The Minchwrat, commonly known as the Minch (also refered to as Mincher or Minchin), is an aggressive, destructive mid-sized rodent which is popular with no one, but as it usually frequents the higher reaches of the scantly-populated Mithral Mountains, its nasty habits are kept in check by the bounds of its geographical location.
The sinewy body of the Minchwrat is about a fore long, not including its tuft of
a tail. Its backbone is supple and its head flows directly from its shoulders,
giving it a focused, aggressive appearance which its disposition does nothing to
bely. A stubby muzzle is set like a square block in the rounded head, split by a
wide, toothy mouth. A bulgy grape of a nose is stuck onto the end of the muzzle,
continually wiffling back and forth for food. Short, half-circle ears are set
low and back on the head, behind rather than over the eyes. Small, round black
eyes glint through the fuzz of coarse hair.
The brownish hair - for it does not deserve the title of fur, being short, coarse, and sparse over a mottled tan hide - is equally short over the rest of the body, except for the belly. There the naked beige skin of the animal becomes heavy and almost scaly. Thus from the base of the throat all the way down to the genital pouch between the back legs is protected by a tough leathery hide. Short but powerful legs are equipped with thumb-width digging claws.
Hair colouration can range from brownish-grey to blackish-brown to a dark tan, while the belly is almost always the same mottled beige/brown with blue veinings visible at close range. Both Minchin males and females have a small genital pouch with a vertical slit in the tough scales of the belly leather; the females have a simple urinary structure above the mating/birth passage, while the males have a procreational organ and testes concealed within. Females also have four nipples, not located on the abdomen, belly, or chest as might be expected, but two in each ‘armpit’, under the crook of the forelegs where the hair begins to thin into scaly leather. A short scut of a tail which barely covers its excretory aperture finishes off the picture of this visually unappealing animal.
The Minch’s most outstanding characteristic is a keen sense of smell and
unfailing persistence to track down the source of any food smells. Since ‘food’
is a pretty broad definition to a Minch, this makes them unwelcome animal
neighbors, and not too popular with humans who
chance to encounter them. See Diet for further details.
They are excellent diggers, even in stony soil, and make simple but sturdy burrows carefully ‘paved’ with the stones they excavate. In fact, human children have stumbled upon unoccupied (fortunately) Minchin burrows and mistaken them for some sort of dwarven construction – perhaps a sentry outpost!
Territory. Minches are most commonly found on the higher, rocky slopes of the Mithral Mountains, although they have been reported throughout mountainous areas in Sarvonia. They appear to have a wide climate tolerance, as they may be found at the very edge of the southern Nirmenith Mountains and as far north as the Imlith Mountains in Northern Sarvonia. There is a small but active colony on the Caeytharin Heights, which occasionally makes depredations among local farmers, but retaliation has yet to eradicate them.
Habitat/Behaviour. Minchwrats are invariably found in family and social groups (called ‘packs’) of about seven to twenty animals, with a fairly even ratio of minchpups to adults, and males to females. They dig separate burrows in close proximity to their packmates, and the breeding, nursing, or rearing mother is considered the centre of the family unit, along with her children. The sire may or may not remain with the family after breeding, but it is not unknown in either case for unattached males and unbred females to associate with the maternal family group, rather like ‘uncles’ and ‘aunts’ assisting with the pups’ rearing and deriving some social acceptance thereby!
These aggressive animals will avoid confrontation with beasts larger than they are, but gain courage from their packmates. In fact, when passing through Minchin-infested territory, travelers are warned to cache (hang, not bury) their food supplies during the night, and sleep in an area fairly distant from the cache location. They must also bathe or wash thoroughly after the evening meal lest there be cooking odors or food stains clinging to their clothes and body. Those who sneer at this precaution have been warned: you may awaken with a swarm of Minchwrats chewing your garments from you, or beginning to gnaw on your fingers!
