Africa occupies an interesting biological position, consisting of a piece of Gondwana glued onto Eurasia. Thus, Africa (especially south of the Sahara desert) harbors some endemic clades similar to those found in South America and Australia, while northern Africa is almost exclusively populated by Asian migrants.
Highways Through the Heart of Darkness:
The "Hoser Highways" of the Congo and their inhabitants
The Congo of spec hides many strange things, it is a green chaos of life and death. For spexplorers, the prospect of delving into this "heart of darkness" was both exciting and terrifying. What is found there would change the way we view this place forever.
The largest of the forests inhabitants are the Rainforest gihugrongo (Neobrachius ingens), is a prodigious sight. The largest Neobrachius species, and one of Spec's largest sauropod dinosaurs , 22 metres long, 15 metres high at the head, and weighing 20 tonnes, they are a force of nature. As they feed, they keep large trails clear in the forest, browsing on the treetops as they stroll by. The colloquialism "hoser" is oftenused while referring to these animals.
The travelling hosers are, in reality, miniature ecosystems themselves. Parasitic dino-mites, ticks and leeches thrive around the softer parts of their bodies. Numerous small animals take advantage of this parasitic bounty. Dino-peckers (Dinosaurophilornis sp), tiny, black and white jaubs, specialise entirely on removing the parasites of dinosaurs, but they also pecks clean wounds, and will occasionally drink blood from the wounds. Many small insects and other creatures also alight on these travelling mountains. Geckos of the species Lemuellogekko gulliverus, which are about 13 centimetres long, will often spend most of their lives on the hoser's backs, preying on alighting insects and small parasites. These gekkos scramble down onto the ground when groups of hosers meet, in the ensuing time they will mate and lay eggs, afterwards alighting on another passing hoser. The strangest gypsy of this dinosaurian caravan is the Dino-hitch-hiker (Macrosolipugis dinosaurophilus), a 12 centimetre long wind-scorpion. By day it keeps to the shadier lower regions of the hoser's body, by night, it stalks over the creature's back and neck. It mainly eats the hoser's parasitic ticks, mites and leeches, but will also grab gekkos, resting moths, and even small birds.
Even around the hoser's face, we can find strange fellow travelers. Commonly seen resting in the hoser's throat dewlaps, and on the underside of the chin, are 5 centimetre, black beetles, known as flossers. These beetles (Oralophilus sp), will live mostly off the scraps of vegetation that accumulate around the hoser's mouth and between it's teeth. The hoser, unbelievably, is aware of these beetles, due to their strong peppery aroma, and instinctively gapes while inactive in order to let the flossers do their job.The parasites targeting the soft spots around the nostrils and sinus are preyed upon by a speciallist, the nostrill mynah (Eutwitavis nasalophagus), black with a yellow crown, remarkable convergence on HE. It will actually go into the beast's nostrils, being so tiny.
The trails cleared through the jungle by the hosers, huge passageways 4 metres wide, that wind through the jungle, are best known by the name "Hoser highways". The ground level of these highways is constantly filled with low-growing vegetation, taking advantage of the sunlit tracts of land. Ferns, flowering buhes, young trees, herbage, even tiny species of orchids that grow nowhere else, turn the destructive actions of the hosers into a verdent garden. This area of re-growth, far from the gluttinous, branch stripping jaws of the hosers, is colloqially referrred to as the "wabe".
Among the small flowering plants at ground level, exquisite Jewell-bees (Ornatapis sp) hover among the blossums, these average sized bees vary greatly in colour between species, but all have a jewell like pearlescence to their exoskeletons. The undergrowth is often disturbed by small vertebrates. The Tove (Fossosuchus carrolae), is a badger sized, ground dwelling relative of the aardcroc, and is mainly an omnivore. It's jaws posess generalised, peg like teeth, and it's snout ends in a twisted, horn like growth, somewhat resmbling a corkscrew. This creature uses its snout to forage in the soil for roots, tubers, insects, and other forage. The snout's horn, has recently been resrearched thoroghly, and it has been found to be thickly permeated with chemoreceptors, and is packed with tactile nerves at it's core, as a result, it is believed that this growth is the creature's main organ for locating food. A constant prescence around the wabe are the hoser highway drifters (Probomys sp). These are herbivorous relatives of the ephrus, hopping bipedal afrotheres that mainly eat insects. Around the size of a rat, hoser highway drifters subsist mostly on the newly grown plants that grow on the hoser highways. They are bipedal saltators with a tapir like proboscis for gathering browse.
