Welcome to the Flaming Faggot

Callovia is called "the boundless empire" yet you have managed to find its northern border - a notorious roadhouse deep within the Madrasan Marches on the edge of the wilds of Llanvirnesse. The sign above the door reads "Flaming Faggot," which would suggest a cozy, homey inn with fresh biscuits served at teatime if not for the severed troll heads mounted on pikes at the gate.

As you cross the threshold the raucous din quiets momentarily as all eyes dart to the door and calloused hands drop instinctively to well-worn sword hilts. The threat, instantly assessed, is dismissed and roadhouse patrons go about their business hardly missing a beat.

Grim, hard-eyed men huddle around tables in close conversation thick with conspiracy; caravan guards gamble away their earnings; Caemric rangers sit close to the fireplace cooking the damp of the Black Annis from their clothes as they warm their innards with Red Dragon Ale; minstrels play and buxom wenches dance for the pleasure of men who pay them little attention - until they need a companion to warm their bed.

As you approach the bar, a huge, bald barman with a greatsword slung across his back slides a mug of freshly-pulled ale towards you, its frothy head dripping over the rim.

"Pull up a seat, lad," he says, "and let me tell you a tale of high adventure."

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Weird Wonder Wednesday: velvet worms

Velvet worms are the common name of a group of animals belonging to the phylum Onychophora.  They have features similar to both annelid worms and arthropods and look very much like slugs with legs.

The anterior region of the body bears two large antennae, a ventral mouth that is flanked by a pair of claw-like mandibles, and a pair of short, conical oral papillae.  They have between 14 and 43 pairs of legs, each of which is a large, conical, unjointed protuberance bearing a pair of terminal claws.  The entire surface of the body is covered by tubercles, which are arranged in rings or bands encircling the legs and trunk.  The tubercles are covered in minute scales.  Onychophorans are blue, green, orange, or black, and the scales give the body a velvety and iridescent appearance.

There are about seventy living species of onychophorans, most of which live in humid habitats, such as in tropical rainforests, beneath logs, stones, and leaves, or along stream banks.

Most species are predaceous and are able to secrete an adhesive material from glands opening at the ends of the oral papillae.  This secretion is discharged as two projectile streams and it hardens almost immediately, trapping the prey in a net of adhesive threads.  The mouth is flanked by lateral, clawlike mandibles, which are used for grasping and cutting prey.  Salivary secretions are injected into the body of the prey, and they partially-digested tissues are sucked into the mouth.

The fossil record of onychophorans extends back to the Cambrian period, and the group is represented by two marine genera in the Burgess Shale: Aysheia, and Hallucigenia


Hallucigenia is a truly unusual creature, named for its 'bizarre and dream-like quality.  It has seven pairs of spines on its dorsal surface and seven pairs of clawed tentacles on the ventral surface.  It was first reconstructed as walking on the spines, like stilts, with its tentacles waving in the water.  However, exceptionally preserved fossils from the Lower Cambrian Chengjiang Fauna of China revealed that the tentacles were actually long, clawed walking appendages and that the spines served to protect the dorsal side of the animal.



FASERIP said...

Velvet worms are the first (and probably only) animal I've recognized in your Weird Wednesday segment.

These are great to read.

Sean Robson said...

I'm glad you're enjoying them - I thought it would be a fun change of pace from old-school ranting :)

So far the velvet worms are the only group I've described that didn't go extinct at the end of the Cambrian. As I begin to run out of weird Cambrian wonders I'll start tapping more living groups that will (possibly) be more familiar to people. Tardigrades (water bears) will be coming up soon...