Thoughts on the Evolution of
Current Day Flora and Fauna of Barsoom
Vad Varo (Captain Ulysses Paxton)
Since my transference to Mars or as the natives have named it: Barsoom, I have had within me an awakening of a scientific spirit. The great surgeon of Toonol; Ras Thavis trained me in the miraculous surgical techniques as his centuries long studies had allowed him. From those first infant steps a curiosity awoke in my mind and I have followed that curiosity to many different avenues.
One of those avenues was an exploration of an idea my local minister alerted me to when I was an impressionable youth. Everyone in the congregation was warned against reading it and since I am wont to be reckless at times, I managed to locate a copy of “The Origin of the Species” by an English fellow whose name escapes me.
After the adventures that won me the incomparable Valla Dia, I settled down with her as both a husband and a prince. We have had a pair of sons and a beautiful daughter but I have found that children hatching from eggs and growing to adulthood in less than an Earthly decade leaves a man with much time. Being a prince does not add measurably to the workload.
During the few short years that my children spent as children, I would often take them to the Jeddak’s menagerie. Like them, I had not experienced the animals of Barsoom, with the exception of a Great White Ape, until this period.
My curiosity was piqued by these visits to the Jeddak’s menagerie and the noted similarities between many Barsoomian animals. Yet the differences, although subtle, were stark. The lack of hair except for the manes of some hunting animals, the multiple limbs of all species except man and the lack of any nails or claws were all curious. I saw a puzzle to be solved and to this end I used the forbidden knowledge of that one English fellow’s book and the rigorous methods of science and logic.
The Ancient Seas
It is hard to estimate the total area of Barsoom that was covered by water when this planet had oceans. No reliable maps have been made. This is due to as much to the dangers of exploring hostile territories as the almost claustrophobic attachment to his home territory that most Martians have. I have been able to piece together ancient shorelines and mountain ranges from various sources and aerial navigation logs. My guess is that roughly 80% of Ancient Barsoom was covered by water. Besides forgotten continents, there were also many large islands and innumerable small ones. Much of the life on Ancient Barsoom lived in the oceans.
The oceans of Barsoom started drying out over a million years ago. The true effects were not noticed until roughly 100,000 years ago. It is from that point on that all Barsoomian life had to either adapt or face extinction. Current day Barsoom has the remains of five great ocean basins. Of these five oceans only Throxeus remains in the current Martian language, the other names have been lost in the dust of ancient civilizations. The final remains of the oceans lie in the Great Toonolean Marshes, a sad remnant of once great waters.
Along with the dying oceans, the very air of Barsoom started to thin. It is debated among savants whether the events were simultaneous or one event fed off of the other. It is my personal belief that the atmosphere thinned first and drew water from the oceans to replace the lost vapor of the air. These two events signaled the beginning of the Death of Barsoom.
As the land started to dry and turn to desert, the people and animals of Barsoom were forced to follow the receding seas. Not only was there life-giving moisture at the sea’s edge but also the air was thickest there.
Plants could not migrate as animals but rather achieved a following of the retreating shorelines through an unusual, multi-generational migration. Inland the dry conditions caused any plant needing anything but the minutest amount of water to die off. The wind borne seeds of the plant would find moist soil at the water’s edge and grow. These new plants would survive long enough to produce seeds to once again chase the retreating waters.
As humans and land animals abandoned the now barren continents and followed the retreating seas, sea animals were also being stranded in shallower and shallower waters. Many times these waters were seasonal and the sea animals had to partially adapt to land or salt marsh existence. It was in these salt marshes and mud flats that land animals met sea animals and furious evolution took place. In the end, the sea animals triumphed over the land animals as their seas evaporated to dry land.
The ancient sea animals of Barsoom had flippers like that of the skeletons of Earthly plesiosaurs from the Great Age of Reptiles. Unlike earthly animals with only four limbs, the number of flippers on the Barsoom sea animals ranged between six and ten. In Barsoomian animals these flippers strengthened to be able to carry and lift the animal’s bulk above the mud they found themselves stranded in. Soon the flippers evolved to limbs like an elephant’s foot, something that will spread out when it rests on a solid or semi-solid surface and then be drawn inward when the weight is off the foot. Barsoom animals had more evolving legs than Earthly animals and could spread out their weight on the semi-solid mud easier than any earth animal could. I can see evidence of this every time any animal of Barsoom walks.
