The Scratching Log

Blog for Ratha series home-page website. Posted by author Clare Bell.

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Saturday, August 25, 2007

Ratha's Creatures - Bristlemanes

What are the bristlemanes?

In Clan Ground, a pack of savage creatures attacks the clan’s herds. These raiders are not the UnNamed and are not cat-like at all. The Named call them “belly-biters” since they attack a prey beast’s vulnerable abdominal area. Several readers have asked what these prehistoric animals are. Based on the description given in the book (heavy bristling neck fur, black jaws, bone-breaking teeth, longer snouts, sloping backs, and a cantering gait), at least one reader guessed that the bristlemanes are a species of early hyena. There were several candidates, including Pachycrocuta, Thalassictis, and the American hunting hyena, Chasmaporthetes.

When I wrote Clan Ground in 1983-84, that was exactly what I had in mind. However, this is a case of history (or, rather, pre-history) outrunning the writer. And, I admit, that in the excitement and pressure of writing a sequel to Ratha’s Creature, maybe the writer didn’t do quite enough background research.

When I returned to writing the series, I found a lot more information about prehistoric hyenas than I had known in 1984. One dismaying fact was that hyenas appeared later than I had assumed. In Ratha’s time, 20 million years ago in the early Miocene, hyenas were still small mongoose- or at best, jackal-sized creatures.

Time-wise, a better candidate is the amphicyonid “bear-dog”. It resembled a lightly built bear with a wolfy face and jaws. Amphicyon and its relatives appeared and diversified in the early Miocene. They included fast-moving meat-eaters as well as scavengers and some species may have resembled present-day spotted hyenas in appearance and behavior.

Another possibility is that the bristlemanes are creodonts; an early and now extinct order of carnivores (Creodontia) separate from the living Carnivora (dogs, bears, raccoons, weasels, and cats). The name of one family, the Hyaenadontidae, when translated, means “hyena-teeth”. Though hyaenadont creodonts reached their peak in the Oligocene, they hung around until the early Miocene. That was long enough for them to be a threat to Ratha and her clan.

I’ve decided to base the bristlemanes on Amphicyon and its kin, since they are the best fit time- and size-wise.

There are other prehistoric beasties in the Ratha books. Which ones do you want to know more about?

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