Man's best friend

{ Posted on Sunday, August 09, 2009 by Speculative Biologist }
The domestic canine or dog (Canis lupus familiaris) is one of the most widespread and populous mammal species on Earth, with approximately 400 million dogs across the world. They are a highly adaptable species, having established a number of feral populations globally. Some of the more notable feral dog groups include the dingoes of Australia, the singing dogs of New Guinea, the pariah dogs of Asia, and the Carolina dog of the southern United States. Although often dependent on humans for survival, feral canines have become adept to open and wild environments where they must hunt and care for themselves. Here are various concepts for descendants of the domestic dog.

Lupine pack-hunter

The most obvious possible future dog is one that fills the role of the domestic dog's ancestor, the wolf. Feral dogs and even domestic dogs (especially those raised for hunting, such as beagles) show many qualities of social predators, including the pyramid of dominance found in wolves. Thus, it is likely these large pack-hunters would live in groups (mostly related individuals in a pack) led by an dominant male-female pair. These dogs have the best chance to evolve in North America and in Great Britain where wolves are largely absent or are endangered. There would only be limited competition from solitary carnivores like foxes and cats.

Bone-crushing dog

In northern Europe, the British Isles, North America, and parts of Asia where there are no major land scavengers (like hyenas and jackals), there are a number of openings for dogs to evolve into hyena-like predator-scavengers. Such canines would most likely be huge, muscular beasts with short, robust jaws designed to crush bones and rip flesh. Such Cujo-like monsters could be either solitary or pack hunters; individuals in packs would likely have higher pup survival rates, longer lifespans, and greater chances of catching prey. Certain insular environments could also produce miniature bone-crushing dogs, having evolved to snap the necks of island fowl and other creatures.

The mesonychoid

Perhaps a more unusual dog descendant would be a canine adapted to a semiaquatic lifestyle. Such a species could evolve from breeds like the retrievers and Newfoundland dogs, known for their webbed feet and water-resistant coats. They could range from medium to large-sized mammals specializing in preying on birds and fish, as well as other aquatic fauna. Long maws would aid in capturing such prey items, while long, thick legs would allow them to wade through currents to reach areas where such animals are prevalent. Although there may be lots of competition from aquatic birds and mammals like otters and seals, eventually such dogs could evolve into short-legged swimming forms resembling the prehistoric Ambulocetus.

Chihuahuas from hell

One of the scarier ideas for future dog species is that of tiny, ferocious dogs that live in huge packs on isolated islands and forests. This concept resembles the modern bush dog (Speothos venaticus). They live in huge packs of at least a dozen individuals, which allows them to take down relatively large prey. It is possible that they also become burrowers, perhaps with a population branching out and becoming subterranean cave-dogs, hunting underground rodents and possible specialized armadillos. The concept of these toy-terrors is open to all sorts of fantastic and strange modifications.

*All of the above concepts are open to modification and reuse for future world and alternative world projects.

Walking with ambuloteuthids

{ Posted on Saturday, August 08, 2009 by Speculative Biologist }
The idea of land-dwelling cephalopods was most popularized by the television program The Future is Wild. The show introduced the world to several species: the swampus, an octopus descendant; the squibbon, a small arboreal squid with high intellect; and the megasquid, a massive multiton creature dwelling the future's northern forests. These future finned molluscs are all fantastic and unusual, but are not very likely to evolve, as will be detailed further on in this article.

The walking-squid (or ambuloteuthid)

The background behind the walking-squid is rather elaborate. As with most land-squid concepts, such a creature would require at least 200 million years or so for the cephalopods to come on land with at least one, if not more, extinction events having occurred between that time and modern day.

It has made several major adaptations to a terrestrial lifestyle. First, the mantle has vascularized and become roughly equivalent to lungs with the gills becoming (originally I had designed it so that the gills entered and exited the body, taking in oxygen with every flicker, but such a behavior would cause the gills to dry and stick together and outweigh the benefits of the increased exposure to air). Three pairs of legs have been re-purposed for walking on land with a rigid muscular/cartilaginous system and powerful suckers at the tips of the legs for more support. A fourth pair of legs has been adapted for the manipulation of food and other objects. The rostrum (molluscan beak) has been enlarged severely and is attached to a long proboscis that aids in feeding. Even the siphon has been modified, now used for vocalization rather than for propelling in water. Although having made all these adaptations to land, the ambuloteuthids still spend a good deal of their lives in the water as larve and adolescents as these cephalopods live an amphibian-like lifestyle.