Do not mistake the ancient sea animals of Barsoom for reptiles. Upon Barsoom reptiles are remnants of the ancient land animals and can still be found in odd environs where the advanced animals of modern Barsoom haven’t colonized. With the exception of the Darseen, Barsoom’s chameleon, reptiles are not wide spread. Insects also share this lost heritage.
Plants of Barsoom
On the shores of the Lost Sea of Korus, I have found a curious sea lettuce. It is an ochre weed that survives in both air and water as the tides roll back and forth. It is my belief that this is the ancestor of the Ochre Moss that carpets the deep loam of the dead sea bottoms.
This proto moss was subject to more and more time in the air as the seas retreated. The roots anchoring the proto moss to the rocks and sand bottoms grew ever deeper and developed bladders to store the rapidly disappearing water. The tops of the proto moss grew hard and fibrous with a waxy cuticle. After these adaptations, this proto moss had turned into the Ochre Moss that carpets Barsoom from pole to pole.
The current day Ochre Moss is a plant that tolerates no other plants. Its roots release a chemical that poisons other plants. I have confirmed this with the men who work the farms on the great waterways. The Ocher Moss has evolved so far to its desert area life that an abundance of water will kill the Ochre Moss off. Thus, the civilized peoples of Barsoom can grow crops by the canals.
In some areas the Ochre Moss is weakened and there the opportunistic, parasitic Mantalia plant flourishes. I have been unable to determine what weakens the Ochre moss, whether it is age, mineral deficiency, cropping by thoats or other animals; I cannot say. But the Mantalia tree tends to grow in groves where it competes with the moss. The Mantalia steals water from the roots of the moss and produces a milky fluid. This milk attracts animals and those animals going from plant to plant serve to cross-pollinate the Mantalia. The Mantalia spreads its innumerable, tiny seeds by the winds.
The Skeel is another tree that is highly valued by the Martians and resembles most trees on Barsoom. The tree itself is of an unusually dense wood and takes a beautiful polish. The branches, leaves and nuts of the tree grow much higher than even a Zitidar can reach. The nuts drop to the ground when they are ripe and are covered by a nutritious rind. Thoats, Zitidars and other animals eat this rind and thus carry the nut to new areas. The bark and wood of the tree is too hard for even the most determined herbivore to eat.
The other plants of Barsoom: Pimilia, Sompus, Sorapus, Usa and many others, are highly domesticated plants and it is impossible to tell what their primitive ancestors may have been or how they would of adapted to modern conditions.
Animals of Barsoom
The seas of Barsoom were always shallow. Most were less than 1,000 feet deep at the most except for a few rifts in the crust. These shallow areas supported vegetation and other herbivorous plants that fed great herds of aquatic plant eaters. These great herds thrived in the shallow areas near the edges of the ancient oceans. At the outer edges of these herds, meat eaters waited to cull the wounded, the weak, the young and the old from the herd.
Because of Barsoom’s lighter gravity the ancient seas were subject to massive cyclonic storms. These storms could literally strand a herd of animals miles inland. The land carnivores would come and feast on these stranded herds. In some of these animals a new defense and sense evolved.
On the necks of many sea animals and under the skins of the necks of all of them a growth, loosely connected to the spinal cord and the medulla of a primitive brain, started to grow. These hair-like tendrils had the ability to detect the beginning electrical build up of a coming or developing storm. The animals then had a warning to go to deeper water and avoid the danger of being stranded on dry land. After a time these hair–like tendrils developed into manes and with those sensitive antennas a crude telepathy was born.
This new ability to communicate allowed the herbivore animals to maintain guards against the attacks of carnivores and the carnivores to coordinate their attacks. This primitive sense rapidly developed to great acuity as any evolutionary advancement in it kept the animals of the herd alive. After a time, with the carnivores, this telepathy allowed them to locate prey. This explains the manes on many of the surviving, naked-skinned carnivores. Banths and calots come to mind.
