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Taranga

Before people colonization and the introducing of various species of animals the nature of New Zealand was the most original and ancient by origin one in the world. New Zealand is the archipelago isolated from continents since Mesozoic era; therefore the majority of animal groups, characteristic for other areas of the Earth, simply could not settle it. Before people occurrence mammals of New Zealand were presented only by bats and seals. Humans had introduced numerous mammals to islands – predators and hoofed mammals which had changed a nature of this isolated world up to unrecognizability. Native species of birds, reptiles and invertebrates hardly resisted to the impact of introduced species, and the majority of them had disappeared in human epoch or during some tens thousand years after people disappearance. Descendants of introduced species occupied ecological niches had been empty earlier, superseded New Zealand endemic species and after millions years had generated the balanced ecosystem. Primary it had been no digging mammals at New Zealand, but in Neocene one of introduced species evolved to true underground inhabitant. One of the most successful and nocuous for native fauna introduced species was the stoat (Mustela erminea). In human epoch this mammal became the reason of reduction of number and disappearance of numerous species of New Zealandian birds. But time of its prosperity had approached to the end in glacial epoch, when the climate had changed. Ecosystems of the past degraded, and inhabitants of islands should search for new sources of forage to survive. One of descendants of hermin had turned to digging animal, having replaced moles absent at these islands. Taranga – the new species of digging mammals – had appeared so in New Zealand. In myths of New Zealand Taranga is the female, in the afternoon leaving the land for the underground world. This animal, as against the mythical prototype, had gone under the ground for ever, becoming the species deeply specialized to underground habit of life. Body length of taranga is about 20 cm, from which about a quarter falls to a tail. The body of this small mammal is covered with rich velvety wool of grey color. Populations from mountain areas differ in longer and denser fur. Head of this mammal is very short and flat; on nose bridge the wide corneous scute is advanced. Taranga digs holes with the help of forepaws. They are similar to paws of the mole: short, wide, strong, with palms turned back and long thick claws. The body of taranga is lengthened, hinder legs are rather weak – animal pushes by them from walls of hole during the movement. The skeleton of this mammal is additionally strengthened: it is important for underground habit of life when the animal is threatened constantly with danger to appear filled up with stones. Cranial bones of taranga are very thick; ribs are expanded and strong. Vertebrae are strengthened by numerous additional shoots and jags forming additional mechanical coupling. By structure of backbone this animal is convergently similar to girder-backed shrew (Scutisorex somereni) from Uganda lived in Holocene epoch. Sense organs at taranga are advanced differently, rather than at hermin. Eyes of animal are very small; sight sence is substantially degenerated: the animal badly distinguishes contours of objects and does not distinguish color at all. Sight is useless at life under the ground, and by importance for animal it had been completely replaced with well advanced sense of smell. Sharp thin teeth specify that taranga is active predator. This animal eats rodents, worms and reptiles creeping in its holes. Taranga does not like stony soils and lives in soft wood ground rich in humus. Separate populations of taranga exist in mountain areas of New Zealand, but they are settled in places where there are woods with thick layer of ground. Also taranga does not live in tropical woods of the north of New Zealand, where the layer of ground is rather thin.  This is the solitary animal. Each individual digs system of holes and marks borders of territory with musk secretions. If two animals meet in the common system of holes, there is a fight between them, frequently ending by the death of one of animals. For these animals the cannibalism is characteristic, especially at the lack of food. Only the female ready to pairing can admit the male to the territory, but right after pairings she banishes him. At this species of mammals the number of unique features of breeding is developed. The hermin – the ancestor of taranga – strongly depended on number of rodents, and at it the special adaptation permitted to restore quickly the number of species had developed. The male of this species had coupled to newborn females, and they grew, being pregnant. At taranga this adaptation had undergone change in connection with warming in early Neocene and rather constant conditions of inhabiting. This animal is able to parthenogenesis: young females grow, and at them the new parthenogenetic generation of cubs already develops. All newborn individuals of parthenogenetic generation are females. If the female ready to pairing has not met the male, at her the occurrence of parthenogenetic pack is also possible. In ovocites there is the doubling of chromosomal complement which is not accompanying with cell division, and from them normal cubs develop. In mountain valleys there are the populations of taranga including only females – possible, this is the parthenogenetic posterity of the single foundress individual. Taranga breeds two times per year; in litter it may be 4 – 5 cubs. This animal grows quickly, reaching the maturity at the age of half-year. But the life expectancy of taranga exceeds five years seldom. Taranga is not unique species of underground predators on Neocenic Earth. At the territory of Europe the  lives – it is another species of underground mustelid, completely lost sight sence, but not adapted to burrow digging.

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