Marsh-dwelling xenosophonts

Image from Steve Bowers

The Dyglufsare were discovered on Hlone Enced, a vast tidal plain on Socius (Aedes III, Solar Dominion) in 9388 by the surveyor biotects from the Bright Divine Order during the multicultural colonisation experiments. Hlone Enced is a 4000 kilometre wide extension of the continent Jennundatur, less than 10 meters above sea level at its highest. The tides brought about by the moon Compagnon draw in water over the plains through a number of tidal canyons, and the frequent rains also serve to keep the entire region perpetually moist. The result after millions of years of evolution is thousands of kilometres of swamps, mudflats, clay rivers, sandbanks and mud labyrinths covered by mangrove-like forests and algal mats.

The Dyglufsare evolved as scavengers and collectors, filtering mud and silt through their extensive gastrointestinal tract. They have a broad flat star-like head usually kept above the surface and often covered by symbiotic or parasitic vegetation and three eyes around the circumference, a rotund body with a large mouth opening in the front, two pairs of arms with long filaments used to shovel tasty mud into the mouth, two pairs of feet used for moving/digging through the mud and a long tail for anchoring and direction. The tail is actually the bundled ends of the tree-like gut system of the Dyglufsare, which extracts all available nutrients from the mud.

The brain is not particularly large, but it is dual: the head houses a sensory brain controlling many escape and defence reflexes, while the body is controlled by a slightly larger pear-shaped brain below the neck controlling overall movement and strategy.

Mating consists of a pair slowly circling around each other, spiraling inwards until they meet in a well-churned pit of mud. The eggs and sperm are laid in the mud, and for the next weeks the parents keep the mud soft and wet, adding nutrients and protecting it from predators. After the eggs hatch the young follow in the trail of their parents until they can fend for themselves.

It is a slow-moving creature; apparently content to spend its time gathering mud. To everyone's surprise the Dyglufsare show signs of intelligence.

Dyglufsare sometimes dig channels or dams to catch nutrients or even the local fish analogues (which are too fast for them to normally catch; they just pour digested silt onto the puddles until the "fish" are immobilized and easy to catch). They throw certain fruits (inedible to themselves) onto the mud to attract edible scavengers.

When flying predators sweep down on them, the traditional response has always been to submerge as much as possible in the clay, hoping that the predator cannot reach down far enough to get to their head or body. Modern Dyglufsare appear to have found that carrying a long branch when crossing dangerous open areas can save them: when they discover a predator, they hunker down and place the stick upright. The predator impales itself on the stick, and the Dyglufsare can continue. Some Dyglufsare have apparently learned to use this for hunting, and deliberately lure predators to their death on sticks in mudflats. A week later the mud is filled with nutritious creatures that can be harvested.

Brain scans and modeling show that there is indeed enough neural connectivity and rich representation of their world, themselves and other Dyglufsare for the species to be counted as sophont/sapient. It is not obvious what evolutionary pressures led to this, although increasing predator attacks and climate changes have been cited.

Their lack of language and weak social bonds, however, make their further development unlikely. They are likely an evolutionary dead end - too smart for their environment but not able to change it. Whether they could and should be provolved is debated among many xenologists and provolution experts. Provolved Dyglufsare would have to be so different from the original that they would be an entirely new artificial species, critics say. On the other hand, promoters of provolution suggest it might be immoral to leave them to their dreary, short lives if they are sentient and the potential for help exists.

There is currently a major debate between the settlers and the local prefecture about what to do with Socius. Rumour has it that the prefecture is making a deal with a Caretaker God that wants the system and is willing to pay in hyperturing ecotechnology. Naturally, the local settlers do not wish this and complain loudly through various channels.
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Development Notes
Text by Anders Sandberg
Initially published on 02 December 2000.