|Cladogram for Xenoisoptera|
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Sunday, October 25, 2015
Scientific Paper on Extraterrestrial Giant Termites
As some of you may know, I'm working on the sequel volume to The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head. At the end of v. 6 I was forced to leave a great big loose thread hanging, and while it was a logical end for the quest of Ki'shto'ba and Di'fa'kro'mi, Is'a'pai'a's Quest for the Golden Fungus wasn't finished. Now I'm getting close to publishing the sequel and I'm considering adding an appendix with the following material. However, as I've been revising the material, I've decided it's rather anticlimactical and I would rather let the book stand as a simple narrative. It's also probably lacking in sufficient expertise on my part to be convincing as a scientific document, although I'm rather proud of the taxonomy and the cladistic chart. So I'm going to publish this pseudo-scientific material here. I would love your opinions, either in comments or direct to me on Facebook or Google+ or by email or wherever. I would especially like to hear from those who have read the basic six volumes. Would you like to see this material at the end of v. 6? (Warning: the following may contain typos or inconsistencies, since I haven't fully edited it.)
by Prf. Kaitrin Oliva
The evolutionary process of the Shshi peoples on the planet G. Gwidian was never significantly interrupted by catastrophic extinctions, permitting several discrete species of intelligent lifeforms to evolve in an orderly progression. These ILFs all belong to the suborder Megalisoptera of the order Xenoisoptera (G. Gwidian).
Two additional suborders have been proposed by the Taxonomy Board – Microisoptera, represented by several species of rabbit-sized isopteroid NILFs (all weakly jawed mandibulate nasutoids) existing in isolation on the southwest continent, and Archaeoisoptera. Both represent important evolutionary asides in the progression between what must have been an Earth-sized proto-isopteroid (now extinct) and the present-day Megalisoptera.
Archaeoisoptera has been observed in a single holotype designated, called the z’ya’ge’ses’tze| (ancient cursed or evil ones) by the Yo’sho’zei and encountered twice by Ki’shto’ba and its Companions during the Quest (see v. 2 The Storm-Wing and v. 4 Beneath the Mountain of Heavy Fear). A mountain reconnaissance team during one of the later expeditions to G. Gwidian salvaged a carcass of A. giganticus. Genetic evidence indicates it is either an atavism or a nearly extinct vestige of an early branch on the isopteroid evolutionary tree. The evolution of the z’ya’ge’ses’tze| appears to have favored size and aggressiveness over intelligence, vision, and speech; in this suborder the development of the lobes of the xenoisopteroid brain designated the cerebrum sapiens and the lingual ganglia appears to have been suspended at a primitive stage. Encountering such a creature might be comparable to an Earther’s suddenly meeting up with a carnivorous australopithecine twice as big as the near-extinct terrestrial primate called the gorilla.
Megalisoptera is distinguished from other suborders first of all by its size, which can range from as small as 60 cm. in length in the Tender Subcaste of the Northern Nasutes (the smallest species) to the large and heavily built Da’no’no Shshi Warriors, which average about 130 to 140 cm. Our giant hero, Ki’shto’ba, measured in at 153 cm. and Twa’sei probably was something like 80 to 85. Archaeotermes probably grows to three meters, twice Ki’shto’ba’s size.
Secondly, Megalisoptera possesses unique double digits on their front claws, with joints and musculature that allow their bearers to grasp objects and perform delicate manipulations. They may lack an opposable thumb, but they do not lack “manual” dexterity! By contrast, Microisoptera possesses segmented but jointless single tarsi on all legs, and in Archaeotermes the forelegs are tipped with long, powerful, almost crab-like pincers.
Thirdly, the brain of Megalisoptera is evolved for reasoning, self-awareness, and language capability; and the compound eyes and visual cortex of the Alate are unique among all known insectoid visual structures.
All the isopteroids of G. Gwidian possess the fontanelle that distinguishes higher terrestrial termites, but the presence or absence of a functioning frontal gland is one of the features that differentiate the families of Megalisoptera. In Xenomacrotermitidae, to which our Shum’za and Da’no’no Shshi belong, the gland is vestigial in all but certain Worker Subcastes. By contrast, Warriors of the true nasute family Xenonasutitermitidae (Sa’ti’a’i’a’s people) possess fully developed, acid-spraying nasi, and the family Brevirostritermitidae (that is, termites with short rostra) are nasutoids, having Warriors with mandibles as well as frontal glands that expel varying types of defensive secretions.
