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MAMMOTHS

by Chris Wayan, 2004

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Looks can deceive. Serranian mammoths aren't mammals at all. Parallel evolution with a vengeance! The mammoths began as 4-legged, long-snouted crablike creatures in the primordial Narek, Niirg and Leas Seas. These crabs climbed into "mangrove" forests and adapted to air. Their multijointed snout-feeler grew prehensile, hand-tipped. Some species added a living skin over the carapace so they could expand it gradually and avoid molting--on land, in gravity, molting an outgrown carapace left them terribly vulnerable. Larger species slowly added muscle outside the arthropod exoskeleton, which soon wasn't one. Eventually only a good anatomist could deduce their crustacean origin.

Evolution of a lichen-eating 'mammoth' from a tree-crab. One of six intelligent species on Serrana, a planetological experiment.
Having cast off molting like, well, an outgrown crab-shell, these tree-crabs could grow in size. Species radiated into every forest niche. One species grew too big for the trees and started browsing from ground level, reaching up into the trees with its hand-snout, becoming quite elephantine. This strategy flourished, and soon several species of these elecrabs roamed the woods around the Lesser Seas. Most died out as Serrana entered a dry phase and early raptors spread, attacking everyone. But the shaggy red lichen-eating tundra-dwelling elecrab, the largest, adopted bone weapons and defended itself. It helped that no other intelligent species liked the tundra. The cold-tolerant "featherball" race of raptor is relatively recent, and still prefers boreal forests too closed-in for mammoths.

A second small species did survive, in their ancestral forest--the woodogs, who burrowed into great trees and defended their villages en masse. But they didn't adopt tools, and they still hover on the brink of sentience.

Mammoths today dominate the south polar tundra plus the Leas Mtns and share Reppok Plano with the Planians. A few small groups wander the Mosnoll and Eronit Mts and their planos, north of Reppok--it's how they reached the Tibet-like Rakach Plateau and the Sa Rethen Mts, and then the north polar tundras--except the isolated Narek Tundra, which they've only recently begun settling.

But this high-altitude mountain bridge above the desert has one gap. Never ask a mammoth how they crossed the barren ridges flanking Pedess Desert, unless you love epic poetry--and don't care much about facts. The epics make it sound as if shamanic dreams alone led Eronit--they never mention that the Planians told her about the cooler lands beyond.

Such wanderings, though, aren't unusual. Mammoths are nomadic. Giant grass- and lichen-eaters can't afford to settle down. (If for no other reason, imagine the smell...) So mammoths have always wandered in small tribes. They resemble, more than anything, the Siberian peoples who hunted Earth's mammoths to extinction. Ironic--or inevitable? Similar environments shape similar cultures--whether apes or crabs! Small nomadic bands, with fire and tools, but traveling light. Their culture's in their heads--in their tales and songs. It's no coincidence wandering bands in vast, harsh lands with changeable weather rely on shamans and dreams... A lichen-eating 'mammoth', one of six intelligent species on Serrana, a planetological experiment.

Mammoth tribes are anarchistic, rejecting political or religious hierarchy or traditions. Shamanism is not a religion--it's not organized. Each individual must build up an inner spiritual language and cycle of visionary tales, which can be told to others by the owner, but with a divine copyright, not to be passed further on without attribution--on pain of nightmares from the story-gods. Divine wrath is needed, for to mammoths, good tales are as powerful a status symbol as strength is for moose, beauty for peacocks, or money for humans. As the mammoths themselves tell it, they breed for wisdom. Of course, like any ideal, this can in practice mean merely glibness and showmanship. Still, mammoths are undeniably brilliant speakers, actors, and singers. Unlike lions, peacocks or humans, sexual dimorphism is low and competition not a male specialty; both sexes need to impress potential mates with their insight, so there's real substance to the claim that mammoths have the keenest social and psychological perception of any Serranian species. It's as much cultural as genetic: they have high standards, as in classical Japanese culture--shallowness or insensitivity are the ultimate sins among mammoth.

Or at least dullness is.

RED AND BLUE BLOOD, or, A NOTE TO MYSELF...

Creatures evolving in various Serranan seas stumbled on diverse molecules for oxygen transport. Some are iron-based, some copper-based. Copper's less efficient, so in Serrana's thin air, the bluebloods might be restricted to lowlands. The "mammoths", though crustaceans, will specialize in mountain environments as well as polar tundra; in Serrana's thin air, they'll need hemoglobin on some equivalent--copper won't make it. So given where they've flourished, they'll be red-blooded. Their natal sea must have been one rich in iron dust; that means near the Tsud Desert. But the only known rich copper deposits are in southeast Tsud as well--it was mined and mentioned on the original Anarres, in Le Guin's DISPOSSESSED. So the copper-based land-squid I plan will probably evolve from the Niirg Sea and the iron-based mammoths from the nearby Leas Sea; they spread through the southern tundra and up the Eronit/Mosnoll ranges to the northern hemisphere.

Yep, I admit it. I indulge in backwards evolutionary engineering. They gotta have hemoglobin, so they hadda evolve over there... rather than setting the experiment in motion and seeing what happens. Mea culpa, mea maxima backwards culpa...

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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