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HEXAPI

by Chris Wayan, 2004

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A hexapod, a squidlike savanna dweller, next to its evolutionary cousin the tree-squid, on Serrana, an experiment in planetology.  Click to enlarge.

Picture a sea dominated by squid in the depths (after all, they ruled Earth's deeps until the geologically recent invasion of sperm whales) and octopi in the shallows. Octopi already crawl out of the water when it suits them, even under one full gravity; so land octopi are a plausible consequence of Serrana's low gravity. But eight legs is arbitrary (as squid prove); let's make Serrana's land-pioneers six-legged. Like tree-crabs, we eventually end up with arboreal hexapi in mangrove swamps. At last they adapt fully to land, and fill many niches apes fill in our rainforests. To grasp branches, the tentacle-tips split, as did the tip of elephants' trunks; six "digits" became twelve. This species, treesquid, is still present in tropical forests, though it's acquired tools, fire, and speech. Their language is pictographic: color glyphs rippling over their skin.

But on Serrana there are two phases to the land invasion, and many species only manage half. Almost all early land creatures emerge into rainforest or swamp; but most of Serrana is desert and steppe. Species who linger by the shores and in tropical forests stay regional, but those who step out of the trees can spread worldwide. True, it's a tough veldt out there: you face creatures that might as well be from different planets. Eventually, some marginal squid (literally so: on the dry, patchy forest-margin) take the chance. Already leathery and sun-tolerant from their marginal habitat, they step onto the savanna... as we did. Just as we lost our black fur in the hot sun, they lose their chromatophores--hides thicken to prevent sunburn, and develop pebbly calcified "scales". Unable to form full-color pictographs on their new skin, they develop a gestural sign language. After all, hexapi have free limbs to talk with while still walking and carrying tools and kids in other arms. Far simpler than investing in specialized nerves and muscles to refine their soft hooting into speech. Will hexapi develop a purely instrumental music? They're certainly built for it. Consider the Darwinian advantage of a band with a hexapod drummer!

WHAT BODYPLANS FAVOR INTELLIGENCE?

Earth's standard avian and mammalian body plans are terribly awkward for intelligent species--hands must double as feet! To hold or examine an object, apes must sit or totter around on hind legs. Ravens must either grasp with their beaks or balance on one foot. There are solutions, of course: human bipedalism is just a makeshift version of a plan kangaroos and velociraptors worked out long ago.

But freeing up hands is a quadruped problem. Four limbs aren't the only way! Elephants nosed out an elegant solution. And why stop at five? Many Serranian groups favor six. Centauroids have enough limbs to let (four) legs be legs and (two) hands be hands. Hexapi, like apes, don't allot a fixed number of legs for propulsion versus manipulation; but unlike apes, their tentacles are a spectrum, from delicate to sturdy. No two are identical. A limb for every purpose--like a living Swiss Army knife! Three stout tentacles grow tough pads--two-toed feet. The three lightest tentacles move up the torso a bit to form arms.

And so the hexapi fan out into the huge Serranan veldt, picking up rocks and tossing them, playing with fire... to discover centaurs and flying foxes and small dinos across the deserts, and cameloids in the mountains, and hand-snouted mammoth-crabs on the tundras...

HEXAPI TODAY

They're still close cousins to tree-squid; as close as humans are to gorillas. But half a million years ago they ventured onto the savanna, "and that has made all the difference." They're lanky and taller than their arboreal cousins. Instead of six radial arms they have three lower "legs" with cartilaginous stiffeners (more pliable than shark "bones", but pretty tough) and callused pads at the tips. Three more delicate upper arms have longer fingers of different sizes. Their leathery skin is mostly covered by small pebbly calcium "scales." This new skin can't change color or form pictographs; hexapi speak in signs.

Hexapi, squidlike savanna dwellers on Serrana, an experiment in planetology
Hexapi still like shade; one of their first inventions was the parasol. They often wear bright-colored wraps against sun and wind. They rainbathe, drinking rain through their skin. They can swim short distances, but usually walk on the bottom instead; their calcium armor weighs them down. Most tribes have hairy topknots doubling as sunshades and flyswatters. Top-tails, basically, changing from brown to blonde to green to match the seasonal grass-colors (camouflage when splayed out on a hunt).

Some tentacle-tips stayed relatively sensitive, others grew thicker armor, for fighting and heavy tool use. Hexapi handled fire early (for they could pick up hot coals in their toughest tentacle) and thus never suffered serious losses to raptors. They adopted a more carnivorous diet than their forest cousins as they learned cooperative hunting; though they still excel at bird-snaring and streamfishing. Root-digging led to basic agriculture, possibly the first on Serrana. Many warmweather crops are Hexapian.

Their habitat today? From open forest to wide, dry veldt. Common on coastal islands too. They feel short of breath in mountains and dried-up in deserts, and aren't fond of snow. Still, they can be found on 50-60% of the land surface, though nowhere in huge numbers.

Lifestyle? So variable they're hard to characterize! In this regard they're the most human of Serranians, though they may look the most alien! True generalists, like us. Hexapi are both settled and nomadic; farmers, traders, travelers, burrowers, builders, or simple tribes passing lightly as clouds over the grass, carrying only their beloved parasols (and, of course, a few light, valuable trade goods, available at splendid prices.)

Map of Serrana, a world-building experiment. Click a feature to go there.
TOUR SERRANA! Click a region for a detailed ground-level tour: Aburros Sea - Woble Range - Yanneba Basin and Plano - Mosnoll and Eronit Basins - The Tsud Desert - Eamet Ocean and South Pole - Leas, Niirg, and Narek: The Lesser Seas - The Rakach Plateau and the Northlands

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