This group of furred animals is defined by a pair of sacs at the base of the mouth, but the scientific name sacculaphora didn’t catch on to the general public. They are known colloquially as “spithogs” due to the ability of some species to forcefully eject venom from their sacs. The venom is produced by symbiotic blue mold. In most species the venom acts as a tranquilizer, inducing a state of torpor in prey animals, allowing them to be stored for later consumption. While most are resistant to their own toxin, some terminator inhabitants use the drug to hibernate through periods of food scarcity.
Zoom out: Vermovillosids
Climbing to the tip of the pointer finger…that was not the sun’s light that made the ice glow red. There is life here. Dozens of small, hairy critters are nesting on this spot. Each individual has a stalk growing out of its head, and this is where the light is coming from. Maybe they act as beacons to keep the nesting site visible through a snowstorm, kind of like the ones over our campsite. Too bad Alex O’Hearn isn’t here to see this…I’d take one back for him, but I don’t want to separate them from their babies. I’ll take this instead…it’s an egg, covered in skin and fur but frozen solid, lost to the elements. (Nemo Hovsepian, marine biologist, Odyssey II)
Firebears use the stalk for several purposes – to lure prey, to communicate one on one, and to find each other in low visibility conditions, in and out of the water. Dominant males and females of this species tend to have longer and brighter stalks.
Little is known about the firebears. Their nesting grounds are difficult and dangerous to reach, so all information on the guinea pig-sized animals comes from notes, sketches, and a single egg collected from the site. They belong to Vermovillosa, which places them among star walruses, bottlenecks, and hairy grubs. Firebears resemble macroscopic furred tardigrades, save for the luminescent stalk that protrudes from the head. For reasons unknown, the egg is marred with a ring of scar tissue. This may be a natural result of rapid growth similar to growth cracks on fruit, or it may have resulted from damage to the soft shell. (Alex O’Hearn, biologist, Odyssey II)
Even the native wildlife can’t bear temperatures like this. On days like these, the firebears swallow their eggs and take to the ocean. Their outer fur layer is effectively watertight thanks to a system of interlocking barbs, almost like those on bird feathers or the black grasses that grow around here. The inner coat holds a layer of hot air next to the skin. This system works better underwater than in the wind, so they do their best to stay submerged. (Alex O’Hearn, biologist, Odyssey II)
Polyxena firebears are experts at keeping warm. In water, the fur sits flat and watertight, allowing the animal to stay both dry and hydrodynamic. On dry land, they can puff out their fur and the skin on their neck to protect sensitive facial structures and their eggs from the elements.
This model of an Arcadian firebear is frequently displayed at museums. Its venomous secretions were discovered to be indispensible for preserving native life. The venom is a strong narcotic, putting animals into a deep sleep that can last the journey to Earth if maintained under proper conditions. Once scientists figured out how to synthesize the active components in the lab, live sample return became a possibility for more than just single celled life and plicozoan embryos.