Spec's oceans, as much as the land, are home to strange and novel creatures, the product of several marine extinctions and 65 million years of divergent evolution from our own timeline. Our familiar toothed whales (such as dolphins), baleen whales, earless seals, and sea lions are in Spec replaced by mosasaurs, hesperornithids, giant penguins, and cancridonts, while the evolution of p-krill prompted the evolution of the baleen-squids. All of these creatures, however, feed upon meat of one kind or another, and other groups have evolved to feed upon aquatic plants. One of these groups is Laticanidae.
Laticanids, the duckgongs, probably evolved fairly recently, but their peculiarly specialized anatomy makes their exact ancestry difficult to determine. Most biologists ally them to the basal neornithischians, relatives of such Late Cretaceous genera as Thescelosaurus, but others believe their origins are ornithopodan and Gondwanan, classifying the duckgongs as antarctornithopods like viriosaurs, rhynchoraptors, and euclasaurs. In any case, the duckgongs have undergone much modification in their lifestyle, and must scarcely resemble their ancestors, whatever those ancestors may be. However, recent analysis has reveled that these aquatic ornithopods are actually are more closely related to the small, but agile jackalopes and the armored vanguards.
Duckgongs resembles nothing so much as giant rubber ducks, floating low upon coastal ocean swells, paddling around warm lagoons, or wading through freshwater streams. Species in North and South America tend to prefer the last of these niches, inhabiting such large and famous rivers as the Mississippi and the Amazon, where they eat a variety of water plants and, beaver-like, dam streams excavate large shallow bogs, to further the growth of their favorite foods. Marine duckgong's, though not as industrious as their freshwater relatives, are far more interesting, anatomically. These creatures, similar in habitat and niche to the manatees of Home-Earth, have moved further down the duck-like niche pioneered by their river-going cousins. The marine duckgongs have enormous flippered hind legs, moved back along their bodies like a ducks, giving them a bizarre, waddling, high-chested gait when on land. Their forelimbs and tails have been severely reduced, and their necks are long, allowing these creatures to graze upon sea grass and other marine plant life. While the freshwater duckgongs are found only in the Americas, the marine species may be found both in the New World (around the Gulf Coast), but also around Africa, South, and Southeast Asia.
Engineer Duckgong (Prolaticanatis michanikos)The engineer duckgong, (Prolaticanatis michanikos) is a basal member of the group, still able to walk with relative ease on dry land. These creatures make their home in the middle and lower Mississippi, where thy eat a variety of aquatic plants. To promote the growth of these plants, engineers, like other semi-terrestrial duckgong species, pile up dikes of mud along the peripheries of the river they inhabit, creating many small lakes and swamps. These swamps harbor the plants the engineers like best, and also provide a measure of safety from terrestrial predators. This defensive function is accentuated during the nesting season, when all the engineers in a herd cooperate to build giant communal nests, circular ramparts of earth separated from the rest of the swamp by a deep 'moat'. Predators venturing into this moat must fight off the nests' duckgong guardians, whose preferred fighting style is to stun an attacker with kicks from their powerful flippers, then bear the predator below the surface to drown.
The nests of the engineer duckgong are not very sturdy, and rarely last more than a single year. Still, however, the radical alteration made by generations of engineers to the Mississippi can be seen from orbit, and the first explorers of Spec took the river's new face as evidence of highly intelligent life on Spec. The bull's-eye Mississippi 'castles', however, have since gone the way of Mars's canals, relegated to tabloid myth and bad science fiction.
Florida Duckgong (Laticanatis floridensis)The Florida duckgong (Laticanatis floridensis) is a typical representative of the mostly marine branch of the duckgong family tree. Rotund and torpedo-shaped, Florida duckgongs are almost immobile on land, for although the young can stand upright and waddle, duck-like, adults must crawl slowly on all fours. In the water, however, these herbivores are surprisingly fast, propelled by powerful flippered hind feet.
Florida duckgongs' main staple is sea grass, though they may also eat other plant material. They generally frequent waters too shallow for aquatic predators, and too deep for terrestrial ones, but their nesting season is fraught with danger. Duckgongs make their nests in the roots of the mangroves, and must guard them constantly from the ever-present lizards, draks, and not-a-coons.
Lemon Duckgong (Laticanatis citron)Smaller than the Florida duckgong, the lemon duckgong also known as the short-faced duckgong (Laticanatis citron) inhabits much the same niche in the swamps of South and Southeast Asia. Because of the presence of the river-dwelling potamoceratopses, Asian laticanids cannot extend as far inland as their North American and South American cousins, but in the open sea, the flippers on a duckgong's feet give these rotund plant-eaters a distinct advantage.
Luzon Landgong (Postlaticanas luzoniae)It is somewhat ironic that while a marine species is the most common in the Indo-Pacific, the great diversity of duckgongs in the region are mainly terrestrial. On an isolated island, once a duckgong grows large enough that a bird cannot carry it away, it has little to fear. While increasing bulk eventually forces most duckgongs into the dangerous sea, on larger islands a critical mass of pedomorphic individuals can exist simultaneously, and form a terrestrial population. The oldest and most terrestrially-adapted of these species are found on Sulawesi and the Philippines, although there are populations on smaller, more isolated islands that are all but genetically identical to the lemon duckgong, making the species a rough analogue to the HE axolotl.
The Luzon landgong (Postlaticanas luzoniae) is the largest landgong species in the Philippines, generally topping out at 150 kilograms. It shows little of its ultimately marine origin, never traveling even to the coastal lowlands, which are ironically occupied by a different pedomorphic duckgong of the Laticanas genus. Its limbs have changed dramatically, becoming robust with grasping fingers and toes to deal with the rugged highlands of the island's interior, but the body retains the dumpy proportions of its ancestors, as speed is of no particular use when the species reaches adult and grows too large for the native predators of the island. A slow, ponderous, and unflappable animal showing no fear of humans, it is the target of a somewhat of an embarrassing yet harmless ritual for graduate students; landgong tipping. This generally begins with drunken graduate students running into a landgong as fast as possible. The landgong generally have no reaction other than being somewhat perplexed, although the force of the impact, and the landgong's resounding solidness, generally have quite a reaction upon graduate students.