Taxa Notes

Taxa Notes: The collected field notes of Dr. Alexander O’Hearn is exactly that. It contains all of the species reports, field logs, and specimen data from Odyssey I and Odyssey II. Although much of the information is out of date, exobiologists refer often to Taxa Notes when drafting their own reports on Ilian life. O’Hearn coined several new terms to describe the local biota, many of which are still used today.

Selected excerpts from Taxa Notes are presented below.


No amount of training or planning could completely prepare me for the task ahead. It is my job to piece together the biosphere of Ilion using only the tools at hand, the principles of biology, and the life contained within sixty square kilometers of riparian, shrubland, plains, and forest habitat. Wish me luck.


No specimen goes to waste. After setting up camp, we ran a chemical analysis of an unknown small animal that I unfortunately stepped on. It is carbon based. The CHON breakdown is C30 H54 N19 O7. This is similar to Earth animal life but suggests a high proportion of protein. The ash is ready to analyze but it is time for bed so that will have to go in tomorrow’s report.


The ash of the stepped-on animal contained K2O, P2O5, PbO, PbO2, Fe2O3, NaCl, CaO, MgO, and SO3. Exact amounts will have to wait until we return to Earth. Of the minerals found only the lead was a surprise. The animal died by shoe, not lead poisoning, so the heavy metal likely plays an important role in the biology of native life.


Chemical analysis of five plants yielded similar results to the animal we tested at the start (ref. table 1). They were all high in protein and lipids and low in carbohydrates. In layman’s terms, the plants are made of meat. Structures similar to muscles and blood vessels are visible in all the red plants and some of the black plants. I don’t mean to jump the gun but it looks like the plants may have evolved from an animal-like ancestor.


From here on I define brachydermy as branching or protrusion of the skin. There are several reasons we think this trait is convergent rather than ancestral (that is, it evolved more than once). First, the structures take on many appearances inward and outward. Histology shows that of the three species we have found that exhibit the trait (ref. specimens 2.7, 2.8, 2.43), only two have vascularized protrusions. The third builds its integument out of dead cells and neuroskeleton.

For those that have vascularized skin branches, we would like to find out why. Thermoregulation is the obvious answer but there are other functions we must not rule out, such as display. I have a theory that at least some of the animals can see near infrared light. If that is true, then perhaps the brachydermic animals will “blush” in response to a threat, either to startle the aggressor, break up its own outline, or blend into its surroundings. A series of simple experiments with the infrared camera should resolve this question.


So far I see five broad categories of land animal. First and most common are the six-legged animals with a mouth on their chest (referred to from here on as thoracostomes), thoracostomes with fourteen legs, fourteen-legged animals with the mouth up front (anteriostomes), hairy eight-legged anteriostomes which resemble grubs more than spiders, and finally, the star walrus which eludes classification. It has four fins and a fluke, no hair, a mouth up front, eight tentacles encircling a toothy mouth, and a pair of tusks.

Plants can be divided into two groups, black and red. Besides color they differ in several key ways. Red plants have fleshy leaves that grow from a central body which sometimes contains organs more familiar to zoologists than botanists. One such plant is a reed that grows by the riverside. Its stems are thick and contain blood vessels from which a pulse can be read. Dissection of the rhizome reveals two hearts in succession and an organ that looks suspiciously like a stomach.

Black plants have vestiges of these organs, suggesting a red plant ancestry, but their outward morphology couldn’t be more different. They look like plants. Some are short and woody, while others are tree-like and bend easily in the wind like overgrown saplings. All have one thing in common, and it is not their color – some black plants are completely red. But all are covered fur or feathers that upon closer inspection are actually tiny leaves with a single capillary running through to the tip. In the field we call these microphylls and they are seen in conifers and lycophytes on Earth. Terrestrial microphylls are terminal and transpiration drives the movement of fluids, whereas on Ilion the capillaries loop around and fluid is actively pumped. Transpiration may still play a role but we will have to conduct further research to say for certain.


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