Ao-Oni: Great Marsh Picture

The next area of the vast continent of Terra Incognetia that we can explore is the Great Marsh, an enormous area of wet climate not too different to the marshy areas of Europe on Earth, though on an even bigger scale. They contain many lakes, rivers, estuaries and other wet places, meaning the fauna here is adapted for life where flooding is a frequent occurrence, as is strong rainfall. The climate overall however is more moderate than further north-here there are dry summers but also spring, autumn and even snowy winters, so the fauna here are more adapted to unstable climates than those elsewhere on the continent. Thus a wide range of organisms have evolved to thrive in this habitat despite its hostility and develop into an ecosystem of remarkable tenacity.

A. In the drier regions of the great marsh, a number of different flora exist, particularly trees adapted to regular flooding, convergent to the mangroves of Earth, alongside unusual descendants of dandelions that have adapted their seeds to be travelled through water instead of by insect. Alongside them, various small insects exist in this undergrowth. Both of these make plenty of available space for humans of many different forms. One particularly prevalent animal in these dry areas, feeding off the various insects here are the ever present saurodonts, which fill all sorts of insectivore niches across the planet. Alongside them lie a larger herbivore, similar in size to a hare. These creatures known as spur-footers (smilopodus communis), and like hares, they are found across the temperate regions of the planet, and in large numbers. Their ears are fairly large, though not as large as the lagomorphs, and their appearance is much more alien to a human. They are in fact intracephaloids, with the eyes and nostrils located at the bottom of the skull rather than the top, and so their ears are used to help them detect predators and other members of their kind as they graze upon ferns and grasses. Their thumb-derived forelimbs are atrophied and are mainly used merely in mating and grooming; similar to the arms of tyrannosaurus. The back legs have claw derived spurs which are used both as defence from predators and to dig into the ground while running, allowing them an additional kick. The animals have strange canine derived tusks that they use to uproot their food from under the mud, or get under snow in winter. Their fur is a light red colour somewhat similar to rhubarb, which while colourful does not stand out too much from the surrounding habitat, allowing them to camouflage fairly well. Their habit of making burrows in the trees also helps protect them from the constant risk of predators and floods, though they can adapt themselves to almost any habitat. Their young are also quite independent and do not need as much care as other animals. In fact, the parents will often abandon them at birth for them to fend for themselves, as they no longer need to wean off the long-gone mammary glands.

B. Another creature living in the area though in the trees is a more unusual species of saurodont, adapted to a life chasing insects. It resembles its original ancestor in many remarkable ways, although it has specialised towards a life of insects, and has done so in quite a familiar way. The bark-poker (longidactylus major) thrives in many different habitats. Its 8 legs effectively grab onto the bark in which it makes its home, as well as help it scuttle across ground when elsewhere. It has flaps of skin between its legs, which help it glide from place to place between trees at times of flooding. The neck is not as long as the original form, but longer than many of its relatives, while the head is quite thin to reach out for its prey. Its old thumbs have deviated the most in its design, having at least 5 joints in it to make it flexible, and a claw designed to hook out insect grubs. In this way it is similar to the aye-aye. This trick is especially useful in winter when insects are hibernating inside the trees. Their fur is camouflaged very well with the bark of trees and the leaflitter as well, making them effective at hiding from any more dangerous fauna here. An adult bark-poker of either gender measures about 50cm long including the tail, has a leg span of about 30cm and weighs about 270 grams. Their webbings also allow them to be surprisingly good swimmers, another sign of adaptability in an ever changing habitat. Their nests are kept high in the trees to not be in danger from flooding as well. A small colony of them will live together to watch over each other’s offspring while others go out and hunt, thus ensuring the survival of all the members in that habitat.

