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Setting

  • No sunlight reaches the area where these creatures live, but the food it eats has fairly easy access to sunlight.

  • The ground below the creatures is nutrient-rich soil, and is heated by geothermal energy.

  • The food source 4000 ft. above the creature is equivalent to a superfood for the creature. clarification the food (think large-fish sized) falls at an average frequency (at random intervals) of twice monthly in any given square mile. Sometimes more, sometimes less.

  • There are no walls to climb upon.

  • Water is readily available to the creatures via small reservoirs.

Creature

  • Creature can metamorphose, even insofar as in between plant/animal/fungus.

  • For the purposes of this question, we will assume an infinite lifespan for the creature.

  • The creature is omnivorous.

  • The creature has intelligence akin to that of a wolf in all forms.

  • The creature is evolved, not engineered

  • The only serious competitor the creature has for its superfood source is other members of the creature's species

  • The creature operates inside of its 'territory' similarly to a mountain lion.

Question

Given the above specifications, how would a creature evolve to eat the superfood?

Disclaimer

This is my second post, so if you have any suggestions as to how to make my post better, or notice any mistakes I made, please do tell me, because I want my posts to be as good as possible on here.

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    $\begingroup$ Could you turn that over, please? Given the constraints in your exposition, what could ever make the poor creature evolve to depend on that food source? In evolutionary terms, which question is (more) reasonable? $\endgroup$ Jul 21, 2022 at 1:57
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    $\begingroup$ What exactly do you mean by "omnivorous" if this is the only thing they can eat? $\endgroup$
    – komodosp
    Jul 21, 2022 at 9:14
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    $\begingroup$ @komodosp the premise isn't that the superfood is the only thing they CAN eat, but rather that it's their 'favorite' food - and their most nutritionally complete food - available. They are omnivorous because they can eat anything they come across in order to survive. $\endgroup$ Jul 21, 2022 at 13:42
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    $\begingroup$ @shootbuildthink - Ahh that's what I was thinking when I posted my answer... But the subject line says "only food source" $\endgroup$
    – komodosp
    Jul 21, 2022 at 13:44
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    $\begingroup$ @komodosp I completely mistyped when I was writing the subject line and never looked back at it, so I really do appreciate you bringing it to my attention. $\endgroup$ Jul 21, 2022 at 14:11

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Have you ever come across giant isopods?

Giant Isopod, underside, held by a human

(image credit NOAA via wikipedia)

Some of these can live in the bathyal zone, as deep as 7000ft. Its cold and dark down there, so no sunlight. They'll hunt and kill live prey when the opportunity arises, but they're omnivorous... you can't really live in such an environment and be too picky about your food, because it is already pretty scarce without excluding available sources. They like scavenging the carcasses of dead whales, which can sink down from thousands of feet above, which nicely fits your requirements, but will happily attack and consume other large live things that can't effectively fight back, like fish trapped in nets.

As food is scarce in the deep-ocean biome, giant isopods must make do with whatever comes along; they are adapted to long periods of famine and have been known to survive over 5 years without food in captivity. When a significant source of food is encountered, giant isopods gorge themselves to the point of compromising their locomotive ability.

Using these as a baseline for something that breaths air and lives underground doesn't seem like a huge stretch. I don't see the point of your weird metamorphosal thing, but if that's what you want, fine, I can't stop you.

Intelligence seems like a slightly trickier thing to explain from a strictly realistic point of view... you don't really need many brains for their lifestyle, and big energy-intensive brains are perhaps even a liability which they can't really afford given they're likely to feed infrequently. Merely being very well adapted to their environment seems like it should be enough, given that its prey is likely to be very out of its element when it comes within reach.

