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Forest Gulper

"The silence was broken by the same wailing cry I had heard upstream."

The Gulper is a large, ravenous, forest-dwelling flyer from the Pocket Forests of Darwin IV. Juveniles can fly, but by the time they reach adolescence they lose that ability completely.

This creature can produce a strange ululating cry which seems to be a true vocalization rather than the sonar calls to which Darwin IV is accustomed.

Lying still amidst the leaves and detritus of the surrounding plaque-barks in the more shaded and dimmer parts of the forests is this large, bloated organism. It is about three meters high and 15 long, the bulk of its length composed of a thick, intestine-shaped tail that lays curled on the ground. Above and behind the creature's distended, yawning mouth, a pair of shrunken winglets beat the still forest air in an almost comical manner. The entire creature is an unlovely shade of yellow-green, translucent in the mouth cavity, where the dappled light touches its wrinkled skin.

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No death on Darwin IV seemed more horrible to Barlowe than that suffered by the spade-nose lured into the gulper's maw. It was literally digested alive, while its muffled screams testified every hideous moment of its prolonged death.

At times, the creature will rouse itself with a series of rippling shudders that shake fallen twigs and leaves from its back; the silence is then broken by its wailing cry. It seems that a series of nostril-like holes inside the creature's oral cavity produce the strange keening, for they pucker, drawing in air, and burst forth with their incongruous lament. Along with the cry, a fine cloud of pungent gas is exhaled to drift through the trees.

In a manner of minutes, either the cry or the scented air, or both, has attracted a prey animal (such as a spade-nose). The gulper barely moves; only the barely perceptible expansion and contraction of its sides betray the fact that it is alive. The small mouthlets silently puff out a thin stream of gas that envelop the approaching victim - which, without further deliberation, marches directly into the open maw.

Within seconds the prey's feet are stuck to the floor, trapped in some glutinous secretion. The small prey will struggle, its captor's mouth snapping slowly shut. Two sounds will come from within: the pathetic, muffled pingings of the frantic prey animal, and the gurgling digestive fluids of the gulper. Soon both sounds cease, and the forest surrounding the beast is again silent - except for the incongruous bell-like tones of the striker-nuts.

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