C. Chasing the spur-foots throughout their habitat is a predatory species of exapod-the viperwolf (canivenator austrialis). This is quite a generalist carnivore (although it is capable of digesting limited plant matter at times) adapted to a wide range of prey and can survive in a number of habitats, including marshes. The feet are quite padded allowing it to effectively move through marshy terrain and chase its prey, and it is not afraid of contact with water, with its fur providing significant insulation. In fact if it weren’t for the 6 legs, lack of external ears and its unusual teeth, it wouldn’t be too hard to mistake for a wolf. The fur varies in colours from a dark brown to a light grey depending on subspecies, with the ones in this region possessing a browner colour, with white fur around their cheeks like a racoon. At the bone level though, the head somewhat resembles that of a snake or older synapsid, possessing long canines and incisors which all point forward in a stabbing motion, allowing effective gripping, while the molars are much smaller and do their job at shearing flesh off the bones. It also shares the tri-jawed structure of its ancestors, and thus can detach its jaws to swallow large items whole. In lifestyle, they vary depending on lifestyle, with several subspecies existing in packs. This particular subspecies (C. a. telmatus) however, is a solitary animal which only comes into contact with others in the mating season. It also has some minor adaptions to swamp life such as webbings between the toes, silkier fur and larger, higher nostrils to help breath more efficiently in this habitat. The spurfooters tend to be a preferred item of prey in this region, though they will go after the juveniles of larger herbivores as well. In terms of size, an adult viper-wolf stands about 90cm at the shoulders, around 3m long including the tail and weighs in the region of 170kg or so in both genders. They are highly protective parents and will defend their young from even larger predators with their lives.

D. In the marshes, a number of different fauna roam in these depths, with some being relatively familiar in appearance, particularly the arthropods, whereas others are in another league entirely. A flock of strange animals come from the sky in search of their preferred food. Unlike the main terrestrial herbivores here, they tend to feed on the floating algae dwelling in the water and they have an ingenious way of moving around. These sailbeasts (cygnotherium ssp) are large omnivorous draconians adapted toward a semi-aquatic lifestyle in the swamps and other fresh water habitats. They vary in size significantly depending on the species. This one (c. magnificens) is the largest of them all, with wingspans of up to 5m-almost double the size of its relatives, and weighs in the region of 40kg or so. It has a long flexible neck which is very useful to fish for its algae. The head is quite short for its kind, and has a protruding lower lip. The animal’s lips are very large and allow it to keep in algae that it consumes, even covering its beak like incisors. The ears are similar to those of a hippopotamus and are good for hearing out other animals in the vicinity. The ‘arms’ of the animal are quite atrophied compared to other forms, and are used primarily for mating, grooming and holding offspring in its arms in the case of the females-whose arms and fingers are much larger. The 4 legs are highly webbed and allow effective paddling through the water at times when they need to swim quickly. Most remarkable of all however are their wings. They are a bright orange colour, and have a very large surface area, which allows them to resist the air current more so than most other birds. The drafts around can help drive the animal across areas and work as a sail in water, helping them conserve energy. They can adjust the position of their wings to change direction while swimming. But despite their appearance, they are not at all fragile, and they can use their wings to migrate long distances over rivers and lakes, particularly in times of drought or starvation. They work particularly well in anoxic water, where there are very few crustaceans but large quantities of algae for them to feed off. While they mostly ignore other plants, they will store their young in reeds at a time when they become too big to hold in the mothers arms. Here they will stay and learn to feed while the mother is absent.

E. In between greenery, what appear to be moving waves appear in between the different wetlands. They are sticky and covered in a strange sweet substance. A butterfly, bee or small avidraconian may see them, thinking them some appetising plant and land on them. It is too late, as they are stuck. The tentacle will lower down into a large beak, which will gently strip off the insects and prey as they are powerless to move. This may sound like some kind of eldritch abomination, but it is no chordate. It is a local terrateuth known as the waver (grameopos ssp) which uses an ingenious way of capturing its prey. Its beak is unusually large amongst its kind, and it uses it as an effective grinder, crushing any insects or small animals caught on its delicate tentacles. The eyes are fairly large and give it good peripheral vision when moving. It stays partially or fully submerged as it hunts, and raises its 6 legs when it needs to move across distances. The tentacles can rival or even exceed the length of the rest of the animals body, which itself is about 75cm in length, with a 6cm beak similar to that of a parrot. It has evolved in remarkable convergence with the ancient novoforms of the distant world anthropoterras, being tentacled amphibian like creatures in design. They are relatively solitary creatures like their relatives, and so come together only during the mating season. When they swim as larvae, they resemble their cuttlefish ancestors greatly, only with much bigger beaks and small eyes, proportionally. As they grow, their swimming organs split and the basis for their limbs form, allowing them to walk and move onto land. They are designed to camouflage in the water and murk, and so they are typically a murky brown colour, though males will have silver stripes used for display. Additionally, their primary tentacles will gain fleshy extensions during the mating season where the former suckers were, though this makes them easy to notice for predators. Their lack of a tongue and relatively inflexible spine (compared to a mammal at least) means their movement comes mainly from their limbs, meaning that niches like this are ones they are better suited toward, though other species can be quite good swimmers and even runners. They greatly resemble carnivorous plants in their hunting strategy, only taken to a whole new level.