Other distinctions among the families involve feeding requirements, configuration of the gut, length and shape of various body parts, etc. I refer readers to Appendix B if they are interested in the details of these traits.
I must confess that the methodology employed to differentiate among families and species involves a combination of hard science with hearsay. The Shum’za have been well studied; the specimens acquired during the late Prf. Griffen Gwidian’s first visit to the eponymous planet have been picked over and analyzed ad nauseum. He was the first scientist to recognize and describe the separate species that Di’fa’kro’mi and Ki’shto’ba represent. He originally gave the Shum’za (or Little-Heads) the tentative name of Xenotermes giganteus, but he was honored posthumously by having that species renamed Xenomacrotermes gwidiani.
Ki’shto’ba’s taxon has been designated X. magnus. Prf. Jana Lindeman had a chance to inspect the internal structure of this species when we were given permission to observe the work of the Charnel Hall during my first visit to the fortress of To’wak. (Shshi have an amazing knowledge of their own internal anatomy, arising from their practice of dismembering and consuming their dead). Prf. Lindeman’s observations as well as DNA comparisons have confirmed a close phylogenetic relationship between the peoples represented by Di’fa’kro’mi and Ki’shto’ba.
The inclusion of a second genus (the Desert Shshi, Hesperotermes siccus) in the same family as the Shum’za and the Da’no’no Shshi is more problematical. To this point no scientific team has ever made contact with this xenophobic people, so without DNA evidence or any hands-on or even visual inspection we have to rely on the reportage of Di’fa’kro’mi. He was a trustworthy observer, but he never bothered to make a careful count of the number of his hosts’ belly segments!
It is possible to construct a strong case for placing H. siccus in the same family as X. magnus. Both display certain similar external features, namely, basic mandible shape, a long antenna, a flattened pronotal shield, the presence of similarly configured cerci, and the absence of a developed nasus. However, there is an argument to be made for placing the genus of the Desert Shshi in the southern family Brevirostritermitidae. Mandible configuration is similar to that of the Marchers and the loss of a functioning nasus in the Warrior caste could be an environmental adaptation (to prevent fluid loss).
Cultural phenomena in themselves (such as the practice of cultivating Little Ones for their honeydew) might indicate social contact between species but would have no direct bearing on evolutionary relationships. However, the religious beliefs and language of the Southern Nasutes and the Wei’gwai’mi Shshi suggest a lengthy interaction between the two peoples. Di’fa’kro’mi’s observations (and I interrogated him thoroughly on the subject) indicate that Wei’gwai’mi Shshi speech is a dialect of the Southern Nasute sublanguage. The secretive desert religion, of which little is known, may display characteristics that link it with cave worship than with the religion of the sky. I would personally favor classifying H. siccus with Brevirostritermitidae until there is more conclusive scientific evidence, but the Interplanetary Board on Cladistics and Taxonomy has seen fit to insert it along with the flatlanders in Xenomacrotermitidae.
The family of Xenonasutitermitidae (true nasutes) includes only one known species. Their Warriors possess stubby vestigial mandibles and rely entirely on acid spray for defense. I was privileged to spend much time among these Northern Nasutes during my third visit to G. Gwidian; they are a peaceable and cooperative people and actually allowed Prf. Lindeman to dissect one of their dead amid hovering Charnel Workers and under the watchful observation of Alates. Therefore, our knowledge of this species is quite complete. I recommended to the Board that the Northern Nasutes be named Longirostritermes lindemani, but they elected to honor me by conferring the name of Longirostritermes olivai.
The family Brevirostritermitidae (the “short-beaked” mandibulate nasutoids of the south) encompasses two genera and three species, one of which includes three subspecies. The Northern Nasutes warned me against visiting either the Marchers or the Sta’ein’zei, and so we do not have indisputable DNA proof of the position of the Shkei’akh’zei on the phylogenetic tree, even as is the case with the Desert Shshi. However, the full development of the nasus and several other anatomical features (several of my informants happened to remember the number of their belly segments) convincingly link them with the southern nasutoids (a suggestion that would probably kindle considerable wrath in the True Believers on both sides of the dispute!)
