Ratha's Creatures - The Named clan cats
Readers ask if the various creatures in the Ratha series really existed. The answer is yes, they are based on real fossils, but a few have been slightly modified. Keep in mind that I began the series in 1983 and wrote it until the mid 1990's. Paleontology has made huge leaps since then, finding many new prehistoric species and making new discoveries about old ones.
A case in point is Ratha herself. I originally based her on the leopard-like Nimravus (shown in the Charles R. Knight painting of Nimravus (bottom) fighting Eusmilus (top)). At that time, researchers thought that nimravids were directly ancestral to modern cats. A recent re-examination of nimravid fossil skulls revealed that the bony structure (bulla) of the middle ear is slightly different than in true cats. On the basis of this anatomical difference, some researchers place nimravids in a separate family, although some still disagree.
Painting by Charles R. Knight, copyright by Rhoda Knight Kalt
Renewed study of another fossil, Dinaelurus crassus, (Eaton, 1926), has changed the view of this animal from that of a leopard-like ambush predator to a cheetah-like prey chaser. Although no bones from the body have yet been found, the skull, as compared to other nimravids, has very cheetah-like characteristics.
The Named behave in some ways very much like modern cheetahs. They sprint after herdbeasts and knock the animals down with a forepaw swipe. Thakur, the herding teacher, has a slim athletic physique and loves to run. They had also been portrayed as very cheetah-like on the original series book jackets (in part because the cover artist for my cheetah book, Tomorrow's Sphinx, did covers for the later Ratha books).
My love for cheetahs may have unconsciously expressed itself in my descriptions of the Named, so that many people who visualized them (such as fans and artists) used pictures of cheetahs.
Ratha and her kind aren't all cheetah. They share cub-nursing duties in a common area, as do mothers in a lion pride. As shown in the books, they have solid-colored coats like lions, although the young have spots that later fade. The large clan males, such as Cherfan attack their enemies like male lions, body-slamming them and striking out with heavy front paws. The Named also jump like pumas and climb trees like leopards.
When I read the recent arguments that Dinaelurus was a cheetah-like cursorial predator, I decided to switch Ratha's ancestry from Nimravus to Dinaelurus. The two are sister species and very similar. So I invented the fictional species Dinaelurus ("terrible cat") illumina ("enlightened") sapiens ("human-equivalent mentality").