Worms and other soil dwelling insects are abundant in the wabe's soil and in the leaf litter of the forest floor. One bird that actively hunts such invertebrates is the Borogove (Borogovornis longirostris), a terrestrial Lithornid bird. With long, brown legs, a long slender beak, and shaggy dishevelled grey feathers, it looks uncannily like a mop standing on it's end. While it does fly to escape predators, it usually stays on the ground, where it probes the ground for it's invertebrate prey.
Many creatures from the deep jungle, like spakas, possum hounds, cimolestanms, sut, zams and many herbivorous and insectivorous birds will venture from the green cover to feed and socialise in the open space that the hoser highway and it's wabe provide. Also, the highways are stopovers and meeting places for the forest dinosaurs, like serveral varieties of forest saurolope, jackalope,and hogbird, aswell as the impressive gorillabird. Afew dinosaurians have specialised in feeding and living in the wabe. The Green wabe jackalope (Nanostruthiodactylus gracilis) is one such example, a daintily built ornithopod at a meter long and 10 kilograms. It can often be found browsing in small groups among the wabe. As too can the Congolese dwarf gluck (Nanoporcavis gallops) is 70cm long and as heavy as a large cockrel. It is an omnivorous oviraptorosaur, which will greedily pluck at low browse as well as digging and grubbing for insects and grubs with it's well-clawed feet and hands, and snapping them up in their bird like jaws.
The nanomokele (Nanomokelesaurus terrestrius) is without doubt the smallest sauropod in africa, reaching only 3 metres long and weighing about the same as a small cow. It is very shy, but can often be seen browsing in the wabe, and in areas where bushy plants cluster at the jungle's periphery. A strange creature, proved to be descended from the same ancestor as the nile mokele, it is more gracile and compact in body shape, with far more extensive bodily armour to protect it from predators. Despite it's armour, it will, at the slightest sign of danger, retreat into the forest to hide.
There are predatory dinosaurs here too, the congolese subspecies of Horned Molok (Afromoloch diabolus congolensis), is the terror of the forest. Rangier and smaller than other subspecies of horned molok, it mainly hunts forest saurolopes and hogbirds in family groups, but they will sometimes cooperate to bring down young hosers. Nevertheless, they ofen use the hoser highways as covenient paths through the forest as they search for prey. Black beastsSome maniraptors will also hunt in the wabe. The congolese raffer (Vulpornis congolensis), a typical dromaeosaur in size at 2m long and 30 kilograms, long mainly stalks the jungle in search of small vertebrate prey, but it will very often ambush small animals of the wabe from the adjacent cover. The name "raffer" is a proud continuation of the tradition of onomatopeic Mattiraporid names, it's hiss-like-chirp, "rha-pha", is a common jungle sound.
One beast that is almost constantly seen in the periphery beween the forest and the wabe is the Mome-croc (Suinosuchus chloris), a large crocodile roaming the forest floor seems a long way from home. A pig-sized, destructive hoplocroc, very round and quite heavily built for it's size, it has an upturned, horny nosepiece used like a pig's snout for uprooting plants. Though heavily armoured, it still actively defends itself, biting and screeching loudly. It can often be heard calling in it's guttral, sneeze like bark, insterspersed with whistling exhalations, in order to communicate with other members of it's species, to claim territory, and to attract females. To see one feeding can be quite upsetting, as it powerfully, but discerningly, uproots and devours plants, crudely mastcating them with it's stout teeth before swallowing large portions whole.
Small animals tend to follow the destructive jungle herbivores around, feeding on the disturbed mess, excrement, and agitated insects in it's wake. On the relatively-frequent occasion of seeing hosers pass through the highway as they feed, one will see a similar, but even more extensive gaggle of small creatures feeding in the hoser's wake. Insectivorous birds, predaceous flying insects like dragonflies, Xenotheridians, Pediomyids and Deltatheridians of many kinds from the surrounding jungle form a constant, ground-level-craravan. They are constantly feeding on stirred-up insects, pulverised vegetation, excrement, and eachother.