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  • $\begingroup$ It doesn't necessarily HAVE to metamorphose, but I wanted to have it in there as a possible vector of explanation. I'd actually not heard of giant isopods, I'll definitely be looking more into them. $\endgroup$ Jul 20, 2022 at 15:55
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    $\begingroup$ re metamorphosis - I bet these bigguns have corresponding medium and small size life phases. Maybe they stay little until they can feast on a food windfall (waterfall?) and level up. Maybe they keep levelling up and we have not run across any of the really big ones... $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Jul 20, 2022 at 17:25
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    $\begingroup$ @shootbuildthink IMHO the above answer is spot on, but we can improve it to include intelligence by using sexual selection. If it has a 2nd stage of life that is dedicated to reproduction - then there might be sexual selection generating a peacock's tail, in this case, the selection is based on the ability to perform some complicated interaction. Like music. One (serious) theory for where human intelligence came from is exactly that - it takes brains to seduce your partner. $\endgroup$
    – Bruce
    Jul 21, 2022 at 1:18
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    $\begingroup$ youtu.be/DU_Gd623HJo $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jul 21, 2022 at 3:11
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    $\begingroup$ You could also deal with energy requirements by having the brain go dormant while waiting for the next food drop. In that mode, the creature acts on instinct alone to avoid predators and move toward any potential food source. Once food (and thus energy) is detected, the dormant brain wakes up to allow the creature to outsmart competitors to the food. Of course, this would likely require a different brain architecture than ours, with a clear separation between basic and higher brain functions and the ability to "freeze" currently unused parts. $\endgroup$
    – Surpriser
    Jul 22, 2022 at 8:15
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They can learn to fly

If their food is too slow to come to them, they can learn to come to their food. This will be a difficult adaptation, because it requires a major evolutionary leap. However, the final form is very viable. Think about the birds who soar high in search of food and nest in their familiar grounds.

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  • $\begingroup$ Simple and elegant. This works very well for a species that has been able to adapt over a few thousand/million years. $\endgroup$ Jul 20, 2022 at 20:59
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    $\begingroup$ Two ways for it to work evolutionary: 1.) They develop flight for another reason. 2.) Maybe the creature perches on tall vegetation or terrain and waits for food to fall down. If there is some advantage in getting to the food faster than peers/competitors then jumping and gliding could be selected for. $\endgroup$
    – Michael
    Jul 21, 2022 at 5:29
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    $\begingroup$ Chicken and egg problem, really (no pun intended). Flight is a high-energy activity, so you can only do it if you're well-fed, so you need to figure out what they eat before they evolve to fly to 4000ft... and then answer why they don't just stay down here and eat that. Maybe it's an arms race; the food used to be lower, and it's evolving to go higher to avoid being eaten while the creatures evolve to fly higher to reach it? $\endgroup$ Jul 21, 2022 at 15:47
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Mothers, hunters, and packs:

The main thing about the shapechanging of your species is that gender and function can be fluid for the species over time. But transformation is likely expensive and modestly slow, so we won't make too much of it. The two main forms are mothers and hunters.

Mothers control territories. They are large, tough, somewhat slow and (we'll call them) female. Your species starts out as small, fast creatures (hunters). Once old enough to leave the protection of their mother, these "hunter" morphs prowl for opportunities to get enough food to survive.

They can go quiescent and hope food falls close to wherever they are hiding so they have a chance to eat before whatever mother owns the territory comes for the food. This is a desperation move, since it leaves them vulnerable to predation.

They can run towards any food drop that happens and try to steal food from the mother who controls the territory. But since your species competes internally, the mothers aren't shy about eating any hunter it can get a hold of. Other hunters will also be trying to do this, and may compete with or prey on other hunters.

A hunter that is big enough, desperate enough, or a mother that is weak enough results in a land grab. A hunter morphs into a mother and challenges the local mother for control of territory. The loser likely gets eaten (fueling the winner), and the winner is now the local female. This also serves as mating (all individuals can function as both sexes) as the female eats the gonads of the loser and is fertilized.

Occasionally, a group of hunter siblings from a single successful mother band together as a pack and seize the territory of another mother. They eat the mother, and whichever of them is the largest consumes the gonads and becomes the new mother of that territory. The remaining well-fed hunters go on to attack another mother and repeat the cycle until the pack is too small or weak to continue and is eaten or breaks up.