The Banth has the most luxurious mane of any of the Barsoomian animals. This is because of its habit of hunting alone and needing to find constant prey to feed its enormous body and limbs. In the ancient seas the proto-banth was like the great white shark of earthly seas. It would roam vast areas to search for prey. When the prey was located it would circle and then charge. The enormous tooth-filled maw would tear open a horrid wound it its prey. The wounded prey would try to escape and the proto banth would pursue it to tear open more wounds until the victim died of blood loss and shock. The proto banth would then wolf down its meal and hunt for the next one.
Calots used a different strategy and coordinated pack type of attack. A pack of proto calots would surround and panic a herd of herbivores. From this running of the scared beasts the weak would be singled out and separated from the rest of the herd. Once the victim was alone the attack would begin. Proto calots were the swiftest things in the ancient seas. Their attack consisted of coordinated rushes from all sides of the prey. Their blunt noses would strike the body of the victim with the force of a battering ram. Others of the pack would use their teeth to tear away the paddles of the prey. Stunned and bleeding the animal would be unable to resist as the pack closed in and tore it apart. It is from these coordinated attacks that I believe the calot’s intelligence evolved.
The surviving herbivores that the proto banths and proto calots preyed upon are the thoats, zitidars and the red man’s thoats. All of these animals joined in a mutual dance of evolving defenses and weapons against each other.
The green mans’ thoat represents a species that relied upon size and a large mean streak to survive. In the wild, when it is attacked, the herd will form into a circle with the bulls to the outside, females to the inside and young hiding under the legs of the females. The bulls will present their teeth to the attacking animal. If an attacker gets close enough, one of the dominant bulls will grab it with its teeth and hold it for just a second. The other bulls will close in, rear up and use their bulk and feet to stomp the attacker into a flattened heap of shattered bones. Grabbing with the teeth seems to be the first part of the attack with the stomping used to actually kill.
The red mans’ thoat is an unrelated species. Where the green mans’ thoat is truly a wild animal, the red mans’ thoat is a domesticated animal raised for meat and for riding. It is hard to describe its use outside of a cross between a horse and cattle. Its main defenses seem to be its swiftness and its rapid reproductive rate.
The Zitidar is the massive elephant-whale of the ancient seas. These beasts stand twice as tall as any circus elephant I have ever seen and must weigh five times as much. Its very size prevents it from being attacked. Only a young zitidar or a dying one has anything to fear from predators. They are intelligent for an animal and almost seem to have a social structure. I have heard from the green men that a zitidar either accepts you or rejects you, the animals are too huge to bully or threaten; even a radium rifle is of little use against them.
The near shore waters of ancient Barsoom had another curious race going on between two species, the first one being the Ulsio and the other the mysterious Kaldane.
It was on the rocks, shoals of ancient shores and the piers and pipes of ancient cities that huge numbers of ancient mussels grew. A proto ulsio fed on these abundant mussels. Sharp spines and a razor-sharp edge protected this ancient mussel. (I once dropped a fossil specimen off of the desk in my study and foolishly tried to catch it with my bare hand. The cut in my hand required another surgeon to close the wound as I supervised.) The proto ulsio’s flesh retreated up its muzzle until the spines and razor edges could find no flesh to cut.
As the ancient seas dried, many sea animals were stranded on or in the hardening muck. The proto ulsios found these dying or dead animals and feasted upon them. Their jaws, adapted to cracking open mussels worked well on breaking bones to feast upon the tender marrow within. These scavengers followed the retreating shorelines and the feast of death the shorelines offered. If the shore didn’t offer enough carrion, the camps of the nomadic peoples offered enough offal for them. When the red men built the cities, the ulsios also found a home.
The proto ulsios did have an enemy though: the Kaldanes. The kaldanes were ambush hunters with the unique features of remembering what the previous generations had learned. The kaldanes would hide in dark crevasses of nearly stagnate water and wait for a proto ulsio to come by. A quick strike with their claws and the kaldane would feast upon ulsio. Later they learned how to hunt for prey in the ulsio burrows. The Kaldane also learned the evolving ulsio’s habit of making tunnel complexes to protect themselves. This evolutionary race led the evolving ulsios to increase their reproductive rate while the kaldane increased its intelligence.
Ghek tells me of a plague that wiped out most of the kaldanes with the exception of the one valley they were in. Ghek believes that some plant or trace mineral in the valley area kept the surviving kaldanes from succumbing to the plague. Since the kaldanes have never been able to colonize beyond their valley, I believe this to be the truth.