I did, however, spend time among the At’ein’zei and I also visited the Gwai’sho’zei, where I was privileged to encounter some Yo’sho’zei individuals. Unfortunately, there was no opportunity for any hands-on examination of any of these peoples, but our scientists were able to acquire dung samples and duff from fortress floors, ensuring a reasonably accurate DNA evaluation. This, supplemented with visual, cultural, and linguistic observations, has enabled us to credibly determine taxonomic relationships among the southern peoples. There is no doubt that the At’ein’zei and the Sta’ein’zei are the same species. They speak a mutually comprehensible language and are able to interbreed but diverge considerably in culture because of their long separation by geographical features. As concerns Gwai’sho’zei and Yo’sho’zei, their speech is nearly identical and their cultures are closely entwined. They are considered subspecies of Longignathotermes maritimis, the long-jawed, coastal people, and might have the ability to interbreed if a taboo against such a practice had not arisen in earlier times.
I never made contact with the third subspecies of L. maritimis, the Yus’thaim’zei (People of the Western Islands). When Prf. Allen Whitfield flew to the End of the World in 249, he never landed at any of the island fortresses of the Yus’thaim’zei, and all of the Island Warriors who had joined Is’a’pai’a’s expedition had died. However, he was able to take samples from Nei’ga’ta’tzi, the Yus’thaim’zei Mother of Mor’gwai’chet (she was eager to help him advance his “knowledge-magic,” in fact). He also took DNA from Lo’swai’pai’zei, who is a hybrid of the Gwai’sho’zei and the Yus’thaim’zei. It has been established beyond doubt that these two peoples are subspecies of L. maritimis.
I should mention that flyovers in the delta regions of the river Lo’krin’zei yielded glimpses of a variant species of long-jawed Shshi whose Warriors clearly possessed horns on their heads (reminiscent of the mysterious creature who did battle with Lug’tei’a in the Valley of Thorns). However, we never landed in that area and have no information on that people.
The Order of Megalisoptera appears to have evolved from a single prototype that developed in the period when tectonic processes were beginning to drag the southern and northern continents apart. More investigation is needed to determine exactly where this took place, but it is likely to have occurred in the southern areas of the nascent northern continent and possibly east of the present day Southern Sea.
DNA analysis indicates that the proto-isopteroids were probably true nasutes that developed a mandibulate nasutoid branch at a time when the planet had a wetter climate. Both branches began to diffuse to the north, east, and west, adapting to their environment as they went. It is unknown if they ever spread into the southern continent; if so, they must have become extinct in that increasingly arid region.
As the plains regions lost their forests and dried into savanna, some of the nasutoids evolved into the Xenomacrotermitidae, losing their intestinal protozoa and the defensive function of their frontal glands. With lignin becoming scarce in that ecosystem, they became fungus farmers like some of the terrestrial counterparts, supplementing their diet with cytoplasmic material such as flowers, fruits, and leaves, and by the “honey dew” produced by their domesticated formicidiforms. They are very well adapted to their environment and today are the most numerous and widespread of the species.
The true nasutes managed to survive with the fewest adaptations by keeping to themselves and avoiding conflict with their neighbors. They have retained their intestinal parasites and are perhaps 98% lignivorous, never adopting fungus farming, although they will occasionally consume some cytoplasmic foods. The nasutoids, on the other hand, kept their protozoa and remained dependent on lignin as a primary food source, while increasing their survival chances by becoming omnivorous and both farming and gathering fungus, fruits, and leaves. As a group they are the most warlike of the different species, each of which evolved weapons-grade nasi with specialized functions.
Archaeotermes giganticus is apparently fully carnivorous. None of the advanced species evolved carnivory, even though they supplement their protein intake by consuming their dead. However, the Desert Shshi (Hesperotermes siccus) are known to eat the flesh of reptiles, most likely developing this trait out of necessity in their hostile ecosystem. And the Intercaste Thel’tav’a, who was reared by A. giganticus, flourished on a flesh diet and taught Za’dut to like shellfish. This is evidence that the Shshi are highly adaptable to the environments in which they find themselves.
As both the nasutes and nasutoids followed the shrinking forests northward and westward, they were cut off from the south by the rise in sea level that produced the Southern Sea perhaps 100,000 years ago. The migrants became more and more densely packed into the forested areas, with nowhere to expand except into the cold uplands. Hence they evolved an increased tolerance for both high altitudes and cold weather, with a lower “chill-coma” point than their flatland cousins.
Inbreeding contributed to the preservation of mutations and so to a rapid differentiation of species. The southern nasutoids in particular developed a xenophobic temperament and a secretive, often bellicose culture. By contrast, the denizens of the open plains developed the custom of roaming far afield in the search for fertile alates and habitable land, thus discouraging the perpetuation of eccentric traits.