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    $\begingroup$ I really love this. Perhaps a successful enough mother could eventually even grow large enough that it only has to reach up to get to the food source. In that case, perhaps it would metamorphose into yet another thing as it no longer needs to compete for that food source quite as thoroughly? That may, however, introduce new kinds of metamorphoses that seek to climb the mother to get to the food source. $\endgroup$ Jul 20, 2022 at 18:14
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    $\begingroup$ Re: gender being fluid. I distinctly remember hearing about a species of (?) sea-snails, which would quite literally duel with their penis-equivalents, and the loser would become the female. $\endgroup$
    – jaskij
    Jul 21, 2022 at 7:08
  • $\begingroup$ If you decide to go this route, you might want to read the short story "Mother" by Philip Jose Farmer in his anthology Strange Relations. There's also a picture of one in Barlowe's Guide To Extraterrestrials. The species that Farmer describes isn't quite trying to fill the same evoluionary niche as yours is, but there are some interesting parallels. $\endgroup$
    – Some Guy
    Jul 22, 2022 at 23:54
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The creatures' ancestors ate everything, and existed in a more hospitable environment. Being territorial, however, they eventually spread to this region where no other things exist, and since there was only a single food source there, they evolved to be dependent on it. Maybe the region is a natural trap, so once a member of this species would wander into it, it couldn't get back out.

It is intelligent because it has to compete vigorously with other members of the same species for food.

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    $\begingroup$ Thank you for pointing out the contradiction in my question. I completely missed it. Your premise makes a lot of sense, and gives a good reason for the creature to be dependent on the food source available in the scenario. $\endgroup$ Jul 21, 2022 at 14:00
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The creatures grow larger, using their increased strength and intelligence to brutally keep the competition in line, allowing them the first food and grow even larger and smarter to repeat the cycle.

Just kidding. That would be awful:

Smaller, dumber, jumping, gliding, flying

The creature has an obvious restriction. Food. This means the creatures will adopt strategies to both get the food before competitors and to use less energy. Though going sessile seems to be an excellent choice it is only a small step. It needs to get rid of all non essentials. More mass means more to maintain. They will become smaller, so they are less likely to starve. Another big problem is intelligence. It is absolutely worthless to this species. Too little to use it for and too energy intensive. They will lose intelligence first, as the ones not using their brains will survive better. Lastly it needs to get the food first. A nice happenstance is that smaller creatures can jump more of their body length. They develop strong legs to catch the food first, then eat enough to survive.

We now have a creature sessile for most of the time, getting smaller with stronger legs and dumb as a rock. You will get some predation, but predation can get you only so far. If the organism is to succeed it will either kill itself from over predation, or evolve over time to have a balance.

The creature will try to get more air time, getting gliding or air-braking methods. Together with getting even smaller they have a great way to stay high, hopefully with some food in the mouth. This can also help against the predation. This will evolve in better hiding, smaller creatures and eventually flight. When a certain barrier is broken a tiny creature will fly with food higher and higher, until it can reach the platform.

You'll have something like an insect left. Small, dumb, high jumper/flyer. Sessile most of the time, unless food falls or they are preyed upon. Holding on to as much food as they can.

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  • $\begingroup$ You make a good point, but perhaps if the creature evolved into an insect, another creature would evolve into an insect-hunter, allowing the insects to expend energy getting the food, only to eat those insects for sustenance. $\endgroup$ Jul 21, 2022 at 13:57
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What worked for humans was growing a brain. If they are already as clever as wolves, that's not so far to go.

Then they could do things like:

  • set traps with a suitable bait on the ground, to attract the things down
  • go fishing, but upwards, maybe helped by a balloon to keep the hook in the air
  • catch a living example and breed it to thrive in captivity
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    $\begingroup$ So the opposite of what many people are saying. Make up for the energy lost in being intelligent by using and honing that intelligence gaining more energy. This would make for a very interesting (albeit frightening) creature, indeed! $\endgroup$ Jul 21, 2022 at 13:49
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Your creature and the food eat the same thing

You say the creature is omnivorous, which implies it eats vegetables as well as the food creature.