In this valley, kaldane intelligence proved to be too much of a blessing and ulsios were wiped out. The next species to be preyed upon was the proto rykor. This species proved to be easy to trap and hunt although by a misplaced chelae and a wild rykor ride, the kaldanes discovered a method of traveling over long distances. The co evolution of these species has already been related by Ghek to the Warlord; where I read it in the libraries of Greater Helium.
Into this valley a wandering tribe of red men descended and the kaldanes studied them. Since the human form is best able to use tools and has several other advantages, the Kaldanes modified their rykors to a human form. I have been able to dissect a dead rykor and find the outer form to be human but the internal skeleton, nervous system and viscera to be very different from a human’s.
Green Man/White Ape
The two mostly closely related species on the face of Modern Barsoom are the green men and the white apes. During dissections I have found next to no difference between the two species. Carthoris had also told me of a tribe of White Apes imitating the habits and harness of the green men.
On the large islands of one of the lesser oceans a proto green man/white ape evolved to a very high animal intelligence. With the drying seas, new predators and waning resources challenged this proto species. The reaction of the single species was to split into two, each with a separate strategy for survival. With the green men, intelligence developed. With the white apes, size, strength and savagery developed.
The green men of this time were the size of humans and able to expand their foraging areas. The white apes had grown to their fifteen-foot height and hunted the green men. They followed the green men as banths follow a herd of thoats. I believe this near cannibalism is the reason that the green men almost instinctively, loathe and fear the white apes.
Although of the green men were once allies of the wandering human tribes the continued loss of resources and arable lands soon split the two species into eternally warring tribes. The green men, with no allies against the white apes or the Death of Barsoom, soon decided to adopt the survival strategies of the white apes. They deliberately bred their people to the same size as the dreaded white apes. With their intelligence and weapons the green men are able to hold their own against the white apes.
As the green men discovered the evolved thoats, they were able to range far and wide, eventually discovering the abandoned cities of the ancient races of men upon Barsoom. Following them were the white apes, who took up permanent residence in the abandoned cities--along with other vermin.
It should be noted that the young green martians are the instinctive prey of the white apes. Red martians are the same size as the ancient green men and thus near instinctive prey for the white apes. It is thus the white apes are such dangerous man-eaters.
Remnant Land Animals
Not all land animals died as the sea animals came to dominance. The remaining land animals either retreated to the poles or remained in the hills and mountains of the ancient continents. The Apt and the Orluk are remaining members of the artic land animals. These animals retain the fur of their ancestors and do not have the telepathy of the evolved sea animals. It is this lack of telepathy makes these animals so dangerous. A red martian cannot use their telepathic sense to detect approaching predators. This is why I believe there are so few tales of these remaining land animals—dead men don't carry tales.
It should be noted that any remaining land animal has this lack of telepathy and is nearly impossible to detect by those means. Fortunately these animals are usually restricted to the ancient continents.
The Plant Men
The Great Toonolean Marshes are home to many odd animals and I believe many are leftover remnants of ancient species. Many of these ancient species are partially evolved to the changing conditions. Although I have wanted to explore the Great Toonolean Marshes, my Valla Dia absolutely will not hear of it and many others have discouraged me. I have to leave this desire to the future and have a strong expedition to explore the marshes.
When I was in the company of Ras Thavis and studying the nervous system of animals and men, he showed me a peculiar, hideous blue plant—a Skomak. He said the skomak was a cannibalistic plant. It would eat either meat or vegetable and could slowly move to get either one. His interest in this plant was because of its primitive nervous system.
As I watched the Skomak, it suddenly moved one of its several, hollow branches, like a spring trap and struck a darseen hiding in a nearby blooms of a Pimilia bush. The chameleon-like reptile struggled briefly and then collapsed. Ras Thavis later told me that the plant had a poison that deadened the nervous system and had a secondary function of dissolving bone, tendon, gut and muscle; only the skin of the animal was unaffected. The skomak then started drawing this liquefied meal into itself as the skin of the darseen collapsed into a wrinkled pile.
