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Siphonia:
Gliderwolves

by Chris Wayan, 2009

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Sketch by Wayan of a cliff-village of gliderwolves, an intelligent species inhabiting Siphonia, an alternate Earth with 90% of its water removed.

SPECIES

Coyote-sized canines descended from the big-brained wolves common in Siphonia's uplands. Their broad skin flaps let them glide long distances in the dense air of the Deeps, even soar on thermals.

Gliderwolves are highly tactile, spending a fair amount of time grooming each other. Other Siphonian peoples find them cute and pet them like dogs; gliders seem to enjoy it. They're not big on dignity.

So are these people or pets? How bright are they? They speak, they use tools, they have culture. So other Siphonians count them as people, but they do say "Gliders aren't intellectual, they live for now."

And it's true that gliderwolves still tend to get by on charm and do poorly in school. It's not surprising--they're the lightest, smallest Siphonians, except for birds. And parrots, megatoos and blue ravens have a hundred million years of evolution behind their superefficient brains and wings. Mammals are adaptive, innovative creatures; but efficiency is not our strong point! So gliderwolves are barely light enough to be flightworthy, large enough to speak and plan. Not a lot of margin either way. The long bones aren't hollow--yet. Skulls are light and brains are about 800 grams, gigantic for such a small creature. In any environment but the Deeps, rich in food and oxygen, gliderwolves couldn't fly or think straight. Of all the natives of the Deeps, they're the most vulnerable to altitude sickness. Even at home these little canines are voracious. They have to be.

Gliders themselves rate intelligence as the most desirable quality in a mate, disapprove of dull individuals having many pups, and will compete for the privilege of adopting smart pups. Hypersensitive to pack standing and aware how others see them, they may thus be directing their own evolution--not out of some abstract sense of racial destiny, but out of a very canine longing to be full, respected members of their new, multispecies pack.

It's worth comparing glider evolution to other Siphonians that have seen a tripling of brainweight in a geological instant, like llamas or Amazonian otters. They too seem to be selectively breeding for intelligence, though based on different feelings.

Feelings? Yes. We often speak of species' evolutionary "strategies"--but we're wrong. Animals, even self-aware animals like us, make our choices and live our lives based on feelings. Do you coolly plan who you'll mate with, have children with? Most of us, most of the time, are driven by deep longings we scarcely understand.

Gliderwolves can't do calculus--yet. But they know exactly what they love.
Distribution map of an intelligent species called gliderwolves, native to Siphonia, an alternate Earth with 90% of its water removed.

HABITAT

Mountain, cliff and mesa country of the Deeps that's warm, not too wet, and has air pressure over 1.4 atmospheres (preferred: low elevations with 1.5 to 1.7 atmospheres). These rather fussy requirements mean gliderwolves are widely scattered but never very common. Gliders probably evolved in Clippertonia on the east shore of the Pacific; they're certainly more common in the Pacific and the neighboring Agassiz basin then around the Atlantic, African or Australian Oceans. But that could just be because these two basins are deeper, with higher air pressures and easier flight; or because they both have huge deserts--the Clarion and the Gambier--laced by rivers with year-round water, and cliffwalled fracture zones ideal for gliderwolf eyries.
Sketch of three gliderwolves singing to the moon; gliderwolves are natives of the abyssal canyons of Siphonia, an alternate Earth with 90% of its water removed.

BEHAVIOR

Gliderwolves may look a bit like coyotes but they're not. Having no natural enemies, able to skim away from any danger, they tend to be calm, cheerful, trusting.

Like many canines, gliderwolves love to sing. Their musical scales are microtonal, with melodies much like their flight: gliding, swooping, soaring. Gliders say "To us, human music sounds like chunky brick walls."

Gliderwolves aren't strong fliers, though their name's a bit deceptive: they can do a bit more than merely glide. But they prefer to ride updrafts, and cliffdwellings are placed accordingly. Most gliderwolves burrow into cliffs using hard stone tools, until it looks like Swiss cheese. Giant swallow-nests! Well, not quite. Inside, these dwellings are quite light and airy for caves: they run along the cliff-face, rather than burrow straight in. The abyssal climate is so hot that outside the polar circles glass isn't needed and shutters are used only in bad storms.

Where cliff-caves already exist in canyon walls, gliderwolves build multistory stone/wood warrens much like Mesa Verde.

On forested plains, gliderwolves nest high in large trees, hollowing these out as well, using fire as well as chipping, as if the trees were vertical canoes. Though faster than burrowing into cliffs, trees are their second choice, as room-size is limited and trees eventually die, while cliff-burrows can be used for generations.

To rid homes of parasites, smoky herbal fires are set in burrows on the first day of each season.

Sketch of a gliderwolf in the air; a reddish coyotelike creature gliding on skin flaps like a giant flying squirrel. Gliderwolves are natives of the abyssal canyons of Siphonia, an alternate Earth with 90% of its water removed.

DIET: wolves may be classed as Carnivora, but they were always omnivores; modern gliderwolves are farmers and herders--mostly (high-protein) vegetarians. Being canine, they like complex, strong flavors. Smoky, spicy, resinous, fermented. It takes some getting used to, but wolf cuisine is famous, especially wolf cheese, wolf tofu, and that lucrative export item, wolf pickles.

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