Edgar Rice Burroughs Tribute and Weekly Webzine
1996 ~ Over 10,000 Webpages in Archive
Beasts of Barsoom
By Sean Phillips
The banth is a ten-legged Barsoomian "lion." Of course, the
banth is not a true lion, or member of the feline family. They naturally
prey upon the thoat, but any animal or being is a potential meal for the
giant banth. Banths have protruding green eyes, hairless bodies, and stiff-bristling
manes. They are sleek in the manner of earthly felines. Their long jaws
house a double row of hooked teeth, like the smaller calot, suggesting
a common ancestry somewhere in the dim Barsoomian past. Obviously, it is
a separate (non-feline) family of mammalian carnivores unique to Barsoom.
All life-forms on the planet apparently began with ten legs; those with
less evidently dispensed with those limbs during the long course of Barsoomian
evolution. It may, in fact be mere comi coincidence that Earth's vertebrate
life forms sport four limbs. Other six or more legged plans may exist throughout
Thoats are eight-legged Barsoomian "horses." Again, they are
not true equines, or related to anything else on earth. They are often
vicious and foul-tempered, but the sentient Martian races can train them
as steeds, and use them in gladiatorial jousting. Their powerful legs sport
great padded toes, the hoof never having evolved upon Mars.
The monstrous white apes of Barsoom are an anomaly. They have
the multiple limbs as the majority of other life forms indicating a common
ancestry with all other life on the planet; however unlike the thoat, banth,
and others, they apparently share the same family as the true primates
of earth. John Carter even describes the face of the white ape as being
strikingly similar to the African gorilla.
So...why are primates represented both on Earth and on Mars? It seems
very unlikely that identical families should evolve -- but apparently,
it happened. The copper-skinned humans of Mars are also primates, and though
they lack an extra set of limbs, they share the same basic reproductive
system with other Barsoomian life forms. The primate family it seems, is
found throughout the ERB universe on trillions of worlds.
Tarzan was able to communicate with the first white ape he stumbled
upon being attacked by a swarm of ulsios (in the comic) Tarzan/John
Carter: Warlords of Mars: "I speak the language of all mangani!" Mangani
must be a universal tongue among Burroughs' primates, even on distant worlds.
White apes roam in bands throughout Barsoom, but especially are encountered
among the ruins of abandoned cities.
||The bizarre "plant-men" of Barsoom are perhaps the weirdest life form
to have evolved upon the planet's surface. They are virtually unique to
the Valley Dor, the (disappointingly hellish) Martian version of heaven.
Vaguely humanoid in outline, the plant-men are a non sentient herding species.
They perhaps are an example of a protist (kingdom of life forms that
exhibit both plant and animal characteristics) that has developed into
a large multi-cellular species. They sport a crop of angleworm-like tendrils
for "hair," a single, whitish eye that takes up their entire "face," a
single nostril-like orifice for breathing, arm-like appendages which terminate
in mouthlike orifices (through which the creatures graze), and massive,
powerful tail. Their entire bodies are a weird, ghoulish blue color. Though
they are "normal" four-limbed creatures, the plant-men have undoubtedly
evolved along as separate trajectory than the other of Barsoomian species.
||Reptiles on modern-day Mars are exceptionally rare, though they were
common during the planet's infancy, although whether the planet experienced
a true Mesozoic era is unknown. And it is easy to understand why. Once
Barsoom was warm and wet, with great oceans teaming with scaly life, and
vast regions of rainforest. Creatures like the great albino cavern-dwelling
lizard pictured above have lingered in forgotten pockets here and there,
and are essentially prehistoric survivors. As monsters such as Pellucidar's
zarith are generally considered extinct on Jasoom (Earth), surviving reptilian
giants persist in realms such as Pal-ul-don and Caspak, as well as the
inner earth. And so it is on Barsoom as well. John Carter noted a number
of reptiles that bore resemblance to prehistoric fossil remains in the
infamous pit of serpents. Like the mammals, Barsoom's reptilian species
(excluding serpents) sport multiple legs, indicating that reptiles gave
rise to the mammals on Barsoom, just as they did upon earth.