Ras Thavis told me that skomaks were often used by taxidermists and furriers to get perfect pelts with out having to cut into the skin to get rid of the carcass. They use an alkaline or caustic to stop the reaction of the skomak juices from eventually dissolving the skin.
Ras Thavis further said that the skomak was blind but a mop of sensitive hairs on its skin allowed it to hear and detect air currents. With my dissections of the skomak, I found a primitive eye but I do not believe that the eye could do anything but detect light or the lack of it.
I had a chance to dissect a plant man from the Valley Dor and found many similarities between it and the skomak. The limbs have been reduced to five. The upper limbs are now strictly trunk-like structures for sucking in food with the lower limbs and tail for locomotion and balance. The eye of the plant men is still very primitive but it is able to make out movement and the silhouettes of objects. The feet and legs are counterlevered to provide a muscular spring for moving the plant men rapidly. Otherwise, their gait is a slow shuffle.
One thing I have found very disturbing is the lack of modern species. The species of families that I knew upon Earth (or Jasoom as the Martians call it) are all extinct or represented by a few anachronistic species in areas like the polar regions or the Toonolean Marshes.
Except for man all mammals are extinct except for the Olzo, an odd looking monkey-otter of the Toonolean Marshes. The olzo is a smelly, vicious little animal the size of a large house cat. It does suckle its young and live in family groups of 12-15 members. There is also a rumor of a marsupial man lost in the Toonolean Marshes.
Of the birds there are no traces of any that can fly, just a few voiceless ones in the Polar Forest of the Lost Sea of Korus. Occasionally there are rumors of a giant, ancient bird that is large enough to carry off full-grown men—like the Roc of earthly legends.
Some reptiles still exist upon the surface of modern Barsoom. The Darseen, although rare, is the most widespread. The Great Toonolean Marshes harbor many species along with the Lost Sea of Korus. Snakes I have only heard of from the Warlord and his description included a slightly flattened tail—the degenerate paddle of a sea snake. Again I have heard of a giant underground lizard. If it does exist, it is in an area protected from the merciless laws of nature upon this planet.
There are no amphibians upon Barsoom. They are very rare in fossil species too.
Fish can still be found in any area that has open water. Most of these seem to be sea fish that adapted to the waters remaining. I have found the few that I have studied to be very much like earthly fish.
Insects only remain in the Great Toonolean Marshes. The Warlord has told me of a near extinct insect called a Sith. From the size of it (a prize bull of earth) I wonder if it actually an insect or another type of animal with flight and the chitin armor of an insect. Until I can obtain a specimen, I am reserving my judgment on whether a sith is an insect or some other unknown species.
The Curious Riddle of Man
One animal which fits nowhere in this examination of the flora and fauna of Barsoom, is man. Upon every planet within the range the telescopes of Barsoomian scientists, I have seen men and manlike shapes. I cannot fathom this riddle and must concede to my old minister that the Creator created man in his own image and placed him upon all the worlds with life upon their surfaces.
The men upon Barsoom have developed telepathy to a degree unknown upon Earth. I can read their minds and yet none of them can read mine. (A thing that drives my beloved Valla Dia to distraction at times.) I believe that a martian mind generates a much more powerful “mind current” than an earthly mind. So while earthmen can read Martian minds and participate in Martian conversations, their weaker mind currents cannot be read. Although close work with telepathic animals makes me wonder on this last point.
I know I cannot think in earthly terms if I am to communicate with my martian companions. I must think in their language and type of conceptualization that is difficult to explain to a mind not used to it.
Much work remains to me to be done upon the evolution of the modern day animals of Barsoom. I am hopeful that I can continue to carry this out in the days to come.
It is a theory among savants that the water and air lost from Barsoom was captured by Thuria and Cluros as they circled Barsoom. I wonder if the moons did capture this lost air and water—did life come to the pair of them too?
A Final Note from Keith Bruce Vaughn:
I found these papers in my grandfather’s attic after his death. Inside of the same trunk where these papers were found, I found a most peculiar electrical and vacuum tube apparatus. I have heard from my father that grandpa would spend hours tapping out Morse code upon in. Dad said that after President Truman exploded the atom bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, grandfather’s device never worked properly again and Grandfather eventually abandoned it. I am still searching for any other papers relating to this device or other monographs.
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