So it can get by on the leaves of a specific tree (or maybe multiple kinds of tree) which grows commonly in the area. But so does the food source! And therefore it contains many of the same nutrients but in a concentrated form (having eaten it all their lives) hence it's a superfood.

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  • $\begingroup$ If there were trees, they, too, would be 4,000 feet above the creature, as it is stated that no sunlight reaches the area where the creature resides. However, I see where you're coming from, and it's a good reasoning behind why the creatures rely on the 'superfood'. $\endgroup$ Jul 21, 2022 at 13:46
  • $\begingroup$ @shootbuildthink - trees or some plant that might not need sunlight (using the geothermal energy instead?) - or perhaps the reason there's no sunlight is because of the thick canopy of leaves, which your creature can reach the bottom of and the prey can dive to the top of? $\endgroup$
    – komodosp
    Jul 21, 2022 at 13:49
  • $\begingroup$ Geothermal plants aren't usually seen in nature, but, to be fair, neither is my creature. It's more likely that the 'plants' are fungi in this case, which isn't totally out of the realm of possibility. As a matter of fact, it would be a great way to explain how the creatures survive between the times when the food drops. Enough to sustain them, but not nutritionally viable for the long-term. $\endgroup$ Jul 21, 2022 at 14:04
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If it only rarely gets its only food source, it would have to enter a low energy monitoring state somewhere between hibernation and sleep, so that when the food finally did fall, it would be able to get as much of that food as possible and as quickly as possible.

A related process to this is desert plants - they are pretty well sealed up against water loss...until it rains. When it rains they flower and bloom and lose some water in the process reproduction.

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    $\begingroup$ So the creature enters a kind of conscious-hibernation phase while waiting for food? That's brilliant. It's a great explanation for how they would survive between particularly long periods of no food in the randomness of the food drops. $\endgroup$ Jul 21, 2022 at 14:08
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They emit toxic gasses (or some other substance) which cause more of the prey to die and fall down.

I’m not sure how scientifically plausible this is, since gasses quickly disperse, so even for highly toxic gasses you’d need a huge amount to affect something 1km above you.

I envisage an animal like cows but with a toxic gas instead of methane emissions which evolved over time to be ever more toxic to make more prey fall down from above them.

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    $\begingroup$ maybe they burp bubbles of toxic gas that float up intact and burst on the prey $\endgroup$
    – mgh42
    Jul 21, 2022 at 6:01
  • $\begingroup$ This is a really creative idea! With mgh42's addition, it makes it a much more intelligence-based mechanism, as they'd have to aim and correct for movement. $\endgroup$ Jul 21, 2022 at 13:47
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They could become domesticated and get someone else to hunt and feed it to them. Sort of like domesticated cats today eat tuna, a 2 meter long fish caught in the pacific ocean.

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    $\begingroup$ While I love the idea of this poor, cursed creature being a cute domesticated animal, it would require something around to domesticate it. I didn't say anything about there not being a domesticating force in the premise, however, so your answer is fair and valid. $\endgroup$ Jul 21, 2022 at 14:10
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So either, Creature has to get to Food, or Food has to come to Creature. Or, maybe, a combination of both...

Creature releases... Something that seeks out the food, and ensures it falls down.

Something is a symbiotic micro-organism

Say a fungus, bacterium, virus, or amoebe. The micro-organism lives inside Creature without causing it harm, and in exchange it helps bring it food. It does this by shedding from Creature in small particles (spores?), and floating up on thermals of rising air released from geothermal geysers. Once up high, it attaches itself to Food and causes it to fall down.

  • If Food is like a fruit on a stalk, Something is a fungus that eats away at the stalk, causing the fruit to fall.
  • If Food is a flying animal, Something is a bacterium that after infection causes intense muscle cramps, disabling Foods ability to fly, causing it to plummet down.
  • If Food is a walking animal, Something is a virus that infects Foods central nervous system, turning Food into a walking zombie that is irresistably attracted to the abyss down which Creature lives. It simply walks down the cliff and plummets down.

Or, Something is a small animal

Perhaps a symbiotic insect or small reptile, that enjoys Creature's protection from other predators. Or it scavenges leftovers of Creature's kills, particularly Food.