Now, this concept still has a number of problems. First, for such a muscular system to develop, it would require a complete restructuring of the squid's muscles and cartilage. And even after that there would be no guarantee that the structure of the legs would be rigid enough to support the body. Second, there are countless other species that would venture on land long before the cephalopods (the strangest of molluscs) would take that evolutionary leap. Finally, the gills and mantle may not be suitable for the derivation of lung-like structures, so the land-squids might find themselves about of breathe after they climb onto shore.

Denizen of the canopy, the slothsquid

The concept of the slothsquid is basically an alternative to TFIW's elegant squibbon. This cephalopod has taken on a slow, arboreal lifestyle. Rather than being an active hunter like its marine ancestors, the slothsquid is a herbivore that uses its tentacles to grasp fruits and vegetation. The slothsquid has a few advantages over the ambuloteuthid. First of all, it doesn't need nearly as strong limbs; the rigidity needed for a terrestrial lifestyle is not nearly as necessary for an arboreal species. The highly adhesive suckers on its legs allow it to cling to branches and tree trunks. Also, the slothsquid lives in a humid, tropical environment where it would be easier for a creature with a combined gill-lung breathing system to acquire air to breathe. Still, the evolutionary probability of such a squid is not very high.

The best bet

The most likely terrestrial specialization for cephalopods is not large walking squids or climbing slothsquids. Instead, it is for small, slow-crawling octopi. Such octopi would not need to make major adaptations for terrestrial life. They would likely only need small, primitive lungs in order to breathe on land. The advantages for coming on land could vary: a way to escape predators, a way to catch terrestrial prey, or even an extra route to reach fresh breeding or feeding grounds. Such mollusc species could evolve as soon as only several million years in the future if they are to be residents of island environments. Otherwise, the horizon does not seem too bright for terrestrial squids and octopi.

The question of the whale-bird's eggs

{ Posted on Thursday, August 06, 2009 by Speculative Biologist }
How could a large fully aquatic bird possibly reproduce? This question has been asked by speculative biology writers for quite a while now with not many plausible answers. Live birth is out of the question, seeing as bird lay hard-shelled eggs that could not be replaced by vivipary. Therefore, the possibility of fully aquatic birds has been mostly tossed out the window. Seal-like gannets and other similar creatures that return to land to mate and lay eggs just seem like better ideas. But now, a thread on the Speculative Evolution Forums seems to have produced some interesting ideas for how whale-like birds could actually propagate without needing to return to land.

The discussion began with the suggestion that maybe critiques of Dixon's Vortex are a little too strong and that eggs of such a bird could develop in a way that does not harm the chicks inside. SSJRaptog, a user on the discussion board, suggested that the eggs could have air chambers that allow them to float on the surface like coconuts, with other users suggesting a sticky coating allowing the eggs in a brood to stick together. The main problem with this idea is that they would be easy targets for predators and therefore a vast number of eggs would be required in each clutch or the eggs would need to be attached to coral or mangrove roots so that they are somewhat protected.

The second idea that emerged in the discussion was for the birds to develop a pouch to protect their young. The pouch would either be between the wings with the wings as the folds to the pouch or velcro like feathers protecting the egg clutch (feathers would be required as down is not rigid enough as described by JohnFaa). This concept seems more plausible but the eggs may be subject to deeper waters and slightly more pressure, so it may be just as dangerous as the first.

If this has inspired you to have your own ideas or if you would like to contribute to the discussion, please visit this thread on Speculative Evolution.

Dawn of the Dinosauroids

{ Posted on Wednesday, August 05, 2009 by Speculative Biologist }
The concept of the dinosauroid is in no way a new idea. It has been around for a while, having originated as a humanoid troodontid created by Dale Russell in 1982. The idea is based around the possibility of dinosaurs surviving (with or without a K/T extinction event) and developing into intelligent beings, not unlike modern humans. Russell's dinosauroid was highly criticized for the anthropomorphic fashion in which the creature was designed. However, others have attempted to design more accurate and more realistic depictions of intelligent dinosaurs, or dinosauroids.