The true nasutes probably migrated from the south at a very early time, retaining their identity even as they were continually pushed farther and farther north by subsequent waves of migration. Before the forests receded to their present limits, the Northern Nasutes must have ranged widely over the plains, staying in contact with their flatland kin longer than did the nasutoids. The Shshi’s oral history fades into myth in a span of years not much longer than the two-antennae count of the Shum’za, which is thirty-six. However, my comparative studies of Shshi languages, religion, and folklore indicate that the tribes of Di’fa’kro’mi and Sa’ti’a’i’a share more common cultural ground than either does with the mandibulate nasutoids. The Creation Myths of the Little Heads and the Northern Nasutes are quite similar.
It was the prototypical Marchers who undoubtedly followed closely on the tails of the true nasutes as they moved northward. They speak a dialect that is closely related to the language of their Northern Nasute kin, reinforcing my theory that they spent much of their history in contact with the Shrin’ok Da’vra, or even living intermingled with them. The loss of forestation and the pressure of continuing migration finally squeezed both the Northern Nasutes and the Shkei’akh’zei into their present restricted homelands.
From a genetic standpoint, the Northern Nasutes are the oldest species, preserving more archetypal DNA than any of the other peoples. However, the language of the Yo’sho’zei (whose name appropriately enough means the “Ancient Ones”) appears to have remained closest to the unified ancestral speech. The many myths of the Yo’sho’zei are especially complex and diverse, with a dark and pessimistic quality that is rare among the plains dwellers. Perhaps this preservation of root forms derives from living for centuries separate from the rest of the Shshi population.
Although the myths of every people may incorporate demons and other types of spiritual entities, all species are monotheistic and worship a nameless mother goddess. She is recognized as a sky-goddess among the plains dwellers and the Northern and Marcher Nasutes and as a ground-dwelling deity among the Shrin’ok Da’wai, who inhabit the regions south of the Valley of Thorns. We know very little about the goddess of the Desert Shshi, but she appears to be much more abstract and universalized. Among the three subspecies of Longignathotermes maritimis (known collectively to the rest of the Shi world as the Shei’kwai, or people living Beyond the Mountains) there seems to be a dichotomy in the mother goddess. They worship both a Sea Mother but also a Cave Mother (all known as ta’ta’wa’tze| (literally, the very female not-created one).
The Mother’s King, which is almost nonexistent among Di’fa’kro’mi’s people and plays only a limited role among the Da’no’no Shshi, assumes a more significant role in the South. Among the Shrin’ok Da’wai and the Shei’kwai, the Mother may have many Kings, some of whom she devours and some of whom she sets over particular aspects of her creation; thus we have the King of the Dead (Wei’tei’no’hna) , the Sea King (called Guoi’me’uh’hma’no’
tze in the maritime language), the enchanted King called Kya’hma’no’tze (First King) in the tale of Ju’a’a’mu’a Spear-Puller, etc.
The ur-nature of the principal deities is purely speculative, but one would expect an ILF evolving from mostly blind, ground-breeding creatures of the darkness to worship forces that developed in the ground. Perhaps migration into regions of vast open skies and the growing ascendancy of the eyed Alate Caste among the plains dwellers played roles in turning the concept of deity outward and upward. And for peoples who live on the seacoast and have learned to build boats and navigate the oceans, viewing the Great Water as a source of divine creation makes considerable sense.
In the light of all that we know, no one can deny that the Shshi constitute an intelligent lifeform, however primitive in technology or “non-human” in form and behavior. Evolutionary and cultural biases predispose Earthers to accept primatoid peoples like the Te Quornaz, the Morlasa, or the Chu-sneians (green hair notwithstanding!) as closer to ourselves. And our affection for avians makes us consider a human-sized eagle skilled in oral speech more acceptable than a “repulsive” giant bug that can reason, suffer, and love but not communicate in a familiar way. Let us hope that the works bequeathed to us by Di’fa’kro’mi the Remembrancer in the Earth-year 242 (old cal. 2997) will deepen our perceptions and help us to accept with more humility the awesome diversity of the universe.
[Note: In thirtieth century parlance, if the name of a terrestrial taxon is duplicated for an extraterrestrial organism, the prefix xeno- is applied. When an Order has been identified on more than one extraterrestrial planet, the name of the planet is parenthetically affixed. The designation of the “race” in the Shum’za language and its translation into Inj appears in parentheses following each species name.]
Archaeoisoptera: one species, Archaeotermes giganticus, identified from a single holotype.