Or perhaps Something is actually part of Creature. More like an organ that can live and operate as a separate entity for a while, or a small, specialized "child" that is born from Creature, with one dedicated purpose: acquire Food. (not entirely unlike Facehuggers)

Either way, the small creature makes its way up. It can fly, or it has a fixed wing or dandelion-like fluffy balloon that it uses to ride up a thermal of rising air.

Once up there, it eats through the stalk of the fruit. Or it stings a flying animal, injecting venom and paralyzing it. Or it is a carrier for the micro-organisms above, it stings an animal, and the infection alters its behaviour.


There's lots of ways to play with this approach, tailoring it to your world, and to plot needs.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is an awesome take. You packed a lot into your answer and honestly all of it is golden. It would make a lot of sense for there to be a factor that ensures that the food ends up falling down in larger, more predictable patterns. $\endgroup$ Jul 21, 2022 at 19:38
  • $\begingroup$ @shootbuildthink Thanks! The concept just crossed my mind, and I couldn't help but run with it 😁 - For the "dedicated child creature" I think I was inspired by Facehuggers from Alien, I added that reference to the answer as well. $\endgroup$
    – marcelm
    Jul 21, 2022 at 19:46
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An example from our own world is that of the Archer Fish, sometimes called the Rifle Fish. It uses a powerful (for a fish of its size) jet of water to knock insects off of the overhead canopy which it then eats.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/queenslandstatearchives/37906473182

Could this reach 4000 feet? The Mantis Shrimp, to again draw from real life, can accelerate it's arm at a rate of 335,000 ft/sec squared. Proof that biological systems can generate sufficient acceleration to reach extreme heights. In theory a mantis shrimp could shoot an Archer Fish projectile roughly 88ft high, which, for its size (roughly 8 inches long), is not bad, 132 times its body length. You would just need to scale up in size and force.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mantis_shrimp

Even a small pebble (for instance) could do tremendous damage at the potential velocities. Either something found on the floor or something internally generated, like a pearl or kidney stone(!).

This would make a fascinating defense mechanism as well.

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  • $\begingroup$ The idea is a good one, but I feel like the force would increase multiplicativly, whereas the energy required to produce said force due to distance to travel and mass required to move would increase exponentially, making this far less effective a strategy as you scale it up. It would be interesting to find a way to make a creature use a strategy of hurling stones to knock down its prey, though. $\endgroup$ Jul 22, 2022 at 0:28
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A few unclear points that would negative this question

  1. 4000 feet of what Air? Water? Ground? Space? That would greatly affect what the creatures evolve into, and how they would need to get themselves up above,

  2. what do the food grow on? Are there like sky islands? 4000 feet above? If there are food above, then there would be creatures above as well, and these creatures above would use the food above as their primary food source, = less regular drops for the creatures below

= Instead the creatures below would be scavengers, cuz there would be more dropped creatures or dead animals and random stuff dropped down from the biosphere above, and they necessarily won't care that much about this "special ultra fruit" cuz if this so good, the creatures above would've adapted to eating it already

Ofc the special ultra fruit would still be, very good, maybe feed them for a full month, but they won't necessarily evolve to have that as their main food source,

  1. I'm not too educated on this, but from what i think food source evolve together with the creature that's supposed to eat it, Why would there be creatures who live all the way down down, when their food is all the way up up,

Wouldn't the creatures eat their local stuff?

  1. if ur persistent on this concept, i think u can look into whale falls, and create a few in-between stages for the food chain,

  2. last concept, related to point 3) just thought of it on the fly, maybe give the food a symbiotic relationship with the creatures, maybe that the food has two stages in life, and one of them is spend in the depths, when later the seeds float up and grow the fruits above, and need a way to be carried down, And the creatures carrying them down would serve as the primarily seed carrier, but that would also depend on what the 4000 feet is made of,

(And the reasons why the fruit needs to be down has to explain further, maybe cuz it needs special conditions to grow only fulfilled by the down down, if its water, maybe high pressure? Idk)

