Friday, November 29, 2013

Arcophylla and Myomotia: Problematic Progress

Happy Thanksgiving break, everyone!  Sufficiently stuffed on turkey and potatoes, and grateful for my many blessings, I now have some time to devote to wrapping up this batch of nereophytes, which marks the halfway point.  When I started on them I didn’t expect to get done until December; it’s nice to see I’m a little ahead of schedule.  And with twenty-six completed and posted, all that is left is phylum Membranophylla, a clade that, much like Tensivolae plants, explores some features and adaptations unseen on Earth.

Order Arcophylla was predictably straightforward, since it was a basic design I had since I first began work with nereophytes, and the Gemellocaputids more so; golden bowstalk is the quintessential genus of this family.  I had always imagined these plants sprawling over hills and valleys, the nereid equivalent of grass, and wanted to depict them as such.  I think the image captures that, and I’m pleased with how it finally turned out.  As with many of these images, where several organisms are present in the frame, there is a great deal of duplication taking place.  I think I’ve done a good job hiding it from all but the most discerning eyes.

I included the fen bowstalk for two reasons: first, to indicate variety among the nereophytes, as well as to exercise my creativity in varying the biological theme; second, to illustrate the breadth of the taxonomic family’s influence.  It took some thinking to figure out exactly how this branch of the bowstalk family tree would differ from the golden breeds, but I think I succeeded.  It was a bit of a challenge to determine exactly how these plants would differ from their cousins, but as I looked at how different grasses of Earth vary, especially those in swampy areas, design ideas soon came to mind: shorter, more succulent stalks, and darker coloration that could be just a cosmetic difference or could reflect differing photosynthetic needs.

The hourglass tree was my first attempt at taking the Arcophylla bauplan to arboreal scales, and an attempt to take the concept of “reef building” out of the ocean.  There may be some biological kinks to work out of the system, but I’m satisfied with the results at this point.  As far as the picture goes, I wonder if I’ve sufficiently captured the glassy nature of the trunks.  I also considered showing what one of the dead trunks looks like when it has collapsed under its own weight, in order to show more of the nereophyte’s life cycle, but as always time is a prohibitive factor.  Perhaps your imagination can fill in those details.

The lingayoni is one of the Barbitids, a family that caused me to do some taxonomic revision as I began to finalize their designs.  Originally, this plant would be the only featured member of a more primitive branch of Arcophylla, neither Gemellocaputid nor Barbitid, but once I realized that the other Barbitids didn’t vary greatly in their respective bauplans, it was clear that some changes needed to be made.  Some of you who were following the site at that time may have noticed some mysterious shuffling around that was a result of those adjustments.

But it was the harpweed that most influenced the design of the Barbitids.  I had a clear image of them in my mind since their inception.  I admit that there may still be some biomechanical considerations to work out, especially when it comes to the egressor tissues and how they serve this design, but at the very least I have the basic ideas down for others to examine.  I consider a lot of these plants a bit of a first draft anyway, and welcome feedback as always.

One of my first real challenges of this batch was the treebuchet; when I first started writing about it on the savanna biome page I had no real concept of its appearance, and placed a sort of “place holder” that roughly approximated how I thought it would ultimately look.  But as I began work on this plant in earnest, I didn’t want to draw a tree that was little more than a scaled up version of its cousins.  So while the treebuchet still fits within the Barbitid bauplan, it seems different enough to accomplish the diversity I want to see in the project.

Moving on from Arcophylla, it was the Myomotia that caused me some real pause in my research and designs.  I had always intended for the newel tree to be different from the others of the clade, but as I visualized it growing from the base of the trunk upwards (a trait very different from Earth plants, but quite common in Nereid clades) I began to wonder where its reproductive structures are located.  In keeping with the nereophytes from which it derived, the central stalk corresponds to the photosynthetic stalk of the Barbitids and similarly evolved structures, but that fact seems to imply that the newel tree’s reproductive organs are located near the base of the tree and not at the tip, as evidenced in the other Myomotes.  This hardly seems an effective placement, and I’m having difficulty resolving the issue; any feedback or insight here would be especially appreciated.