Nemo Ramjet (the Turkish creator of the alien world of Snaiad) developed a concept for his own saurian sophont, Avisapiens saurotheos. Rather than a humanoid form, it takes a rather more conservative maniraptoran form with close similarities to birds. Its toothed jaws have evolved into a manipulatory beak, an alternative to the hands us humans use to manipulate tools and objects. Much like in human evolution, this maniraptoran has acquired a large brain, opening it up to the tool-making and even art. His view of the intelligent maniraptoran is simply marvelous and utterly fantastic, especially considering the art that supplemented the concept.

Avisapiens was soon followed by Simon Roy's (known on deviantART as povorot) version of an intelligent troodont. The creature is equipped with a corvid-like beak used for manipulation much like Nemo Ramjet's. Its evolutionary history and cultural development seem to follow a model similar to that of mankind's. The dinosauroids have developed tools and weapons, war masks for decoration, a form of slavery, domestication, etc. Roy even goes as far as to document some of the various stages of cultural development in these beasts. Not only that, but there are various other species living in the same world as these creatures, from hyena-like oviraptorosaurs to tyrannosaur-like dromaeosaurs.

Asher Elbein has taken a few of his own approaches to the dinosauroid concept. His first, Venatosapiens erectus, is a dromaeosaur of the Oligocene Epoch. It is more primitive by evolutionary standards than some of its dinosauroid counterparts, but it has still developed tool use, language, and a knack for the arts. Venatosapiens's more primitive nature is clearly identified by the fact that it has a toothed jaw rather than a pointy beak (forcing the hands to be used for manipulation). His other intelligent maniraptoran is more similar to (and inspired by) the design by Simon Roy. The so-called "featherfolk" are an advanced race of dinosaurs that use weapons and seem to have developed some sort of concept of deity(ies?). They are inhabitants of Elbein's stories revolving around Serok T'tunda.

These are only a select few of the dinosauroid or dinosauroid-like concepts that have popped up in the last couple decades. As highlighted by Darren Naish on his blog Tetrapod Zoology, John C. McLoughlin and author Mike Magee each had their own ideas for big-brained dromaeosaurs. McLoughlin introduced his concept in 1984, but gave it no name (Naish took it upon himself to name the creature Bioparaptor macloughlini). Magee's creature is a environmentally destructive species known as Anthroposaurus sapiens, included in his work Whos Lies Sleeping? (1993).

Dromaeosaurs and troodontids are not the only dinosaur species that have been hypothesized to become intelligent. Nathan R. (who goes by the username MicrocosmicEcology on deviantART) has developed an idea for a species of oviraptorosaur that has become intelligent on an alien planet to the the meddling of an advanced extraterrestrial, not-necessarily biological race. They have mastered tools and language, as well as the domestication of other species. The concept of oviraptorosaurs becoming advanced beings does not necessarily require alien intervention; it could develop just as well on an alternate Earth. The opportunistic lifestyle, more social leanings (parents were likely active in the raising of the young) and likely higher than average intelligence of the oviraptorosaurs gives them a good chance of such a development.

Now, it seems that an overwhelming majority, neigh, the entirety of all dinosauroid concepts are descended from small, big-brained maniraptorans. Is it possible for other dinosaur groups to produce advanced forms like the concepts above? My challenge for you (the readers) is to develop a concept for an intelligent dinosaur that is NOT like any of the ones above and from a group of dinosaurs one would not expect to produce such intelligent forms (but still with some sort of factual basis for the evolutionary development). I hope you enjoyed this overview of dinosaurian Einsteins, and here are the links to the galleries and webpages of the individuals whose concepts appear here:

Helping out

{ Posted on Sunday, August 02, 2009 by Speculative Biologist }
Wondering how you can make this blog bigger and better? Here are various ways in which you can contribute, most of which don't require much effort on your part.

Comment and discuss

Simply comment and make suggestions. Help improve the quality of our articles by making your own suggestions on how to write it. You may also suggest your own ideas and concepts that you might want featured on this website. Your comments are very important and are always read.

Suggest ideas

As mentioned before, you can suggest your own ideas to be featured on this blog. There are two main ways you can do this, either by commenting on a blog post that might be related to your idea or by contacting the writer at his deviantART profile. You can also do so on the Speculative Evolution Forums: link .

Produce artwork

Artwork is always helpful as far as aiding the presentation of an idea, so it would be wonderful if you produce your own art for this site, to go along with a published concept or one you wish to be published here.