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  • $\begingroup$ 1 & 2 - For the purposes of this premise, the 4000 feet is air, and the food grows, or lives, on whatever the answer-er decides. This could be anything from a cavern roof, to the bottom of a floating ocean, to a floating island. You can assume that the food dropping will remain consistent at an average rate of 2 drops/mo. randomly. 3 - There have been some answers that explain this quite well, perhaps they once lived up up but fell down down. 4- This is a great idea and merits further explorations Finally, 5 - Perhaps the creatures emit a gas the seeds can float up on through the air. $\endgroup$ Jul 21, 2022 at 15:51
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They can transform into a shape similar to a jellyfish - something extremely lightweight that can float. Whatever they do eat, causes them to excrete a lighter-than-air gas which "inflates" them such that they can drift up as high as they wish. They can control the release of said gas to stay at a given level basically indefinitely, or as long as they are producing the required gas.

They eventually get full, and float on down again until the next time they want their favorite snack. Then they eat whatever is available around them enough to "gas up", and off they go again.

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    $\begingroup$ This is awesome - a twilight zone-esque creature that is both beautiful to look at and dangerous to be around. Fields of air jellies. $\endgroup$ Jul 22, 2022 at 1:47
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, beautiful but perhaps deadly! Add to that, maybe they travel in packs/swarms? Imagine hundreds - maybe thousands - of these creatures floating thousands of feet up into the air, sunlight passing through their iridescent bodies... would be quite a sight, and yet one to get the hell away from - fast! $\endgroup$
    – JVC
    Jul 22, 2022 at 1:50
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Feeding twice a month sounds exactly like the feeding habits of many snakes.

An adult rat snake for example, will eat one large mouse every two weeks. They don't eat anything else other than sometimes drinking water. They also don't require sunlight exposure for good health like many other animals do.

Since only two prey items fall per month per square mile, that would support a population density of 1 snake per square mile. But that's OK, most snakes live solitary lives, only coming together to mate.

It seems like you don't intend your creature to actually be a snake but using some of the physiological and behavioral characteristics of a snake seems like a good starting point.

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  • $\begingroup$ I hadn't even considered the viability of using the starting point of a snake. Sounds great, actually. $\endgroup$ Jul 25, 2022 at 12:15
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This creature is going to become an invasive species in this food-rich nirvana, so let's read about how those spread (source):

Sometimes humans move animals and plants around the world deliberately, for example to change an environment, as a form of pest control, to hunt, as horticultural specimens or to keep as pets.... Humans can also create a problem by accident. Over the last century, we've been flying to holiday destinations and shipping cargo to far-flung countries, and occasionally animals and plants have hitched a ride.

Humans often don't move animals deliberately, but through industry or transport. Or species were moved to neighbouring regions and then spread of their own accord. For instance, the Asian hornet (was brought) to Europe on wooden pallets from China, then spread to the UK itself. Similarly, marine species often wash up on our shores on man-made objects, which float much further than natural substances.

It was hoped that the [cane] toads would eat the grey-backed cane beetles that were destroying sugar cane plantations. ... The venomous, warty toads did nothing to protect the plantations, but they did reproduce.

Plants can be invasive, too. Japanese knotweed ... was brought to the UK by the Victorians as an ornamental plant. Now it can be found all over the country and can be hard to control.

[Grey squirrels] were brought [to the UK] from North America in the 1870s and introduced to private country estates, and it didn't take long for a wild population to successfully take over woodlands all over the country.

Fungi and diseases can be carried around the world, and plenty are thriving in Britain. Ash dieback is a devastating invasive fungus that threatens 95% of all European ash trees. Analysis suggests the spore came to Europe from Asia, where it grows on Asian ash trees without causing disease. It probably arrived in Europe on commercially imported ash.

So the primary mechanisms I'm seeing are accidental introduction:

  • fungal spores drifting up through the atmosphere like marine species washing up on shore
  • hitching a ride with migratory animals like the ash dieback

and deliberate introduction:

  • deliberate introduction by creatures because they're tasty / fun to hunt / look nice
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