Haiu: Annual Spore Bloom
The annual Haiu has hit Felth this month, drenching the skies in weeping hues of spores too thick to breathe. Haiu is celebrated as swathes of excitable Residents flock outdoors to catch and drink the spore tainted rains, a free hallucinogenic 'Haiu High'. Large meshed fabric archeries protect busy streets and livestock fields while air-purifiers work overtime to keep indoor areas 'safe mask free breathing zones' and fauna throughout exhibit all sorts of unusual behaviors as a result of spore highs and poisoning. Be careful while you're tripping out there folks!
Originally believed to be a single species with wildly different regional forms, the Dust Horn has since been identified as a single species thanks to the historical research efforts of Maddocks Rah.
Dust Horns share many taxonomic similarities to terrestrial cervidae, having long, thin legs, hooves, horns, and a skull shape made for browsing and consuming leafy plants.
Admittedly there are some differences as well. The front teeth of the Dust Horn are elongated and sharp, behaving similar to a beak. These front teeth are used to pick pieces from and consume the spongy, soft bodied fungus that grow throughout their home environment.
The eyes of the Dust Horn seem to be a throwback all the way to their days as insects, being semi-compound and being encased in a leathery, sealed chitin lid that keeps various spores from getting into their eyes and obscuring their vision. Despite this, it is agreed that their eyesight is fairly strong, allowing them to flee from predators.
Last but not least are the long horns that grow from their head, each a single, twisting spike ribbed with layers of growth. These horns are grown and shed according to the seasons and are mostly used by males during mating rituals.
However, the secondary Dust Horn species has completely different horns, which is where the animal initially got its name. This “version” of the animal instead sports a pair of long, frilled “feathers,” akin to the antennae of a moth, a long single tendril from which sprout many, many thin, feathery “fingers”.
These unique horns are actually a species of viral fungus that infects the horn stumps of the Dust Horn species, changing the keratin producing cells to instead extrude and grow long strands of a frilled fungus species that can then spread its spores wherever the Dust Horn treads.
Infected Dust Horns sport coats full of drifting spores, leaving them “dusty” as their name implies. This is thought to help keep the host free of parasites, through any sort of symbiotic nature ends there.
It was initially thought that the fungus that lived within the skulls of infected Dust Horns behaved symbiotically, at least until researches found out that the horned and feathered species are one and the same. Closer inspection also discovered that the mycelia within the animal’s head eventually render it blind as they fill the eye’s keratin covering with roots.
Dust Horns typically move and browse in small herds of up to ten individuals, not including young or mating pairs, something which is assumed to be part of the reason why there’s such a difference between each type depending on which side of the desert belt they are on.
Males defend females and fawns, their horns and solid skulls making powerful weapons when paired with their speed. Sharp hooves and rearing tactics can also help bring down would be predators. However, do to their diet and nomadic instincts, Dust Horns usually prefer to speed away from attackers and regroup far away.
Infected Dust Horns notably lack these horns, and despite this, are considerably more aggressive. This is even despite lacking the same powerful eyesight as clean Dust Horns, as the fungus growing within their skulls has instead amplified their senses of smell and hearing to allow them to take down predators and trespassers using their hooves and beak teeth. Commonly, would-be attackers are knocked down with a headbutt, before being trampled to death.
At this time, it is thought that the aggressive behavior is brought on by the parasitic fungus in an attempt to spread its spores further. This is bolstered by a neutered pain response; there have been reports of feathered Dust Horns bludgeoning animals to death with their craniums, continuing long after the animal has been reduced to a mushed pulp.
Dust Horns are largely herbivores, getting their limited protein content from the various fungi they consume alongside green grasses and leafy plants.
Infected Dust Horns display more opportunistic carnivorous behavior, often tearing chunks of meat from dead predators or animals that have trespassed within their territory. It is thought this is to help bolster the growth of the fungus via additional protein intake. Alternatively there are a few theories related to the transmission of prion disease based on the trading of biomass among dead and alive infected individuals, though the evidence is rocky at best.
It is noted that upon death, the fungal horns of the feathered Dust Horns produce a pheromone that induces hunger in nearby animals of the same species. It is thought this is to help females replenish themselves for bearing more children, as this behavior is exhibited in both fully grown carcasses and stillborn ones.
Smaller herds will usually have a single buck with several females under his protection, though it is though this behavior exists mostly due to the hunting habits of various sentient species that they have shared land with.
Larger herds usually have male and female pairs, from which single or twin offspring will be produced. Fawns usually reach adolescence after one to two years, and begin breeding within six months of the second year.
Feathered Dust Horns have largely the same breeding habits, albeit highly accelerated. While the horned animals have a breeding season during late spring, the feathered ones seem to have it nearly all year round, something that is thought to be a way to counteract the number of miscarriages that happen due to the parasitic fungus being spread from parent to child. Still born children often have their heads fully consumed by tendrils of the fungus, the pheromones produced causing them to be re-consumed by the herd.
The production habits of the fungus are as of yet unknown, though it is thought that the waving “horns” of feathered Dust Horns shed spores which will incubate and replace the horns of any species unfortunate enough to consume them.
Dust Horns typically live in the green areas flanking the central desert belt of Felth, living and thriving within the deep greenery of it’s fungal forests.
However, all species of the northern belt are of the horned variety are feathered, while all species located on the southern belt are of the feathered variety. It is thought that long ago, some of the species fled it’s way through the central deserts to the north, with the fungus infesting the southern species unable to cross the dry belt. This seems to keep it in check, though it is though that with the advent of air travel, it is only a matter of time before it crosses borders.
Deer-like insects with a bad habit of getting taken over by a feathery fungus.
Post by possmonaut on Feb 27, 2019 10:43:04 GMT 9.5
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I WANT TO THANK MYSELF FOR BEING SO CUTE, AND MY CATS FOR BEING SO ADORABLE. GOOD JOB US.