F. Alongside these strange fliers, an assortment of smaller relatives also make their living, belonging to the clade of avidraconians, which tend to be smaller and more like passerines than their megadraconian relatives. The white-throated jacksparrow (strephorhynchus communis) is a frequently occurring avidraconian in this habitat. It makes its nests in the trees and the reeds around these environments, and lives in communal groups to try and protect itself from the predators of the region, including some of its larger relatives. The jacksparrow order (ornithorhyncia) is one of the most prominent groups of smaller draconians not just in Terra Incognetia, but all of Ao-Oni, including this environment. Living in temperate regions, particularly humid habitats, it feels right at home within these marshes coated with trees. While not as warm as the Everglades, it has a climate more like that of Western Europe, particularly France or the British Isles-ideal room for smaller species resembling birds, feeding on various small insects. Many of its relatives will feed on insects, nuts or fruit, though this one is quite a generalist, feeding on any of those items. It is unusual in that it has a white throat somewhat similar to that of robins- used for sexual display. What is more unusual though is the fact that their incisors are somewhat twisted around each other-or at least give that impression off. The canines are only existent in the lower jaw, and are barely visible when its mouth is closed-only visible when it is eating or panting. The wings are somewhat similar to those of butterflies, with a larger primary pair and a secondary pair approximately 2 thirds of the length. An adult female reaches about 12cm long, has 16cm and 11cm primary and secondary wingspans and weighs in the region of 70g, with an overall dark brown fur coat. Males are somewhat smaller, at 60g and with a 14-10 wingspan, but have a black coat with a bare white throat pouch used in the mating season. Their legs each have only 2 toes and the legs face toward each other-being used to grab and hold onto branches in a similar way to birds legs. The arms have 4 digits and are used to fix together nests and grab larger prey such as slugs or beetles for them to catch. Their communal lifestyles help alert them to larger predators, and this keeps them safe from many in these forests.

G. In the cooler temperate regions, ectothermic species tend to be a lot rarer than up north, but they are nevertheless very present in this environment. They also come in multiple forms that would seem very unusual to us. Among the saurodonts-as well as shrew like forms, there have also developed a number of more sluggish forms that have developed and thrived in more tropical habitats. The aquatic swamp-sifters are examples of such creatures, as are the centitheres. The species present is one of the latter, though it has become a completely new clade. The anopods. This species is the soil-serpent (serpentolestes terrificus)-one of the most unrecognisably human groups of all. The anopods as a group are likely no more than 30 million years old-an offshoot of the multilegged centitheres, but have gone the opposite route. They have abandoned their legs of old and become serpent like hunters, the likes of which have not been seen on Ao-Oni. The upper jaws have completely atrophied, though they retain the horizontal jaws of their ancestors, though they still have external ears and friction reducing fur, giving their identity as former mammals away beside the serpent anatomy. This species gets its name from being a burrowing species going after worms and insects, as well as being semi-aquatic like a star-nosed mole. The whiskers have old have formed into a sensory organ that allows it to go after its prey. Due to its cold-bloodedness it tends to hibernate in the winters in this region, though the winters are relatively mild in this territory. They are very useful swimmers for their size, with a paddle like tail useful for both burrowing and swimming. They have hardened skin on their head, which is shaped like a drill-effective for burrowing. Its tongue is long and sticky like that of a chameleon, and it tends to be its main hunting mechanism, while its teeth are relatively small in comparison. Some of its relatives in other habitats are of course significantly more deadly than it, and incorporate such features as traps like those of an ant-lion or vicious ambush predating to capture their prey. A soil-serpent of either gender measures about 60cm long when fully grown, with newborns reaching less than 4cm in contrast. In water, they feed on aquatic insects, shrimp and terrateuth larvae, and even members of their own kind. Most anopods are predators, with the odd omnivore among their ranks as well.