Flaywood starts to stretch into some of the extremes of plausibility, I think.  After reading the plant’s description it’s possible that the reader might interpret that these vines are constantly writhing and twisting; I imagine them to be much less active than that, laying motionless for the most part until stimulated, like traps to be sprung by hapless savanna nereids.  There may still be more fiction than fact in the flaywood, but I’d like to explore them further before dismissing their inclusion entirely.

The final nereophyte of this batch is also the one I most looked forward to, as it’s one of the few additions that provide the conceptual basis for an entire biome.  The coryphee is the “prima ballerina” of the ballerina forests, the nereophyte that gave xenobotanists the impression of graceful dancers.  It’s quite different from the types of plants that are found in similar climates on Earth, which makes it satisfactorily alien, but hopefully not so much so that it too strains credulity.

As always, I welcome thoughtful feedback or insights that can help me develop my work on this project further.  You can either do so here in the comments section or at the appropriate thread in the Speculative Evolution forums.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Brief Aside: The Moebius Fish

I'm going to take some time to deviate from my Nereus project to write a blog about the inspiring work of others.  I can't remember when I first saw it, but the Moebius Fish created by thomastapir has captured my imagination, particularly its method of movement.  Here's a picture of the specimen in question:

The alien has received some attention recently from Sigmund Nastrazzurro's latest blog post.  The main body of the post doesn't seem to focus on the movement of the Moebius Fish (detailing a bauplan that more closely resembles the Sugerea of Nereus), but there seems to be some speculation in both the post and the attached comments on exactly how thomastapir's creation could work.  Far too complex to submit in the comments section, this blog post is my offering to that discussion.

I've worked off and on with an animation that would help satisfy my curiosity of how the Moebius Fish would move, and the recent attention has inspired me to make something presentable of what I've been able to accomplish.

Stage 1: Torsion

In the description, thomastapir says that the Moebius Fish is "a marine organism that "swims," and feeds, by turning itself inside out--or more accurately, reversing the orientation of its body surfaces."  To my mind, this would look something like this:

Notice that this isn't a constant, universal rotation, but rather a sort of 'phased torsion' of each segment along the length of the ribbon.  Even though this is only one aspect of the creature's motion, already it has hypnotic qualities as suggested in the description.  This takes into account other points of the creature's description as well, namely the fact that the "node" doesn't rotate along with the rest of the body, and that the ribbon repeatedly inverts itself.  Mind you, what I'm showing here is a simplified illustration of the principle.  This animation only shows 180 degrees of rotation, and the Moebius Fish would likely be able to twist even further.  That much at least seems evident from thomastapir's artwork.

Stage 2: Movement Pattern

After exploring the "inside out" aspect of the Moebius Fish, I next needed to animate its movement cycle.  It's important to point out that I made no attempt to precisely match the creature's drawing, but rather to illustrate the basic principles of how such a creature might move.  I have done nothing to calculate hydrodynamic forces nor efficiency of movement, so what I have here is a rough approximation of a simplified Moebius Fish swimming stroke:

This image reflects several details from the description, specifically where thomastapir says, "It would then smoothly pull in all its body segments to reduce drag and invert them forward/back again to its initial starting posture."  Already you can see how much more simplistic this animation is, only showing one significant "curl" in its sequence, whereas the drawing shows three or four.  Had I sufficient time and resources, I could create something that would be much closer to how a Moebius Fish would swim, but for now I think this does the trick.

Stage 3: Putting It Together

When I take these two aspects of the Moebius Fish and put them together, I get this:

While I think it's a good first effort, there are several things that I think deviate from what I imagine:
  • If you look at the segments of the ribbon closest to the node you may notice, as I did, the 'flapping' motion.  I don't know if an actual Moebius Fish would find this advantageous, but it was an inadvertent artifact of my haphazard assembly of this animation.
  • On that note, the leading edge of the ribbon's swimming stroke is rather pointy.  This is true to the description in regards to returning to the forward-most position, and likely a hydrodynamically sound idea, but on the backstroke, when pulling water back, I don't know if it's best to maintain that point as this animation shows.
  • This animation is also fraught with what is known in the relevant jargon as 'collisions': points where the different surfaces intersect.  No creature existing within the physical realm would be capable of such a feat, and so any future work I do with this would have to account for the width and flexibility of the ribbon in order to avoid such problems.
  • There are no doubt other flaws in this animation, but they weren't so problematic as to distract from the concept and warrant further attention.  Again, this is intended to be a rough animation of how a Moebius Fish could move; if I had millions of years to perfect the swimming stroke, as this species would hypothetically have, then the overall motion would indeed be much prettier.
I'm curious to know if this is basically what others have imagined in terms of how the Moebius Fish would look in motion, especially thomastapir himself.  He said that his own picture looked too "ribbony," in which case this may be way off, but when I look at his picture this is what I see.  What about you?

Monday, March 11, 2013

Tensivolae I: The More Things Change...

It seems like every post I've made about nereophytes has begun with a mention of the time it's taken to get through the group.  I admit that these groups of plants could be done faster, but I have also been wrapping up the last semester of my university studies.  I've graduated now, but I've had enough time afterward to realize that that's no indication that I'll have more time on my hands.  I'm adjusting from the lifestyle of the (seemingly perpetual) student to that of a licensed educator, with all of the job hunting, bureaucracy, and hard work that that implies.  Compound that with the fact that the next group of nereophytes is a large one, and it will be some time before I come back to this blog to post about them.
Ah well, we have others to talk about right now... 

In my last post I focused largely on the artistic representations of the featured genera of Erepofursia, both in terms of illustrative clarity and in technical skill.  While I feel that this batch is an improvement I also want to point out that some of the images turned out to be a little sparser than I had originally intended.  Bare soil is commonly seen in the pictures, and to be honest I'm not sure if that's because I chose to illustrate only the featured nereophyte and excluding all others (excluding epiphytes), or if it's an indication that Nereus may be more sparsely vegetated than Earth.  I like to think that it's the former, and that the imagination can fill in the 'empty spaces' with other plants appropriate to the ecosystem.

This group of nereophytes is really the first part of the much larger clade Tensivolae.  I decided to split the taxonomic class into two groups, with two orders presented in each.  This is the first, older, and less spectacular pair: Excoria and Radiofolia.  They share characteristics with some of the first nereophytes to survive on land, and even bear features that make them more familiar to terrestrial eyes.  That realization prompted some serious thought.  While I had intended for nereid plants to be recognizably different from Earth forms, here I have several that could easily blend in with plants we find on Earth.  I reassure myself by calling it convergence-- after all, plant shapes are rather effective-- but a part of me can't help but wonder if I should have tried to come up with more novel forms.

That said, mangrome turned out to be delightfully alien.  While I don't think any single aspect of its design is that different from what's on Earth, I think the juxtaposition of it all makes it a very interesting and unique creation.  My mind whirls with what kinds nereids could make homes under the shade of the mangrome, or even within its labyrinthine trunk.

I didn't expect the ruby yucca to be too alien, since it's largely inspired by yucca plants I saw while vacationing some years in Sedona, Arizona.  These tall stalks would reach from a spiky little bush, topped with quite visually striking ornamentation.  But since I felt like the yuccas I saw with my own eyes had a surreal alien quality, I figured they would work well on Nereus deserts too.

As anyone who's seen the ballerina forest page can tell, flakefir has undergone some design changes.  The initial design had very little time put into its design, really just slap-shod models designed to fill the space and give the image of the ballerina forest a distinct skyline.  I didn't want to stray too far from that original design (I felt I was onto something) but I really wanted to figure it out with a little more strenuous attention to plausibility.  In the end I think it served to make the plant more interesting.

The concept of the razorbush is a common one, particularly in fictional settings where even the plants are dangerous.  I always wanted to include this kind of plant in the project as it would cause grief for unwary human explorers in whatever relevant fictions I hypothetically produce, but I wanted to make sure that the plant had a plausible enough reason for having sharp, scything blades.  I like to think I came up with something that works, but as always I'd love to hear feedback.