Write an article

We are always willing to highlight guest authors, so if you have an idea for an article and you would like to write one, it may just be featured on this blog (as long as the quality is outstanding). If you want an idea of what we are looking for, simply browse the articles already published.

The domestic cat

{ Posted on Sunday, August 02, 2009 by Speculative Biologist }
The domestic cat (Felis catus) is one of the most widespread mammal species thanks to the activities of mankind in the Holocene epoch. It has been introduced to every continent except Antarctica and has successfully established feral populations in many regions. Its effect on local wildlife has been drastic, surely shaping the ecosystems of future Earth. The cat itself will surely be shaped as well, and here are some possible descendants of the house-dwelling feline.

Apex predator

The cat is an adaptive predator and agile creature that could easily replace some of the top carnivore niches. In North America, it would certainly face competition from lynxes (or bobcats) and mountain lions, both adaptable and successful species. Still, they could easily outcompete both with their faster birthing rates and smaller bodies (both helpful in surviving extinctions). In Australia, there is also a good chance that the former house cats could become major predators. The local marsupial fauna could easily be pushed out of the way in favor of these placental predators. Cats and foxes would dominate the formerly marsupial-dominated environment. Such apex cats would likely be leopard-like or even lion-like predators (cats seem to be more social than some of their feline counterparts, possibly leading to a pride lifestyle).

Arboreal bird-catcher

Over the past few centuries, cats have made a major impact on the birdlife of the areas they've been introduced to. Perhaps this taste for avians could lead to specialization. The forest regions of North America and island chains such as the Galapagos and Hawaii would be perfect for species of cats adept to catching and preying on flighted birds. Cats have already shown to be skilled climbers and wild species, like the serval, are extremely capable of capturing birds while in flight. It is unlikely that such species would resemble the striger from After Man (as felines could not change their morphology so much as to be similar to a primate) and would also not evolve into gliding or flying forms.

Island monster

Islands seem like evolutionary machines, producing all sorts of unique creatures. Its likely that the descendants of domestic cats on islands would be far from their mainland counterparts, developing unique adaptations and specializations. With the process of island gigantism creating larger rodents and flightless birds on isles, the cats would be the best predators for such creatures. In fact, the descendants of cats could be instrumental in the development of anti-predatory defenses like sickle-claws on flightless birds (maybe even giant chickens!) or spines on giant isle rats. And of course such defenses would require adaptations on the part of the cats (a sort of biological cold war), perhaps leading to miniature versions of the prehistoric saber-toothed cats or even dropping cats (cats that are adapted to live in trees and drop down on top of large prey).

If you have suggestions for any more descendants, be sure to comment on this post.

A gaggle of island giants

{ Posted on Friday, July 24, 2009 by Speculative Biologist }
In future Atlantic isles, not present in Holocene Earth, there is a variety of large waterfowl like none ever seen before. In size, they are similar to an ostrich or even the extinct moa of New Zealand. The birds have small heads with long swan-like necks. Their bodies are large and fat and are held up by relatively short and stalky legs. The wings are nearly nonexistant, having become useless for these flightless giants.

Birth of an island chain

As millions of years in time pass, the world will constantly change geographically. Currently, the Pacific Ocean in shrinking due to the continuous westward movement of the American continents. As the Pacific shrinks, the Atlantic Ocean will spread. Tectonic forces in the Atlantic will likely produce a number of volcanic islands, possibly similar to the Galapagos and Hawaiian island chains present in the Holocene Pacific. Once the islands begin to jut out above the surface and the volcanic activity begins the slow, they will easily be colonized by a number of plant and animal species. Using Bermuda and the Azores as models, the islands would have a subtropical or temperate climate. The landscape would be dominated by broadleaf forest with plants like evergreens (cedars, oaks, etc.) and ferns (including tree-ferns such as palmettos). Once plants have established themselves, animals would begin colonizing the islands, especially migratory birds and insects, possibly bats as well. Eventually, after millenia of existence, species will evolve that are unique to this archipelago, possibly including flightless birds.

