Sondor is probably the most interesting country that I’ve come up with, especially regarding its wildlife.  Effectively, it’s a time capsule, preserving populations of extremely old species, colloquially known as living fossils.  The non-mammalian cynodonts called weasel-rats were one example, but there are much more reptilian specimens as well.  The one I shall discuss today is found in drier regions, and also extends into the semi-marshy jungles of eastern Arcadia.

Dire Toad
Red Dire Toad, Batrachosuchus magnus

Despite its name and appearance, the dire toad is not a toad at all.  It’s not even an amphibian.  Its scientific name, Batrachosuchus, means “frog crocodile.”  Perhaps it would be more appropriate to call this animal a “frogodile.”  I had considered calling it “batrachosaurus,” which means “frog lizard,” but the contraction “frogzard” is already taken.  By the way, Batrachosuchus looks nothing like a frogzard.  It is an expressed hexapod, meaning that it has six limbs (frogzards have only two), though the first pair might not be noticeable at first, since they do not look like legs.  Batrachosuchus is closely related to the Sondorian Marsh Lurker, and both are classified together in a clade called Brachiodontosuchidae, which means “arm-tooth crocodiles.”  The clade is so-named because of a synapomorphy called a brachiodont, or “arm-tooth,” even though it’s not a tooth at all.

Brachiodonts are structures that exist only in my fictional world – no such thing has ever evolved on Earth.  They are functionally the same as pharyngeal jaws, but made out of legs.  The “tooth” is actually a single, oversized claw.  Transitional forms in the multiple lineages that spawned these creatures show that the claws first became absurdly long (which actually did evolve on Earth in a dinosaur called Therizinosaurus), then all but one of them reduced, and then the limbs became smaller and moved up the spine until they were situated right behind the animal’s head, thus functioning as pharyngeal jaws.  This feature has evolved independently three times: once in crocodilians, once in dinosaurs, and once in a bizarre clade of mammals called Plesiotheroidia.  In all three cases, its purpose is to aid in catching prey, usually by impaling it from two different directions, although the gigantic ambush predator Tyrannobrachiodontosaurus (I should probably come up with a shorter name for this tyranid-like critter) used its brachiodonts like the arms of a praying mantis to subdue sauropods many times its own size.  I’ll probably write a separate article about brachiodonts and their evolution after drawing up all the creatures that have them.  That article may even end up being the first in yet another series, depending on what other weird traits manifest from my twisted mind.

Despite the fact that the dentition of dire toads is virtually identical to those of true crocodiles, they do not eat the same way.  For instance, dire toads cannot use the “death roll” that crocs are known for, mainly because dire toads are mostly terrestrial, rather than aquatic.  Brachiodonts serve the dire toad well, since it doesn’t have the retractable tether in its mouth that amphibians and certain lizards have.  Therefore, it relies on additional appendages to hold on to prey that is struggling to keep away from the animal’s mouth.  Juveniles feed on rats and actual toads, while adults will happily swallow cats, dogs, and even goats (though they may not survive swallowing something that big).  As such, these creatures, which are about as long as large dogs and twice as wide, are quite dangerous to humanoids that trespass through their territory.  Though they prefer to swallow their meals whole, dire toads have sufficient bite force to remove limbs of any animal they get a hold of.  Fortunately, vigilant travellers can keep themselves safe quite easily, since dire toads are ambush predators, and not capable of hopping long distances quickly.  They are largely opportunists, sitting motionless for hours at a time in some of the densest foliage, keeping out of sight from passing animals.  With all this having been said, I’m not sure how I’ll incorporate them into the story.

I started work on cladograms for my fictional world as a way to not only explain how specific organisms evolved, such as flying dragons, but also as a means to come up with a larger variety of novel creatures.  I’m probably overthinking this entire worldbuilding process, but it’s fun, and now that I have time to work on designs again, I may actually finish them.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s