A newly discovered Archaeoplumian theropod (Dodgsonia archeoplumoides), subtly colured dappled brown, and quick witted, has only ever been seen or collected among passing hosers, and apparently associates with them it's whole life. It is most often only 70cm long and weighing little more than 1 kilogram. Obviously having fine lives foraging in the shadows of giants, no large predator would be able to get close enough to chase it, even if the sharp-eyed Archaeoplume didn't notice the danger. Recent evidence suggests that they even nest among hosers, raising the chicks on prey attracted to hoser nests and foraged from adjacent areas. The theropod itself is clearly too small to tackle even a newly hatchedhoserling.
The most terrible camp follower is the Nandi-dog (Cynodromeus agilis), catching any unfortunate that is unwary enough to not see it. A small, 2 kilogram possum-hound, it can run faster than any other metacanid.
Another exclusive camp follower is the Halcyon (Longorostrus serratomandibula). It is similar in size to a large raven, and likewise is very similar in shape, but is, in reality, a large kingfisher. It can snatch small prey items, like mammals and reptiles, using it's long, sword-like beak, which is lined with serrations, and is bright red, banded in black. The body is adppled in black, dark green and azure blue, with a metallic red sheen, the underparts of the bird are saffron yellow, and the face is spotted with yellow specks.
The sections of deep forest between hoser highways have beenhitherto seldom explored. It is generally referred to as, "The Tulgey Wood".
(Text by Timothy Donald Morris)
The Tulgey Wood
Beyond the clear, relatively free-roaming expanese of the congo's hoser-highways, and their wabe, vegetation becomes almost impenetrably thick. Large trees and vines send their branches upward, while their tangled roots snake over the ground.
One of the most frequently encountered beasts at ground level and up in the trees is the Beamish mancarpo (Pithecornis agilis). A leaf-and-fruit eater, average sized at one kilogram, it will stray down to the ground to feast on fallen nuts and grapes, as well as to grab any other morsels that tend not to run away. A mundane grizzled grey, with a cap of ginger fur running from forehead to shoulder, small groups constantly remain aware as they forage in different levels of the forest, leaving a remarkable amount of mess for it's size. A constant accompaniment to these birds are the chortling carpos (Psitaccarpo striatus), striped yellow and black, active and noisy, they are quite small, only as heavy as parakeets. Eating nuts, buds and berries, they are attracted to the leavings and food scraps of the other birds. They leap nimbly from branch to branch, and down to the ground and back to the trees, one can barely keep track of their movements.
Many varieties of large carpo share the treetops and lower branches. Colobornithine carpos of Africa, exemplified by *Colobornis pacifidus*, are a fair size at up to 10 kilograms. These carpos are usually green above and white below, with black stripes running down the back. Their beak is more rounded, thick, and sharp edged, like that of a green sea turtle, which allows them to feed on even the toughest leaves, which are their main food. They are fairly inactive, clambering through the trees, costantly browsing, passing food from their clawed hands to their mouths, down to the swollen, frementing gut.
Presybitavine carpos like the well sudied "Languravis aureopteyx" are mainly fruit and nut eaters. This example is dark red and gold feathered, with white underparts, and weighing an average of 5 kilograms, and posessing a surprisingly long set of retrices, supported by an elongate pygostyle. It is active and long limbed, leaping through the trees in search of fruit, usually in small family groups. It has an elongate, hooked beak, used for adeptly plucking the ripe fruit and nuts.
The very startling, 20 kilogram megafrotheres that both climb the trees and roam through the tulgey and the wabe, like a bizarre cross between a pig and a baboon, puzzled scientists at first. They are the Job-Goblins (Megafrotheroides dux), with curve-clawed feet for climbing and foraging, they are omnivorous, and eat almost anything they find on or above the ground, meat or vegetation. Their faces are warty, banded and blemished in red, yellow and green along their dog-like muzzles, which have impressive canines and crushing molars. Their fur is jet black, with yellow-white under-parts, and a ridge of stiff, reddish fur runs down their back. Their call has been referred to as a gruff "ughh!", they also make high pitched sqeals as they forage.