I always intended old man's ear to be a fun one.  While I think the overall concept is conveyed, may go back and do a little redesign to it.  The plants don't seem like they could hold very much water, and I always wanted the reproductive 'tufts' to be a little more whispy lookingPerhaps this is one of the nereophytes that would benefit from some preliminary design in SketchUp before final presentation...

Finally, the fleshette should be familiar to anyone who has been following the Nereus project over the years.  It was a design for a carnivorous plant that I tried out a long time ago, with people asking why it favors larger prey over insectoids, like Earth's carnivorous plants.  The more spectacular image of game-hunting plants aside, I had a hard time imagining the evolutionary pressure for it.  What started as a pattern of shooting barbed seeds into prey so they are carried far away became a method of dissuading herbivores and even felling prey with toxic darts.  The progression seemed natural enough to me, but what do you think?

Well, those are the Excoria and Radiofolia.  They mark the completion of the first third of featured nereophytes for the project.  Like I said, I'll be working on the rest of the Tensivolae, but in the meantime feel free to post any questions or comments about these orders.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Erepofursia: Hit and Miss

Another batch of nereophytes is done.  It's taken longer than I expected, and the plants are by no means all that complicated, either to draw or conceptualize.  One of my artistic weaknesses is fine, repetitive detail; I get bored drawing a fur texture or a convincing field of grass, and here I've been drawing fields, drifts, and thick knots of vegetation.  Some of the images I'm quite pleased with, and others I think could use a new attempt.  In any case, I hope that they are helping to properly convey the nature of the autotrophs of Nereus.

Conceptually, I also think that I've had successes and failures.  The bankvine was always intended to be a sort of 'proto-sog,' an example of how erepofursians got their start from more primitive forms.  However, hindsight reveals what seems like quite the biological leap between the featured Coleria and this first example of a new taxonomic group.  I guess viewers are going to have to fill in the blanks a little.

The sog itself, thanks to insights from the Speculative Evolution forums, became the more specific-- though still quintessential-- avanyu sog.  Again, I don't know if its most interesting features are highlighted, but this is something I think can be fixed.  One of the things I plan on doing at some point is some material (artwork/information) that helps to explain entire clades in general terms.  One such feature would be the mechanism of fluid transport this group pioneers and, in the case of sog, masters.

Musselmat was a simple, quiet success in my mind.  It's a clear transitional form that connects the 'leafless' Gymnovina order (represented by the bankvine and sog) to the forms of the Phyllogera order.  The anatomy of its offshooting pods should also give some indication of the ontogeny for future nereophyte structures.

And while I think it was conceptually satisfying, the feathermat might be a little unclear visually.  The vine portion of the plant is completely lost in the illustration, and while it's true that the downy protrusions do overshadow the feathermat's vine, I think it might be easy to miss how it fits into the clade.  Perhaps, when I'm putting together those clarifying general features I could include an evolutionary timeline where I could show the feathermat's anatomy in a little more detail.

The quetzal vine is another satisfying addition to the group.  It's different-- very different, and it's a good example of how I want to merge the aspects of science and creativity that I see in the most appealing approaches to xenobiology.  When I started thinking about nereid plants, I thought it would be interesting and different if I didn't include any flower analogues.  But when I reached this genus I realized that, despite my intentions, the natural process of development in this project brought about a sort of flower.  I've embraced it, mostly because they're natural, unique, and decidedly non-terrestrial.  Can you?

The sea slough turned out well also, and it helps show how nereophytes aren't simply Earth plants in alien costumes.  The niche of this organism is much like that of seaweed, and while it is a comparatively simple organism, it's more complex than the Earth analogue.  I think that sea slough is a good example of how xenobiology projects like this can echo and even give a nod to terrestrial inspiration, but still be biologically and ecologically unique.

Finally, I've just finished the waterfleece.  It too is strongly influenced by Earth algae (kelp, to be precise), but I have a hard time thinking it achieved the same level of success as the sea slough.  Its picture borders on impressionistic, and it doesn't really stand out as biologically unique in any interesting ways, but it forms a strong ecological base, both in terms of landscape for local swimmers and as a food source.  It began as a sort of kelp-like backdrop for goldwave and it never really changed.  Can't win 'em all, I guess...

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Consistency or Practicality?