H. One of the frequent residents of the swamps, feeding off various small arthropods and gastropods is the pickers (epicheirus magnidactylus), a common species of draconian adapted to wading. They hold similar roles in the ecosystem to storks and other piscivorous birds. Their faces are quite long and full of sharp teeth, similar to those of certain pterosaurs. Yet it is not this which is their main killing weapon. Their arms are fairly large and equipped with 3 long fingers, each holding a claw. They will use these to stab a small shrimp or something similar, and then instead of eating it will use it as bait for a larger organism, particularly a chordateuth or young terrateuth larvae, and will then toss it out of the water for its long mouth to catch and devour. The legs are long and quite thin, with highly webbed feet with 4 toes, though they surround both sides of the foot, allowing maximum covering as they continue their lifestyle. The wings are tucked into the body when not flying, and the tail is quite short except for the membrane between the forks, similar in function to tail feathers in birds. Their ears are fairly large and quite high, allowing acute hearing while feeding. They can wait for hours on end while in search of their prey, though they are also quite active while they move around and fly, often in flocks. They will also attack smaller creatures such as anopods and saurodonts for food when hungry, picking them out from between the reeds. They are some of the most intelligent of their kind, with cognitive abilities similar to those of crows. Quite pragmatic, they know how to find enough food to survive and be sustainable in their ecosystem, without endangering their prey in cultivation. They are medium sized megadraconians, measuring about 60cm tall, 55cm long and with primary and secondary wingspans of 90 and 70cm respectively in the females. Males are somewhat smaller, with wingspans of 80 and 60cm and a length of 45cm, but have a brighter yellow colouring with a red crest under the chin, whereas females are a duller yellow/brown colour.

I. Alongside these many smaller aquatic animals lie much larger wading creatures. These are not the wading forms of draconian coming to feed on shrimps and insects, but a giant herbivore feeding on the various reeds that dwell in these forests. It is the aptly named ‘mother-ducker’ (anatops giganteus) that towers over the other mega fauna in this region. It is a semi-aquatic exapod adapted well to life in wading, feeding off the reeds and weeds in places where the mermen cannot reach, such as this temperate zone. Their heads are very duck-like with very long, wide and flat jaws somewhat like a duck or platypus, excelling for collecting reeds. Where the horns would be located on many of their relatives, only stumps remain, connected to the rest of the head by skin and muscle tissue. The incisors and canines are completely atrophied, and the molars with the exception of the wisdom teeth are small and used for grinding. The wisdom teeth have grown to form upward facing tusks somewhat like a warthog’s; used for fighting members of their own kind. Their long tails are useful for balance and in cases where they are forced to move underwater. Like hippos they cannot swim-only walk underwater when they have to. The ears and eyes are high on the head like a hippo as well, and the neck is like a horse’s being sturdy and allowing it to poke over the rest of the muscular body. The mother-ducker as an adult stands about 6m long including the tail, measures 1.6m at the shoulder, and weighs about 1400kg, while females are only half that size. Like water buffalo, their fur is quite thin and glossy, making it effective and streamlined in water. Old bulls are often covered in scars from fights between their own kind, and with predators, and so their lifespans tend to be quite limited despite their size. It is rare for a mother-ducker to live past the age of 35.

J. Hiding in the reeds lies a quite intimidating animal. This is the largest predator in the marshes-the telmatoraptor (telmatoraptor horridus). While far smaller than many of its relatives, its tongue is among the most developed, capable of reaching over a metre ahead of the creature, and inflicting deep wounds into prey. It is lighter in build than either the tyrant or the black beauty, but has big enough jaws to launch a devastating attack. It resembles a wading abelisaur of the age of dinosaurs, though still possessing vaguely mammalian characteristics such as external ears, heterodonty, hand-derived feet and various internal features. The scales are made up of hardened fur as well. The neck is longer than in many other species, and the head relatively small and short, though still capable of a very powerful bite. Its legs are long and are a pink colour compared to the pale green of the rest of the body, allowing to wade in water effectively and to paddle strongly while swimming. Despite being in water, it can still run fairly fast, at speeds of over 50km/h. the thumb of the animal is still opposable and is equipped with an unusually large claw for grasping onto prey, or for slashing at areas the herbivores are unable to protect. Baby mother duckers and some of the sailbeasts tend to be creatures frequently on the menus of these unusual creatures. An adult telmatoraptor female stands about 5m in length, 1.5m tall and weighs in the region of 300kg-similar to a tiger. Males are slightly smaller and have forked prongs on the back of their heads, similar to antelope from a distance. These are used in inter-male fighting and larger ‘horns’ earn more mates, like with rhinos. They are vicious enough on their own, but what makes them especially deadly is the fact they will hunt in groups to get at their prey-especially the giant mother-duckers. They are also highly protective parents, with the offspring being kept in marshes to keep them safe from viperwolves and more vicious draconians. And they have reason to fear.