In places where stout, low palm growth, plantains, low soft vegetation and vines predomin ate, one will see areas apparently ripped apart indiscriminately, these are the feeding trails of the Gorillabird (Hapaloraptor robustus). A huge, shaggy hogbird, with a bulging, segnosaur-like gut, standing four metres tall, and being six metres long, seeing a gorillabird is an experience that one will not soon forget. They have enormous, powerfull jaws, albeit not as strong as they look, it was once thought that they could crack giant coconuts. They use such jaws to rip apart branches, and to tear palms down to get at their succulent frond-bases and hearts, they particularily like plantains and ferns also. They often weigh as much as half a tonne, and have giant claws, which they use to pull down, and pull apart branches, much like therizinosaurs. They are mainly restricted to the deepest areas of forest including upland rainforest. they have characteristic green hide on their underside and legs, and green-black stripes on their thighs.
Some birds, like numerous tweeties, will follow such large herbivores, feeding on the resulting flurry of disturbed insects. The shovel bird (Spatulorostrus tulgeyi) is a large terrestrial chaardriform bird that perferrs to disturb the ground itself. Posessing an immesnely strong, long beak with a shovel like process at the end, the bird pours over the soil and leaf litter, upturning the ground and feeding on worms, lizards, snakes, and insects. Averaging at the size of a goose, with long walking legs, it makes it's way through the forest by day, feeding as it goes. They fly well, but seldom.
Another foraging ground bird, the congo butter (Manteqiliagallus largus) is a turkey sized omnivorous galliform. With powefull legs, it scratches at the leaf litter, finding all sorts of nutrient rich moresls, small animals, insects and tubers, even tiny subterranean orchids (Subterraneoflora sp). It's upper regions are a rich, dark green, and it's underparts are a buttery-yellow, hence the name of the butters as a group. It's flesh apparently has a buttery taste also. All butters, found across tropical eurasia and africa, make a mound nest, like HE's megapodes, to incubate their young, which emerge fully developed. Their flight is typically poor, like most galliforms, and they prefer to run away from danger.
The bitter butter (Atrociogallus nanus) is a similar, but much smaller, insectivorous galliform. Brightly coloured unioform red and blue, they ingest numerous varieties of poisonous insects, and small gemmules, poisonous lizards. They subsequently have very poisonous and bitter flesh, eggs and feathers, to repell predators, and ner-do-wells.
Omnivorous flying foragers found around tree trunks, Staghorn-bills (Diablornatocorvus gigantorostris) are hornbill-like nearcrows that feed on anything protein rich. Their plumage is copper and yellow above, with bright green underparts, they fly periodically from tree-trunk, to tree-trunk. They use ther powerfull, curved beaks to loosen their food from the cracks in the bark or from amongst the branches. Perhaps it's most amazing attribute is it's outlandish bill-casque, which curves up from the bill's base and forms a horn like projection, much like in some beetles. Males have larger casques, and joust at eachother in flight and on branches as they fight over females.
Around the secluded waterways of the congo's tributaries, one will find an equally astounding variety of life. The congolese sub-species of Mokele (Mokelesaurus mbembe congolensis) is slightly smaller than other subspecies, but is equally destructive and noisy in it's feeding. The carp-cichlid (Mokelichthys medius) is a detritivorous fish that constantly feeds around the water-bourne vegetative scraps and dung of the mokele.
The chotcho (Tussisaurus timmledorfi) is a primitive ciraphadrid found in the deep tulgey wood. They make up a species that travels in small family groups, and feed generally on low and medium height vegetation, like a hadrosaurian okapi.They make cough-like calls, hence the name, and they usually linger around waterways and swamps, it is thought that they retreat into the water when threatened. Their horns are only small growths, and this may hint a relation to the ciraph's ancestors.
Drum frogs (Percussanura sp) and Cymbal frogs (Aureopercussanura sp) are seldom seen but almost always heard. They are fairly normal in appearance and size for a frog, former brown, the latter golden. Their calls are percussive sounds, and sound like drums or symbal respectively.
Another loud inhabitant is the chicken-sized Horn-duck (Purpruanas vocalis), a bright purple duck that has a golden beak and a remarkably brassy, horn-like call. They graze and browse near and under the water, using powerfull, webbed feet to reach the riverbed and escape from danger on land.