As many of you may have noticed, while I've been preparing the next batch of nereophytes for publication, I've been adding a new feature to the website as a whole: size comparisons for different nereid clades.  Overall, I'm quite pleased with how they've turned out, but now that they're more or less complete, I've reached a point of decision.  The first is that I'm still not sure what to do with those pages that have only one featured nereid, such as the page for the taxonomic class Radixa and family Planidae.  It doesn't make sense to have an image comparing a quicksand clam or a treemount to, well, themselves.  They already have their own images, complete with a human or a hand for comparison, so another image of the sort would just be redundant.  So what do you think?  Should I include it for the sake of consistency, or leave it blank because the image just isn't practical?  Keep in mind that, at some future date, I may add other material in the area alongside the links to the individual species, such as illustrative information about the clade or clarifying diagrams.

Another fence I'm sitting on is what to do with the size comparison image for the Filtrapennae phylum; the two species in this clade just aren't easy to compare based on size.  I didn't have too much of a problem with other clades, but I may redo those if I find a better composition in the future.  But back to the Filtrappenae: if I show the water gauntlet in the full glory of its colonial size then the crown of thorns is hopelessly dwarfed, and won't who up as much more than a tiny little blob in the image; if I instead show an individual organism from the water gauntlet, then it in turn will be a tiny little blob in comparison to the crown of thorns.  Again, I wonder if the situation warrants a size comparison.  What are your thoughts?

Finally, I wonder about size comparisons for the nereophytes.  Granted, at the outset of the nereophyte page I point out that it will be following a different format than that of the nereozoa, so a similar size comparison may not be practical.  Also, the sizes of various nereophytes may present a similar comparison problem in the future, but I just don't know.  Once again, I'm interested in what you, the reader, thinks.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Back on Track...

The site is now back online in its new home with Google Sites, and there were many things I realized as I went through the process of rebuilding it.

One was a refamiliarization with material.  With 100 species on the site, and a long hiatus due to academic duties, my memories about some species was... fuzzy...  The review was refreshing and even worked kind of like a rediscovery.  It was as though I was seeing some of the nereids for the first time, and that will help when I get underway with creating new species again.

Another thing is that Google Sites has a much better sidebar navigation system than the host for the old site.  The links on the side can be extended so that all the sites are clickable or collapsed so that only a few are shown.  For the sake of saving space, I decided to leave the species off the list, but now it seems that if a species page is viewed that it collapses the whole sidebar, which can be disorienting.  I think if I include them in the sidebar it will solve that problem.  What do you think?

Another I noticed was a matter of consistency.  Just little things here and there, such as formatting from page to page and contradictions in the content of different species.  The formatting is a rather easy fix, and for the most part I've already done it, but making sure that all the material agrees with itself will take time.  Much of what I noticed was so subtle that it may take some interesting rewriting to iron out.

Finally, I noticed that the website as it is so far only takes up about a third of the storage space available, which means that, even with the full 200 species, there's room for more.  I don't think that will get filled with even more species, but I think I could use some of it to include more diagrams and illustrations explaining evolutionary lineages and interesting physiological points.  Or I might just save all that for Nereus 2.0... ;)

Any way, so the page is up and running again.  Many thanks to all those who gave feedback and input during the process, and keep an eye out for updates in the future!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Rebuilding the Anthill

So there's this comedian I enjoy who has this little gag about what ants must be saying when we callous, lumbering humans step on their anthills:

"You would think that they would take at least a second to look at what happened and go 'OH MAN!  I DON'T BELIEVE IT!  I ain't doin' that again...'"

There's of course no scientific backing for the scenario, but I still think it's hilarious and that it's a good analogy for how I felt when I found out that my website, which I had been working on (with material both relevant to Nereus and not) for several years.  I just didn't even want to deal with it.

But, after more than a month of not really doing anything to get my website put back together, I've finally got a new site going.  Here's the link:

It's with Google Sites, so hopefully things will remain reliable enough.

At this point, all I have on the website is some information about Nereus itself, but take a look and let me know if there's anything I can improve, whether format-wise or in terms of content, while I'm still at this early stage of rebuilding my little anthill...