Huginn and Muninn

Provolved Corvids with interdependent mental specializations

Huginn and Muninn
Image from PortalHunter
Mnemosyne and Minerva have a chat.

Huginn and Muninn
fly each day
over earth.
I fear for Huginn,
that he come not back,
yet more I fear for Muninn.

   - Grímnismál, Poetic Edda
Huginn (Novacorvus eucogitatus) and Muninn (Novacorvus eumemoriae) were two provolved sister species. In their time the two species were also known by the nicknames Hugies and Munies, Thought and Memory, and Odin's Twins. Huginn and Muninn became the third and fourth avian provolves, after the African Gray Parrot and the Scarlet Macaw. While the two parrot species were considered for the most part initially as novelty pets with mental abilities equivalent to those of a preadolescent human baseline, Huginn and Muninn had intelligences measured closer to the level obtained by calebs. Due to the combination of the ambitious goal for intelligence and severe limitations of early provolution projects these species created an obligatory symbiotic relationship, relying on each other for survival. Local population extinctions throughout the Nanoutbreak and the maturation of technologies (e.g. compubones and DNI) allowed for new descendant species to flourish but meant both Huginn and Muninn completely died out before the First Federation. While both species lasted only a few centuries, their early status as non-mammalian intelligences meant each has contributed genetically to the genomes of many provolves, rianths, neogens, and splices.


In 295 a group of Feynman Expert Systems from the University of Copenhagen while translating Old Norse runes became inspired to attempt provolution of corvids. The family Corvidae, which includes crows, ravens, and rooks, was perceived early on as one of the more promising groups for provolution. The brain-to-body weight ratios of corvid brains are among the largest in birds, and rival those of hominids and cetaceans. Tool fabrication, meta-tool use, social complexity, and skill memorization were observed in various corvid species.

Collaborating with IntraGenics the FESs used the genome of the Common Raven (Corvus corax corax) as their starting template. The Common Raven was chosen since it has one of the largest brains of any bird species and their hyperpallium (structure analogous to the mammalian cerebral cortex) is very large. To advance the corvids' mental capabilities toward sophonce the provolvist expert systems incorporated various tricks learned from the successful provolution of parrots in the previous decades. Another region of the avian brain the HVC* was enlarged to allow for more complex language and social skills to be learned and produced. The region of the avian brain that is used mostly for some types of executive functions and other higher cognitive tasks, the nidopallium, was also the focus of expansion.

Historical note: The acronym HVC is the official name for the nucleus in the brain of songbirds (which Corvids are part of) necessary for both the learning and the production of bird song. The region was for a short time in the first century AT formally called High Vocal Center, what HVC initially stood for. When the nomenclature of the avian brain was revised in 35 AT for various reasons this name was dropped and HVC became the official name for the region despite no longer standing for anything.

However, even with the lessons learned from earlier avian provolves, the avian cranium allowed for only so much expansion before drag increased to unsustainable levels. With these constraints the FESs became aware of the tradeoff in resources allocated to processing information (thought) versus the storage of information (memory). Influenced by their Norse translations, they came to the conclusion that instead of provolving one species excelling at both, that specialization in mental skills would be the better route to take. The species that would become Huginn was capable of more advanced feats of abstract thought, whereas the species that would become Muninn was more efficient at learning, storing, and recalling memories. While both Huginn and Muninn were sophonts in their own right, each species would rely on the other to cover for its inherent deficiencies.

By 340 the expert systems had self-sufficient breeding populations of several hundred individuals for both species, and the provolution project was considered successful. A brief fad grew up around them and lasted until they were displaced by focus on newer provolved species from an entertainment industry targeting a neophilic public. IntraGenics would retain a near monopoly on genemod services for both species over the next several decades, returning the cost of their initial investment in the research project several times over. Both Huginn and Muninn became increasingly aware of the depiction of corvids in various folklores and mythologies, and for the most part embraced this identity. While their creation predates the Pan-Sophontist movement, both species became highly publicized examples of the potential benefits for provolving species. The two species had a knack for electronics, finances, manufacturing, and military reconnaissance. They were respected in most communities for their ability to carry out potentially hazardous jobs in difficult to reach places. However, this respect rarely translated into full sentient rights.

Throughout the Interplanetary Age various portions of the Huginn and Muninn genomes were incorporated into emerging species of avian provolved and rianths incorporating avian features, most notably the proud Eagle people and the shamanic Crow people. Huginn and Muninn themselves did not stay static, and by the late Nanotech Age they began using DNI to expand their mental abilities. This new technology started a breakdown of the symbiotic relationship between the two species since they no longer had to rely on each other. When the Technocalypse of the sixth century A.T. struck it proved especially devastating to both species. Small remnant populations became isolated, resulting in several allopatric speciation (also called geographical speciation) events.

By the time of the First Federation when these various populations could once again encounter each other many found they were incompatible and would no longer produce viable progeny. So while each species' descendants can be found scattered throughout the Terragen Sphere, both Huginn and Muninn lasted just a few centuries. Those sophonts that have a portion of either Huginn or Muninn genome contributing to their genetic makeup and wish to highlight this aspect will often use the title Child of Odin. There are several degrees existing for this title. A First Degree Child of Odin has the entire genome of either species intact, and is mostly seen in lazurogenic efforts. Several societies have been set up to authenticate such claims.

In addition to the various lazurogenic efforts to faithfully recreate the two original species there was a notable 're-genesis' project of the original idea by Bartix dyr Ebii in the 102nd century AT to commemorate completing eir first millennium of teaching at The Tyrkenian Institute. In this effort Huginn and Muninn were actually of the same species, but their different mental skill-sets were divided up through sexual dimorphism; males grew into Thought and females grew into Memory. This dichotomy led them to adopt a philosophy on life and society heavily influenced by dualism. A primary example of this philosophy is seen in how the species follows strict complementarianism: each gender is considered to have a separate but equally important role. In this species it is obviously very important to form a lifelong monogamous pairbond. Individuals that don't pair off are considered deviants, and are not capable of living to their fullest potential without a mate. Parents give their offspring a head start by always having twins, allowing the juveniles the chance to form a mock relationship in order to imitate the behavior of adults.

Physiology & Sociology

Physically both Huginn and Muninn were very similar to their subsophont ancestors in overall body plan, but have larger heads and a slightly longer wingspan. They took longer to mature to reach reproductive age and adulthood, around 9 years, and had a life expectancy of nearly 60 years. For manipulation of objects they would use their beak, claws, and later in their history accompany these with handtech augmentations. Neither species wore clothes (except for environment suits); they instead opted for jewelry (the shinier the better) or feather paints (mostly visible in the near UV range).

Their social organization involved living most of their lives in small clans of only a few hundred individuals. These clans would always include members of both species, and were centered on families made up of a lifelong monogamous pair and their offspring. The clans annually congregated into flocks reaching tens of thousands of individuals, ensuring that adolescent Huginn and Muninn would have a chance to pairbond with non-relatives, thereby avoiding inbreeding.

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Development Notes
Text by Mark Ryherd
Initially published on 02 December 2009.