The jungle pantherbull (Tauropanthera chloropardalis) is the chief predator of this shadowy realm. Light, greyish brown with a milange of black and dark green spots in complex patterns, it merges nearly invisibly into the dark jungle. It has shorter legs than most other cursorial pantherbulls, but it can run quicky and powefully through the thick undergrowth. It is six metres long and three quaters of a ton in weight. It's primary prey are forest saurolopes and jackalopes, even young gorillabirds. It almost completely lacks cranial ornamentation.
The highest browsing forest saurolope is the Greenbeeste (Chlorotherium cornuta), a superbly camouflaged, long necked ciraphadrid. With black and green mottlings all over it's body, it moves gracefully through the forest periphery, inbetween the wabe and the tulgey, almost imperceptable against the grean curtans around it. Again at around six meters, and around two tonnes, it is a forest ciraph, to an extent, secretive, tall, gracefull, but seldom seen.
The red faced Bostop (Antillomanus robustus) is a colourfull, four meter long cenoceratopian of uncertain affinities, at a weight of a third of a ton. It is built very lightly for it's size, with long, slender legs for a ceratopian, it spends most of it's time constantly browsing around clearings and stripping bark from trees. They are infamous for their aggressive territorial habits, charging at any sign of danger at agressors that are not too large, putting their sharp, backswept nasal horn to good use.
The spiny undaur (Spinundaur spinosus), is the only african undaur known. About 3 tonnes, and around three tonnes in weight, they move in agressive, noisy herds. They mainly browse on the upper reaches of the trees, but will also eat any manner of browse they please. They are typical in shape for a fair sized undaur, but have bony osteoderm spines along their back. Mainly non-destructive feeders, they do not create "highways" like larger high browsers.
Many bizzare and beautifull fruiting trees occur here, banannavines, grape-like trees, citrus, melon, and many yet to be fully described. The most impressive, only available to be eaten and germinated by larger dinosaurs is the Megomphalocarpum tree. *Megomphalocarpum aumalae* bears enormus, basketball sized fruit, with tough husk and starchy innnards fiiled with seed. The large hosers and undaurs can crush it with their enormous feet and powerfull jaws, and spread their many seeds.
Forest jackalopes (Casauriodes sp), (Antillobelua sp), are more stoutly built than plains dwellers, but can still clock impressive speeds. Varying mainly in color and size, most have a simple, casque like cranial crest. There are species similar in size and weight to a bongo down to ones that are closer in size to a duiker. They move in loosely aggregated, patriarchal family groups, preferring clearings and trails through the forest in which to feed on understory plants and low hanging branches.
A main predator of many suitably sized forest herbivores is the Pard (Pardaloraptor pantherinus) a leopard sized, spotted Pardaloraptorid with immensely powerfull sickle claws on it's feet and hands. It will most often sit in a tree to ambush prey, but will also hide in shrubbery or around root buttresses. It subdues prey by bloodletting with it's immense claws, and can bite savagely, having sharply serrated maxillary teeth, while the premaillary teeth are more conical and curved.
Frequent prey for forest dromeosaurs are hogbirds (Suinavis sp), (Afrosuinavis sp) which come in various species among the african jungle. Many are similar in weight to turkeys and geese, some are as heavy as pigs. The largest species, *Teratosuinavis robustus* is 300 kilograms in weight, and 4 meters long, strangely, this species is one of the more agressive and carnivorous, particularily favouring riverrine prey like turtles and frogs. As a group, african Suinavids are hard to study, they are secretive, and eat almost anything, and will actively fight if cornered. It has been found that they mainly feed on vegetation, but some will also catch spakas and other mammals, aswell as occasionally nest-raiding. The Greater jungle hogbird, (Choerornis silvester) is the best known, 2m long and 40 kilograms in weight, it browses mainly in areas of thick cover, but will also take any number of other, more protein rich foods. Glucks, however, preferr the open areas, and, appropriately, one species occurrs in the wabe.
The Congolese faunfowl (Therogallus tumnus) is the tallest of the forest oviraptorosaurs, at 3 meters high at the head, and 150 kilograms. Another such creature, Therogallus nickodemus, occurs in the european woods, but is very poorly known. With only two inner toes and long, dainty legs, it resembles a satyr or faun, as much as a dinosaur can. It's call is like that of a very beautiful flute, "u-dututUU-du-du-du" and a very staccato "Do-to-to-to-toooo-do-do-to-tootootooTOO" when frightened or retreating. It is a humble brown, and has shaggy feathers, like goat pelage, it carries it's single young in it's arms, and pairs for life.
