy (in harem of one male there are about ten ones of them) and cubs. In summer these animals rise highly in mountains, and at times they reach snow-line. Their basic food is grassy plants and mainly graminoids. It is much more difficult to search for forage in winter – orovises hardly rake snow with their thin legs. Therefore more often in winter it is possible to meet orovises in foothills where snow layer is not so thick or it does not fall absolutely. Animals feed in woods, graze grass and ferns, and gnaw branches of bushes and young trees. At this time some harems of different males can unite: in winter these animals tolerantly concern to each other. Also it is easier to big herd to protect from local predators.
In spring when snow in mountains thaws orovises come back in mountains. At this time between males there are fierce duels for females and territory: opponents ram foreheads and make force struggle trying to tumble the contender down. Both contenders loudly roar during a duel trying to make an impression upon the opponent. Sometimes in the heat of struggle they rear and start to beat opponent by forelimbs. After such duel defeated one runs out from stadium but sometimes at worst it stays on a battlefield lying having had neck fracture.
The winner male drives “harem” of defeated one to the herd and marks new territory by dung heaps. The defeated male now stays practically without means of subsistence: it lives at the edge of territory which once was its property and carefully hides the stay on it – up to the following breeding season.
Once a year in early spring while animals stay in forest zone, the orovis female gives rise to two cubs. They can run in some hours after birth. When snow in mountains thaws the herd goes to Alpine meadows and during the migration cubs master elements of mountaneering. They suck milk up to 4-month age but since the second week of life start to try plants eating by adult animals. Grown to the age of half-year young males start to suit duels and to establish hierarchy. At this time dominant male starts to show them the superiority compelling them to leave from herd.
Young males form independent herds and migrate in mountains within two years. Having reached maturity they start to challenge adult owners of “harems”, and at times the herd of old male appears shared between two or three young applicants.

Taurovis (Taurovis aotearoae)
Order: Even-toed ungulates (Artiodactyla)
Family: Bovids (Bovidae)

Habitat: marshy plains and bushes of New Zealand in temperate climate zone.

Picture by Alexander Smyslov

Up to time of European colonization of New Zealand first settlers of these islands had already time to destroy huge wingless moa birds occupying ecological niches of herbivorous mammals. Ecological niches which have become empty as a result of unlimited hunting of aborigenes stood empty rather not for long time: after disappearance of humans their satellites – become wild pets – have occupied them. Descendants of domestic sheeps, fertile and quickly adapting animals have occupied niches of herbivores in various places. One of sheep descendants had turned to very remarkable animal resembling bulls by mighty constitution.
Taurovis, the “bull-sheep” – it is the name of this creature. This is very large animal, largest one among New Zealand herbivores: its height at a shoulder is up to 1.7 m at length of body up to 3,5 m. At it there are massive body, rather short thick legs and large head. The neck of animal is short and covered with mane of long hair. The body is covered with short brown wool with dark “glasses” around of eyes and “stockings” on legs. At males wool on trunk is darker than at females.
The “ram surface” of head of the mature male is trapezoid, flat, formed by forehead and wide bases of short thick horns and covered with hairless cornificate skin. Ends of horns are directed to sides and even a little downwards. Horns serve to these animals rather for demonstration than for direct purpose: it is impossible to make force struggle by them, at butting horns of animals do not adjoin at all. At taurovis females horns are underdeveloped, and look as bone lumps on each side of skull and forehead is more convex than at males. Edges of forehead hang above eyes forming original osseous “peaks” protecting eyes from casual damages by branches of bushes.
Taurovises live on bush plains of New Zealand frequently coming to bogs. For walking across fenny bogs this animal has special adaptation: hoofs are wide and can move apart increasing the area of support. Besides these animals perfectly swim and frequently feed in rivers thining out thickets of reed and other marsh plants. In heat animals spend all day in the river grazing on bank in the evening.
Near rivers one trouble waits of these large animals: in water mosquitoes, midges and other blood-sucking insects breed in plenty. They attack warm-blooded animals by large swarms exhausting them by stings. Taurovises are able to resist to this mistfortune: they bathe in river or wallow in dirt. The drying up dirt unpleasantly smells partly masking smell of animals. Besides it sticks wool of animals to the true armour impenetrable for stings of mosquitoes.
In places where taurovises regularly feed bushes do not form continuous cover: big animals trample and constantly renew tracks along which they walk. It expands their forage base: among bushes clearings appear where graminoids and other various grasses giving food to taurovises and other local herbivores plentifully grow.
Taurovises live in herds including one male, some females and cubs of first two years of life. Each herd has the territory which borders are marked by manure heaps. These heaps are regularly renewed, and at times reach 1 meter height. Herd has some basic routes of movement on territory. Within one year they are used with different frequency: in summer animals spend time near to rivers or lakes, and in winter more often in bush thickets.
Once a year female gives rise to one large cub. At three – four hours after birth it stands and tries to walk, and for the second day of life it freely walks behind herd. Young growth is covered with more light wool than adult animals: it is straw-coloured with brown legs. Young taurovis spends first two years of life in parental herd. But when it grows up and colouring of wool becomes all more similar to adult one, young animal is compelled to abandon herd – adult animals show aggression to young ones seeing competitors in them.
Young females give rise to posterity since four-year-old age.


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