In the depths of silver spider colonies, collected grass tree seeds are stacked against the rocky walls, packing the cracks between stones, and piled in loose pyramids. The spiders come and go, adding to the heaps all the time. Sometimes inside some of the piles, something moves. The little furry face of a poggle will peep out, all whiskers and rounded ears, big eyes peering around in the darkness. The rodents are there to feed on the grass seeds.
The time of mammals is long past. With the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs at the end of the Late Cretaceous period (as well as the whole Mesozoic era), 66 million BC, mammals flourished. For 150 million years, they were the dominant and most spectacular of the land animals during their reign, filling just about all the evolutionary niches hitherto occupied by reptiles and dinosaurs, even taking to the air (as bats) and the seas (as cetaceans, pinnpeds, sea cows and others). Now they are fading. The changing temperature and atmosphere of the planet are encouraging the growth of both terrestrial and aquatic arthropods: insects, crustaceans, arachnids and others. The only mammals left are strange, highly specialized creatures.
The poggle is one of these. It lives within the silver spider colonies, sleeping in crevices that the spiders do not enter feeding on the grain stored with such effort by the silver spiders. The poggle has an easy life. It does not need to travel or fight to find food because food is all around it. All it needs to do is eat and breed. Poggles are very fertile and produce large numbers of offspring.
Far from trying to protect their store against the hungry poggles, the silver spiders seem to tolerate the presence of the little mammals. They let them burrow through the piles of seeds, allowing them to feast. But now and again, especially during the spider hatching season, members of the foraging caste descend, search out a fat poggle, seize it and inject it with a paralyzing venom. The twitching or dead body is then dragged into the presence of the queens, where it is left for the venom to start working into the tissues. Enzymes in the venom begin to break down the flesh and before long lumps can be torn from the body to feed the queens, the newly-hatched youngsters and the rest of the colony.
The poggles are not just tolerated, they are actively encouraged. The carnivorous silver spiders have no interest in harvesting the seeds for their own food, they are farmers of a different kind. The grain harvest is there to feed up the livestock before it is butchered.
The poggle is essential to the survival of the silver spider colony. An abundant supply of meat gives the colony a far greater chance of making through the harsh winter. But it is not just proteins from the poggles' flesh that are harvested. Live breeding females are taken to the queen spiders, which drink their blood. Hormones generated by pregnant poggles actually stimulate the egg production of the queens. The remaining flesh then goes to feed the rest of the colony.
One of the last representatives of the mammal dynasty may have an easy life, free from the cares of finding perfect shelter and food, but in death they serve as nourishment for the new masters of the Great Plateau.