The Fish-Tick is, unlike its name would suggest, not a tick, but a fairly common beetle of the damp Drifting Woods in the north-west of Nybelmar. It is one of the many forms of swimming beetles found in this area, and, being unable to fly, it spends its entire life underwater, where it feeds on fish parasites and dead scales. Its small size makes observing it quite difficult, and a glass lens is required to observe the Fish-Tick in detail.
The Fish-Tick is a small, inconspicuous water
creature, about two
nailsbreaths long, and egg-shaped. Its smooth oval body is flatter than that
of land-bound beetles, only a few tenths of a
thick, and glides through the
water with ease.
Another important difference between land beetles and the Fish-Tick (as well as
various other kinds of swimming insects), lies in the composition of their body.
Unlike many other insects, who show a clearly different head section, connected
to the body by a ‘neck’, the Fish-Tick has a smooth exoskeleton, without the
multiple sections that allow other beetles to move their head around. As a
result, the Fish-Tick must turn around completely in order to change the area
that they can see. It has however compensated for this inconvenience. Where
other insects have but two intricate compound eyes, this beetles eyes have
‘fused’, creating a band-shaped ‘eye’ that runs over two thirds of its head,
allowing it to see most of its environment at once. These eyes can see almost
equally well (or bad, depending on one's point of view)
in light and dark conditions, but are unable to discern more than mere shadows
of the world, causing the Fish-Tick to respond to motion, more than image.
The beetle's mandibles are strong, and unproportionally large for such a rather small creature, making them clearly visible with the naked eye, where details such as the eye band, or the legs and claws require a magnifying lens of high quality in order to be viewed in detail. They are able to scrape diseased scales from a living fish, and crush parasites clinging to it, and will provide a painful bite when handled carelessly by men.
On its back it bears the same strong, protective shields as most other kinds of beetles in Caelereth, but unlike those of its relatives, the underlying wings are not thin and transparent but thick, and of the same black as the rest of its body, essentially giving the Fish-Tick a second set of shields. These wings can be rotated to point directly sideways, instead of the main shields which point upwards, and both are used simultaneously to provide thrust when swimming. This gives the beetle a slightly blurred appearance to the observer, as the incredible speed at which both sets of shields are moving makes them nigh-invisible to the human eye.
The Fish-Tick's legs are sixfold, and very small, even for its size. They are each adorned with a large, double claw that may be used to hold on to a moving fish as it feeds, the claws prying themselves between the scales to anchor the beetle. The Fish-Tick's abdomen reveals six shallow crevices, one behind every first leg joint, and each perfectly shaped to accommodate a fold-back leg while swimming, turning it into a near-perfect flat disk that literarily zooms through the water.
The Fish-Tick's main skill is speed. Combining a smooth exterior with quadruple
propulsion, it is one of the faster creatures in the insect kingdom, making it
that much harder for predators to catch a Fish-Tick.
Also quite noticable is its sense of smell. It is able to locate its preferred food, diseased tissue, by smell, and hunts parasites by following the scent of the trail of wounds they make. Finally, it is able to smell the difference between dead and living fish eggs, which are also part of its diet.
Finally, this particular beetle has the rather unusual ability to remain submerged indefinitely. This is enabled by a small, diamond shaped patch on the beetle's abdomen, which has a more or less 'frayed' surface. These fine, hair-like strands, which give the patch a rasp-like feel, allow the beetle to extract air from the water, much like the gills of a fish. Unlike gills however, this particular breathing organ functions on land as well, even though the Fish-Tick rarely, if ever, leaves the water.
Territory. Fish-Ticks are only found in the waters of, and around the Drifting Woods in north-western Nybelmar. As the larvae are completely dependent on moss mounds to live, they are unable to successfully reproduce anywhere else. They prefer fresh or only slightly salty water, and are never found in the open sea, although they are a common sight in the Methèrinin river, even many stralls before it enters the Woods.
Habitat/Behaviour. The Fish-Tick is a very active beetle, that does not seem to discern between day or night, and rarely rests. They use their unusual speed to catch up with a fish, and clamp down on their body, preferably behind one of the fins. Using their powerful claws to keep a hold on the scales, they then begin to wander around the fish, searching for parasites, which are grabbed tight, crushed between the strong mandibles, and devoured. They will not hesitate to feast on any dead tissue they might come across, as well as strongly diseased flesh, thus keeping the host fish more or less healthy in the process. They will usually spend one to two days on a medium sized fish, after which they will have found most of the parasites present. Once they are no longer able to find any prey, they will simply let go of the fish, and be left behind.
It is an interesting fact that these beetles are unable to feed on scale-less fish, as the leathery skin does not allow them to grab hold to it in the way the scales of other fish species would.
Diet. Fish-Ticks are useful little predators, that hunt the many parasites and other nuisances that trouble the fish of the Drifting Woods. Able to keep up with most fish, they clamp down on a fish, and begin crawling around, searching for edibles like the aforementioned parasites, but also devouring dead scales and various kinds of diseased tissue and harmful molds that might have infected the host fish. Another favoured food source are fish and amphibian eggs. Suffering from a great variety of mold diseases, these eggs are a constant source of food for the Fish-Tick, and often multiple specimen will live off, and on a cluster of eggs, scraping away the diseased areas. By means of scent, the Fish-Tick is able to discern between living and dead eggs, eating those who were never fertilized, or who died before hatching.
All put together, it is not quite unlikely that the Fish-Ticks diet is one of the reasons that the Drifting Woods contain one of the most dense fish populations on Caelereth, which provided the steady food supply required to enable both human and merfolk society to flourish as they have.
Mating. After an adult life of three years, the Fish-Tick will gather in great numbers at a nearby moss mound during the month of the Fallen Leaf to mate. There, the slightly larger females (the size difference between the sexes is only a few tenths of a nailsbreadth, and nearly impossible to see with the naked eye), will start to ‘hunt’ among the males, chasing a specific individual through the rest of the swarm, trying to catch it by clamping down in its back, as it would on a host fish. If the chase has taken long enough, the female will then carry the male to the moss mound itself, and mate with it. If the male did not last as long as the female wanted, it is released back into the swarm, and a new male is selected for the chase.
When the mating is completed, the male beetle will die within a few hours, as its body is strained beyond repair during this intensive mating ritual. The female however, will dig her way into the moss mound, and lay several dozens of eggs in a small chamber, before she too dies, killed by the acrid substances released by the torn moss mound tissue.
The larvae hatch during the next three weeks, and, invulnerable to the acidic defense of the mound, it will begin a two-year period of tunneling through the moss mound, feeding of its tissue. The larvae are nearly barsa dusk in colour, and equipped with the same large mandibles the adult beetle has. As only the creatures known as moss children can penetrate the mound, and these do not seem interested in the larvae (or any other creature for that matter), they will spend the next two years rather safe.
After two years have passed, the larvae will seek out the outer regions of the Mound, and turn into a pupae, just below the mound surface. Four days later, an adult Fish-Tick appears, and breaks through to the open water.
Myth/Lore. It is said that in a long gone time the Vikhari would gather the adult bugs from the mating swarms, and using a particular kind of spiced dough to dip them in, create a special crunchy (or so one would think) kind of snack for special festivities. The kind of festivities this would occur at is sadly enough no longer known, nor has the recipe survived the ages. Some of the more daring Ter'ei'Vikh have in more recent times tried to reconstruct the dough used to give them the required crust, but all they could find were means of making an already disgusting taste grow worse.