Microisoptera: five tentatively identified species on the Southwest Continent
Megalisoptera: three families, seven identified species. Distinguished by its size (taking all Castes into consideration, individuals range between 65 and 150 cm.); double-clawed front tarsi jointed for grasping; the presence of a uniquely efficient compound eye in the Alates; and a large, highly evolved brain.
Families and Species of the Suborder Megalisoptera
I. Xenomacrotermitidae (non-lignivorous and primarily fungivorous, lacking wood-digesting intestinal flagellates; frontal gland in soldiers vestigial and embedded; pronotal shield flattened; labrum broad and triangular with rounded tip; antenna at least 18 segments; hindgut short and not coiled; 11 abdominal segments; front tarsi have 4 jointed segments; labial palps, 3 segments; maxillary palps, 6 segments)
A. Xenomacrotermes gwidiani (Shum’za [Little-Heads])
(soldier mandibles moderately elongate, sickle-shaped and crossing in dorsalview,
nearly edentate, snapping; 18 antenna segments; cerci lacking)
B. Xenomacrotermes magnus (Da’no’no [Very Large] Shshi)
(soldier mandibles short, slightly bowed upward and parallel, one basal crenation,
biting or slicing; 18 antenna segments; cerci present, 1 segment)
C. Hesperotermes siccus [i.e. western, dry] (Wei’gwai’mi [Desert] Shshi) [disputed
(adaptationally carnivorous; soldier mandibles short, slightly bowed upward and
parallel, large marginal teeth, biting or slicing; slender antenna, 20 segments;
cerci present, 1 segment; frontal gland vestigial in soldiers with visible pore, no
nasus; gut conformation and number of belly segments undetermined)
II. Xenonasutitermitidae (95% lignivorous, possessing wood-digesting flagellates; true nasute with drawn-out tubular nasus and acid-producing frontal gland; soldier mandibles reduced to stubs; thorax attenuated in relation to abdomen, with narrowed pronotal shield; labrum narrowed and crenate; 15 antenna segments; hindgut long and coiled; 12 abdominal segments; front tarsi has 3 jointed segments; maxillary palps, 5 segments; cerci lacking)
A. Longirostritermes olivai [i.e., long beaked] (Shrin’ok Da’vra [Northern
III. Brevirostritermitidae (natively lignivorous, but adaptationally herbivorous; presence or absence of wood-digesting flagellates undetermined; mandibulate nasutoid with cone-shaped rostrum, pointed or blunt; thorax attenuated in relation to abdomen, with pronotal shield strongly curled upward; labrum narrowed and apical; 15 or fewer antennae segments; gut configuration undetermined; 12 abdominal segments; front tarsi has 3 jointed segments; maxillary palps, 5 segments; cerci lacking or vestigial)
A. Brevignathotermes tenax [i.e., short-jawed, sticky] (Shrin’ok Kei’akh
(soldier mandibles short, relatively straight and parallel, two molar processes on
each mandible; narrowed pronotal shield; 15 antenna segments; moderately
pointed, cone-shaped nasus and frontal gland expelling sticky chemical; cerci
B. Longignathotermes cruciform [i.e., long-jawed, crossing] (Shrin’ok Da’wai
(soldier mandibles elongate, relatively straight and acutely cruciform, may taper
and/or be slightly hooked or S-shaped; pronotal shield of reduced size; 15 antenna
segments; sharply pointed nasus and frontal gland expelling a gaseous poison;
C. Longignathotermes maritimis [i.e., long-jawed; coastal] (Shei’kwai [Beyond
(soldier mandibles highly elongate, edentate; pronotum has upturned shield
abutting the head; 10 antenna segments, with pedicel extended; bluntly pointed
nasus with acid-producing frontal gland; vestigial cerci)
i. Subspecies Longignathotermes maritimis rectus [i.e., straight] (Gwai’sho’zei
(soldier mandibles straight or slightly bowed downward in lateral view)
ii. Subspecies Longignathotermes maritimis aduncus [i.e. hooked]
(Yo’sho’zei [Ancient People])
(soldier mandibles twisted and crossed, sharply bowed downward in lateral
view; abdomen marked with a latitudinal stripe)
iii. Subspecies Longignathotermes maritimis Hesperus [i.e. western]
(Yus’thaim’zei [People of the Western Islands])
(soldier mandibles straight and moderately bowed downward in lateral view;
shorter than Gwai’sho’zei mandibles)