K. Many different species of predatory draconian exist all around Ao-Oni. Literally hundreds in fact-and they are not limited by size and power as birds are. The temperate forests of Earth can be home to such creatures as eagle owls and actual eagles, while these terra incognetian ones are home to the octogryphon (gruileo prima)- one of the most spectacular in this environment. While dwarfed by its polar relative (gruileo notoformus), it nevertheless can easily predate animals in this habitat. It is quite a generalist eater, and will feed on many different animals within the ecosystem. In the reeds, it will often go after aquatic prey or the young of other animals. For this it has long legs and powerful wings, along with a fairly long neck and head. The neck contains 14 vertebrae and is thus very flexible for its size. The head is about 45cm long and bears a strong resemblance to the mythical gryphon, including the long beak-like incisors and sharp canines, along with wolf like ears. The wings are of course tucked above the body to make sure they don’t get in the way of its walking. The legs are quite muscular and powerful, but only have single digits, resembling the legs of a Pegasus more than a gryphon. The arms however have vicious talons that can hold a prey item in place as its head rips it apart. The tail of course is very short due to living in the air and it does not resemble the more dragon like giants in other parts of the world. The wings work in harmony with on another to allow wing beats to be effortless during long gliding sessions over its habitat, in search of food. It feeds mainly on meat, but will also eat fruit and berries often, even seeds sometimes-meaning it is more like a flying bear in niche. Adult males stand 2m tall, measure 2.5m long and have primary and secondary wingspans of 6.5 and 5m respectively, with a fairly impressive yet surprising weight of 70kg due to their hollow bones. They have an oak brown fur with white stripes running down its back and similarly coloured tufts of hair on their ears. Females are slightly smaller, with 6-4.5m wingspans, 1.8m tall and weighing 55kg at maximum, with a darker fur more similar to mud. They are solitary animals like their mythological name sakes, the octogryphons are quite generalistic and thus occupy fairly large territories, but not too large as to undermine the size of their populations.

L. While some aquatic animals in this habitat are mainly waders or partial swimmers, others have taken it to a greater extreme. Whereas the xenothallassiotheres and allocetids are the dominant marine organisms, they are not the only fully aquatic ones to have developed, as the mermen have shown. Just as there are sea snakes and the like on Earth, here are the hespermimus (hesperimimus xenoforms), a strange extension of the triskelids adapted to aquatic life. Whereas some relatives on other continents have adapted to aquatic life quite well, these have taken the step and abandoned the land completely. They have developed a hesperornid like form, though unlike them give birth to live young and so are not limited by having to come on land to lay these eggs. They have no fur on their bodies anymore and thus are multi-coloured in their appearance, with their tails having become hardened and working similarly to a dorsal fin in purpose. The nostrils are high on the head, allowing them to live underwater for long periods of time, and their diet consists primarily of shrimps and crustaceans. They have long flexible necks similar to those of plesiosaurs which they use with a similar purpose. The head is small and almost snake like, though long like their avian mimics that once roamed Earth (which is now unrecognisable under the dominance of non-human fauna). They are fairly small animals, with the largest females reaching no more than 80cm in length and weighing about 6kg, while males are less than half that size. They do though have black and white coloured necks to attract mates. The rest of their bodies though are a dull brown colour, occasionally tainted by algae like with manatees. Small, parasite cleaning chordateuths may also cling to them to help clean them in a symbiotic relationship. They travel in groups or pods to escape larger predators which may hunt them from above the water, and they exist throughout the world’s beaches, with this species being a recent newcomer (the origins of the clade are believed to have been from southern Triberia in response to increased predation). All in all, these creatures thrive in this habitat, and frequently breed around the shores near the surface in large numbers, where predators feed on them in large numbers.

Ok, so that’s the animals of this habitat. Next up shall be the straights region and the fauna of the coniferous forests and taiga. See you then!

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