The calot is something of an equivalent of a Martian canine,
as the banth has evolved parallel with the great cats. Calots chase down
their prey on ten powerful stout legs, and latch onto it with their multiple
rows of hooked teeth. Calots are often trained by the red and green Martians
and are fiercely loyal, bonding with their owners after the same manner
as earthly canines. The most famous calot is Woola, who remained loyal
to Carter after saving him from a Martian ape.
The apt is a monstrous, white-furred denizen of polar Mars.
It sports six limbs, four o which carry it over the glaciers, the other
two it can grasp prey with. Its head is described as something like the
earthly hippopotamus (although the Whelan illustration above depicts it
as a bit more rhinocerine), with mighty fanged jaws. Two horns of bone
depend on either side of the great lower jaw. Its huge, insectasoid eyes
encompass the majority of the apt's face. Each eye is composed of thousands
of ocelli, all of which it can open or close independently and at will.
The orluk is another arctic monster, described as "a great
elephantine beast of prey." it has yellow and black striped pelt. It conjures
up the image of a giant, furred, multi-legged carnivorous mammoth striped
in gold and black. I could find no image (so far), but in the Thomas Yeates
illustration above, some men appear to be clothed in orluk hides.
The sith is monstrous wasp-like insect-creature common to the
Forest of Kabool, the size of a hereford bull. It has thrumming wings and
a deadly tail-stinger. The huge compound eyes are its one vulnerability.
In the Thomas Yeates illustration
above, Woola attacks this weakness, driving his rows of fangs deep into
the eye. The insect in the Whelan painting may, in fact, be a related species
native to the Tantolian marshes.
A giant, "prehistoric" Martian bird with a 40-ft wingspread.
They are used as beasts of burden in the country surrounding the Tantolian
Marshes. A relic from Barsoom's primeval past, the malagor combines features
both avian and reptilian, much like the dinosaur ancestors of birds on
The ulsio is a repulsive scavenger found underneath barsoomian
cities, rather like a large, multi-legged rodent. The term "ulsio" is not
one of endearment.
The zitidars are gigantic draft animals used by the red and
green races of Barsoom. They are proboscidian in form, resembling a Terran
elephant or mastodon, though unrelated.
A small reptile with powers like the earthly chameleon.
A small six-legged mammalian carnivore kept as a pet by Barsoomians,
and to kill small vermin.
It is possibly a diminutive relative of the much larger banth.
Monstrous, upside-down-hanging arachnids native to the jungles
of the Valley of Ghasta.
Other animals have been added to the Barsoomian fauna in comics
and pastiches, most notably in the DC comics Tarzan family series. There
was a one-shot story called "Amazon of Barsoom," which told the story of
Martian princess. A predatory lizard-beast is pillaging the eggs when the
princess hatches. Before she is eaten herself she slays the creature with
his own sword. The "cannibal lizard" seems more than a mere beast however,
as he wears both a tunic and a sword with scabbard! Later the Amazon of
the title saves her Jeddak father from the "demon apes of the misty caves."
She slaughters the red-furred simians en masse, proving herself
as worthy to her father as any son would have been. Now about those apes
-- now we have TWO primate species (other than the red, yellow, black-skinned
humans) native to Mars!
Another, separate, storyline involves a series of "lost journals"
or John Carter. They are discovered in a trunk by a member of the aquatic
Myopsian race (which are, in fact, native to Amtor (Venus), NOT Barsoom!
The first journal sees John Carter rescuing a beautiful princess who
is trapped within a giant green gemstone. While searching for an implement
to cut the crystal, he encounters a multi-legged styracosaurus-like beast
that is unnamed in any of the canonical tales. The beast charges the gemstone,
shattering it and freeing the princess. Carter then slays the beast with
his sword. Later, the two are menaced by "the scavengers of Barsoom," flying
reptiles which resemble three-headed pteranodons!
The "Amazon" story also shows flying reptiles which it refers to as
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