Giant waterfowl

This future giant is in no way a new development. There have been a number of occasions where waterfowl (birds of the order Anseriformes) have adapted to a flightless lifestyle and even have become gigantic in proportion. Hawaii has produced a number of such species in its history. The most notable would be the various species of moa-nalos, large herbivorous ducks with large heavy bills. These large folivores lived in the Hawaiian chain from about 3.6 million years ago to sometime after Polynesian colonization (but before European arrival). Hawaii was also home to a large Branta goose (the wood-walking goose or Branta hylobadistes) that apparently was moving towards a flightless lifestyle and was larger than the modern Nēnē (Branta sandvicensis). Neither the moa-nalos nor the wood-walking goose are anything in comparison to the group waterfowl-related titans, which lived in Australia only about 20,000 years ago (which means during the last ice age and after the human colonization of the Australian continent). The dromornithids were massive birds that could reach 3 meters in height and may have been voracious predators, scavengers, or opportunistic omnivores. With so many examples of waterfowl evolving into flightless giants, it isn't far-fetched to suggest that waterfowl could produce even more large forms.

e gander of ganders

The giant goose that has become adapted to the isles and lost its ability to fly is a descendant of the migratory Brent geese (although it may just as well evolve from the grey geese of the genus Anser, the Brent goose is simply used for this model). This massive goose has grown so large due to a lack of large mammalian predators, just like the moas and the elephant birds. The lack of predators is supplemented by a surplus of vegetation for food, provided by the fertile soil of the volcanic islands and the minimal amount of other species that could impede on the dietary requirement of such large birds. Their long necks also allow them to reach out and eat leaves far out of reach of most other ground birds that dwell the same territory. Island gigantism such as this has occurred many times in both mammals and birds during the Cenozoic.

Seeing as there is much risk of predation, adults of this great bird have highly decorative plumage. The head and neck are covered in a wonderful pattern of black, white, and blue. The bill is thick and large for ripping up leaves and other tough plant matter and is topped by a small disc-shaped crest similar to that of certain swans, but larger in proportion. In males the crest is larger and is a vibrant blue, while in females it is smaller and is a dull grey or black. The body is mostly greyish with a white underbelly. The wings are extremely tiny and are plain-colored with some black blotches. The goose's legs are very stubby and limit the creature to a slow waddle-like pace (there is no need to be a fast runner when there is nothing chasing you).

The titans of the Atlantic are gregarious and live in gaggles consisting of somehow related individuals. One dominant pair governs the entire gaggle and consists of an alpha male and alpha female. All are monogamous and typically have only one mating partner in their entire life. Eggs are laid on the ground in the underbrush. They are covered with soil and detritus to protect them from egg-eating carnivores. Once hatched, the young goslings are raised by both the male and female parent and are protected by the entire gaggle. Predatory birds and reptiles will sometimes attack and eat young goslings.

This concept is open for reuse and modification. Remember that any art on this blog is copyright to the respective owners and therefore cannot be claimed as your own.

Forums for discussion

{ Posted on Thursday, July 23, 2009 by Speculative Biologist }
Besides being able to comment on this blog, you may also join a number of forums dedicated to the discussion of speculative biology and related themes. The Speculative Evolution Forums are a fantastic place for discussion and are an open and interesting community. Currently, SE is administrated by Parasky and Saxophlutist with help from a hard-working moderation team. SE is a large community (186 members with over 30,000 posts at the present time) and is guaranteed to provide interesting topics for discourse. Philosphica Dixonia is another speculative biology discussion site and is maintained primarily by Tim Morris (who has contributed to a number of projects, including Spec and Neocene) and Pavel Volkov (author of the immense Neocene project). The members of PD are dedicated to a very scientific approach to this hypothetical subject and are always ready to help those starting their own projects. You can find the links of all websites mentioned in the sidebar to the right.

About this blog

{ Posted on Thursday, July 23, 2009 by Speculative Biologist }
This website is for those of us with a vivid imagination and a love for the field of evolutionary biology. This blog will cover a variety of topics, greatly inspired by the already present community of speculative biologists on the web. If you are unfamiliar with what speculative biology is: speculative biology is basically evolution meets science fiction. It is a broad topic that covers exobiology, future life on Earth, alternative worlds, and some less easily summarized concepts. The concepts created by speculative biologists are in no way 100% factual predictions of what life would be like or might be like, but rather fictional hypotheses that still could happen or may happen in the future. The ideas and concepts featured here are creations of the primary author (a.k.a. the Speculative Biologist) or were suggested by fellow thinkers and artists. Occasionally, this blog will feature the works of others, including full projects and websites. There will also be a number of interviews and special features that will be posted.