As one proceeds even deeper, into higher altitude forests, the dinosaurian browsers and hunters become less in evidence, though still there, they are rarer here, and more secretive by nature. There are few unique dinosaurs here among the masses of low vegetation and epiphyte-covered rocky crags, but mammals, being more flexible in the spine and limbs, have a better time here. Typical megafrotheres, mostly undescribed relatives of the marso and sut, are found here in abundance. More apparent are long trunked drifters (Probipus longonasalis), a larger, more robust relative of the hoser highway drifter. Jungle-tree nearaxes (Parahyrax arborophilus) clamber through the branches in small groups, foraging for succulent browse, and are little bigger than rabbits. Gorillabird are common here, languishing in bowl-like "sets" and gorging on vegetation. Many gorillabirds also nest here, raising gridiron-ball-sized eggs, hatching into chicken sized, yellow-and-black striped chicks, contrasting to the adult's uniform black, with green skin and a green pearlescence to the feathers.
One recently discovered creature, a megafrothere, known as Tapirocaprus dendrodigitus, is very common around the vegetaion covered rocky crags. At 8 kilograms, and a height similar to a large dog, it's anatomy is a somewhat like a tall, slender-legged and limber version of the sut, it's proboscis is longer and more flexible, and it's tail is longer and much more bushy. It is most often observed traversing over the crags and mounds of vegetated rock, foraging and feeding on the most succulent browse, and other choice morsels, including insects, bees, and lizards.
Another, ground dwelling relative of the megafrotheres is the Ragger (Cavihyrax robustus), a ground dwelling nearax, about 12 kilograms in weight. They have enormous incisors and thick, bristly hide, they prefer to gnaw and chew on bark, branches and fruit, like a goat or spelk. They have robust spines in their bristly coat, and can resist the more agressive intentions of local carnivores by biting and clawing also, as their manual claws are 2 inch long and wickedly curved. They also avidly consume eggs and vertebrates when they can catch them.
Spakas, particularily the royal spaka, (Regitragulomys velocipes), are very common throughout the jungle. In the rainforest, both lowland and highland, they quickly sprint between areas of cover, and are preyed upon by many carnivores.
Ambling amongst the particularily common colonies of giant-mound-bees (Theroapis giganteus), are the great brush-dogs. The bees are half again as large as bumblebees, and a gaudy red and black, though they seldom sting. They make a mound-like nest in the forks of trees, and are commonly eaten by insectivorous predators, and omnivores like the the brush-dog (Caninodeltatherus meliphagus). The Brush-dog, at around 10 kilograms, can eat most smaller prey with ease, and commonly feed on bees, their larvae, and honey.
Though the predatory draks and mattiraptors do occur here, the largest predatory dinosaur of appreciable size hunts in the highland rainforest also, and is a very ferocious vulgure. The Jabberwock (Carrologryphes giganteus), is a 300 kilogram vulgure, an indiscrimanate hunter that will ambush hogfowl, young gorillabird, and mammals, killing them mercilessly with it's hooked bill, and huge claws that catch. When not hunting, they patrol their teritorry, making a bizzare "burbling" noise, happening upon one, burbling as it goes, is a fearfull experience. Jabberwocks will stow their prey in their "home-tree" at the centre of it's territory. They will often sit next to this tree surveying for danger or intruders, as they chew the remains of their last kill.
The trees here are mainly Tumtum-trees (Carrolarbus sp), huge and gnarled, with low hanging vegetation. They are home to jubjub-birds (Arboronychides obtusus), arbos the size of clouded leopards, they prey mainly on mammals and large birds, alos occasionally lizards, which they tear with their sharp teeth and claws. Their plumage is usually a dull, brown-purple. Their distinctive mating call is usually described as sounding something like a melodious "ka-lou-kaleigh!".
Many aspects of the tulgey wood remain mysterious, every month, more small animals like birds, xenos, and lizards are discovered there. It will be a fabulous day when we fully understand this bizzare place, but one imagines it will not be soon before another astonishing discovery is made there.
(Texts by Timothy Donald Morris)