Found throughout forests in Sarvonia, these noisy reddish-brown and black-striped rodents can be seen leaping from pine tree to pine tree gathering the seeds out of the cones, their long fluffy tails serving as a balance. The Kuatu is also known as Quirrl, Treejumper, Squirrel, and Ku’errel.
|Image description. A fluffy Kuatu as it can be found in a forest throughout Sarvonia forest. Pic by Eshóh K'ryvvlen.|
The Kuatu is a small, furry rodent with a plumy tail that appears to outweigh
the rest of its body. It prefers to sit upright on its haunches, and in this
position is about a hand to two hands tall, its tail stretching another
hand-and-a-half behind or below it. Its two front legs are jointed so that it
can bring its small palms together to hold seeds and nuts up to its mouth, while
the back legs are slightly longer and more muscular to allow it to leap from
tree to tree. Tiny sharp claws on all four footpads help the Kuatu cling to the
bark of the trees where it lives.
The head is roughly the size (and shape) of a large chestnut; rounded at the back where the skull curves to protect the miniscule brain, tapering to a pointy snout with fine black whiskers and sharp white teeth. Two large dark eyes give the Kuatu a deceptively peaceful, innocent appearance, not hindered by its appealing trick of cocking its head to one side and perking its feathery long ears up.
The fur is short and bi-coloured, with a reddish-brown hue on the back and sides of the beast, and a lighter tan or grey on its belly. This would usually make the Kuatu hard to spot from above as it blends into the reddish bark of the pines it favours, and from below as its lighter shade merges with leaves, overcast sky, or simply moving shadows. However, its natural camouflage is usually rendered invalid by its insatiable curiosity and inability to keep still for long periods at a time. Did the Kuatu not reproduce themselves as prolifically as most rodents (in fact proverbially, as the northern barbarians say, “breeding like Quirrls”!) they surely would have become scarce or non-existent in most parts of Sarvonia!
Slightly darker stripes run along its back, from neck to the base of the tail, also helping to break up its outline, while the head is often mottled with soft red-orange hairs which extend along the animal’s fringed ears as well. The pads of the feet are black or brown.
Colouration varies from area to area; in the Mithral Mountains the Kuatu are usually reddish with visible darker stripes, while farther inland on the plains and around central Santharia they tend to be more of a tan hue, the stripes standing out as a terracotta colour. Northern Kuatu (Quirrls) range from dark brownish red to a smoky black where the stripes are almost invisible.
Males (Kuati) generally have more prominent teeth, and darker colouration. Females (Kuata) are smaller-tailed and have a double row of tiny nipples on their belly, three on each side. On the rare occasion when a litter numbers more than six, the weakest members are shunted away by their siblings and usually die within a day without nourishment.
If talkativeness were to be considered a special ability, the Kuatu would take
honours. It chatters incessantly; warning whistles when humans
or other beasts wander into its territory, purring chitters to its offspring,
loud sociable cheeps and barks to other Kuatu, and little mumbling ‘eeks’
and ‘gurbles’ when simply going about its day-to-day affairs.
Watching a Kuatu looking for a buried and long-forgotten nut cache is as entertaining as watching a child wander through the marketplace, and it is difficult not to think of the little thing as having some awareness when it is constantly ‘complaining’ to itself, ‘announcing’ its successes, and ‘scolding’ its fellow Kuatu. Scholars tell us, though, that this is merely an illusion, and certainly the tiny skull of the Treejumper could not hold the ability for language and all its ramifications!
Be that as may, however, the Kuatu has no special abilities beyond its entertaining and sociable nature. It has a place in the ecosystem and fills that place with as little effort as any beast of Caelereth might.
Territory. The Kuatu’s range is throughout Sarvonia, as evidenced by its large number of dialectal names. It invariably lives in well-forested areas and prefers pine, baych or oak trees, as its main food are the seeds of pine cones, baychnuts, and the acorns of oaks.
Habitat/Behaviour. Kuatu spend most of their time looking for food, finding food, caching that food, and then forgetting where they have hidden it and scurrying around frantically looking for it. They also mate randomly and rapidly throughout the year (in warmer climates), protect their territory vociferously, and raise their young.
About eighty percent of their time is spent in the trees, so they are excellent leapers and climbers, and can whisk from branch to branch as quickly as the eye can follow.
They do have some endearing social customs, if we may be permitted the expression; at a certain time of the evening, near dusk but before the grey twilight, every Kuatu in the neighborhood will come out on a branch of its home tree, sit up on its haunches, and begin a loud trilling. As they do not bother to harmonize or in any other way demonstrate musical ability, the sound is rather like a pond full of young frogs or mistuned bells. This evening chorus only lasts for a few minutes or so, perhaps as long as a quarter-hour, before the individuals begin to duck back into their nests and the trilling slowly dies away to a few lone diehards who keep it up until the sun sinks below the horizon. They also seem to have their food supplies in common; a Kuatu watching another find a store it has hidden will not remonstrate or defend its cache, though it may very well dash down to fill its own cheeks. However, some skeptic scholars claim this is merely due to lack of memory, pointing to the Kuatu’s well-observed forgetfulness.
They are reckless, sociable, noisy creatures who are rarely fearful of humans and seem to have very little concern for most of the other natural dangers that beset them from day to day. They can be tamed, and many farm children do so for a short time, although why one would want a sharp-toothed, perpetually hungry and talkative rodent climbing up and down one’s body throughout the day is beyond most adults’ comprehension.
Diet. Primarily, Kuatu eat pine nuts (the small waxy seeds between the prongs of pine cones), acorns, baychnuts, and other seeds and nuts. They will also browse on low plants at certain times of year (generally the pregnant or nursing Kuata females, or the babies whom they are weaning off Quirrlmilk). Any esculent leaf is fair game and seems to provide them with extra moisture as well as nutrients. They have been observed chewing on tree limbs, but this appears to be either a nervous habit arising from excess energy, or a way to hone and sharpen their teeth. Most of their fluids are either obtained from licking dew off leaves, or sipping (rather messily) puddles after rain; they avoid moving or flowing water for some reason. They enjoy dried fruit, bread crusts, and other human food when they can get it, as when travelers deliberately feed them or inadvertently leave their supplies open.
Mating. Treejumpers come in the usual male and female, with the typical discreet reproductive organs common to rodents of their size. In the warmer areas of the Sarvonian continent they seem to be continually in season, or rather have no particular season, so that all throughout the year one may see adults, young leggy adolescents, and the leafy nest-balls of gestating/nursing Kuata mothers. In the North the cycle depends more upon the climate, since the Kuatu must sleep through the winter, so that they wake and breed in spring, give birth in the summer, raise their children through fall, and then are ready to go into estivation in the winter again.
The motherly Kuata, during her gestation, prepares a large, untidy nest of leaves and moss, all crammed together into the crotch of a tree or in a hollowed trunk. She gives birth to three to six naked babies at a time and nurses them with a pale yellowish ‘Quirrlmilk’ which she secretes for up to three months, after which time the babies are weaned onto chewed-and-spat-out nut mush and soft green plant leaves, then taught to seek nuts and seeds on their own.
Kuatu grow from blind and furless babies the length of a finger-joint into sexually mature adolescents in about five months; again, were it not for the number of their predators and their natural recklessness, we would have enough Treejumpers to give every woman in Caelereth a Kuatu coat!
Myth/Lore. While not significant enough to feature in legend or great stories, the Kuatu have more than their fair share of similes and other work-a-day expressions.
Ashmarian barbarians say, when speaking of a man who has more children in his family than they consider prudent, that he ‘breeds like a Quirrl’. “Quick as a Quirrl” is another common expression around the Celeste Lowlands, while “Noisy as a Kuatu!’ is likely to be a derogative hurled by mothers at rampaging children. Woodcutters in the Hovel Front region (Northern Sarvonia) refer to themselves (but only among themselves) as ‘Treejumpers’ and are proud of their ability to climb and leap from tree to tree in the process of limbing and felling. “Kuati-skull!” is an insult schoolboys hurl at each other, (along with the usual ‘numbskull’, ‘thickskull’, and ‘woodenhead’!) “Were you raised by Kuatu?” an angry fellow will be sure to bark if you track in a lot of leaves and other litter when entering his shop.
“Ku’errels have tails and girls have curls / Clouds have rain and trysters pearls” is a common line from a much longer folksong of the Mossy Rocks Cove area, usually quoted to express the sentiment that "everyone has some quality or ability of worth, no matter their exterior character".
Information provided by Bard Judith