Minches spend much of their day running around hunting for food, wrestling with each other and their pups, and reinforcing their burrows with an extra layer of stones. They enjoy basking in the sun, and will actually take an upright stance, crouched on their splayed back legs with their front paws hanging down as if begging, exposing their faces, throats, and bellies to the sunshine. Females have been observed nursing older pups in this upright position, one or two snuggled with their noses into the crook of the mother’s arm, while she takes a watchful look around the area.
They are prone to ‘musth’, a sort of madness induced by sexual heat, and when in this condition are even more aggressive – in fact downright dangerous, as they will attack anything that they consider edible, or anything that appears to have a vulnerability or weakness. Fortunately this condition is cyclical, and appears to be linked to the phases of the moon, so hunters and travelers who take the time to familiarize themselves with their territory can usually avoid musth-time’s dangers.
Diet. Everything. Well, perhaps not everything, but the Minchin diet is very comprehensive. Minches are omnivorous, and will eat vegetation, grasses, leaves, berries, nuts (shell and all) snails (ditto), insects, fish, birds’ eggs, wounded, dying, dead, decaying animals, and any human rubbish or food scraps that are left in their vicinity. It is not known for certain that they have ever slain a human, although there is more than one recorded instance of them having attacked and wounded humans. Elves and Minches rarely cross paths, and the Thergerim seem to have their own method for keeping these tunneling omnivores out of their mountain fastnesses.
Mating. As observed above, male and female Minches have genital pouches which generally conceal their apparatus. During heat (a monthly occurrence) the slits open to make access possible, and the animals mate in the standing position, belly to belly. The female is not always fertile in heat, although the reason for this has not been determined. If she is successfully impregnated, she will give birth to a litter of two to six pups about three months later, having passed through no further heats in the meantime.
The pups nurse from the four nipples (two in each armpit) while the mother is in a recumbent position, although often when they are larger she will stand, forcing them to stretch upwards but allowing each pup more room. By about a month they are weaned and beginning to eat whatever their parents eat (see Diet). Usually three or four pups survive to maturity out of each litter.
The pups remain with their mother, who forms the nexus of the family group. Single males, older or non-breeding females, and other unrelated Minches may join this group, as long as they demonstrate some care for the pups’ welfare. This group lasts until the pups reach maturity (indicated by their first heat) at about six months’ time.
Upon occasion a group of Minches who come into heat at the same time will begin mating wildly and indiscriminately, overcome by sexual excitement. This uncommon occurrence is known as ‘musth’, and it renders any mature Minchwrat a real danger to anything in its vicinity. Another Minch is prone to be mounted, animals of a different species attacked, and humans have been known to fall seriously ill of the blood loss inflicted by a pack of musth-mad Minchin.
Usages. Minchwrats, like every beast in Caelereth, have their place in the ecosystem, despite their unappealing appearance and behaviour. Carcasses that would otherwise breed disease as carrion are consumed, excess breeding in other beasts is controlled, and the Minches themselves form a solid diet for larger predators such as the great cats and the toran eagles.
However, that being said, humans and most sentient races have no use for Minches. The hair is rough and unappealing, the belly leather cracks and flakes when dried, the meat is rank and unpalatable if not completely inedible, and it has no redeeming virtues whatsoever. It is said that orcs roast and eat them, but then, that has been claimed about most beasts, plants, birds, and even insects of Caelereth. Orcs are reputed to be almost as omnivorous as the Minch itself, both taking full advantage of their environment.
Myth/Lore. It is no legend that a Minchin pack can be dangerous to humans, nor that they mate and nurse upright, and they are indubitably excellent diggers and primitive stonemasons. However, some of these details lend themselves to stories and tales, and some recounters are less reputable than the researchers from whom our Compendium entry has been drawn!
We give you here some of the more common (but inaccurate or superstitious) folk beliefs about the Minchwrat, for your interest only.
The male and female Minch ‘kiss’ and ‘caress’ each other during mating as human lovers might, showing signs of mutual desire and enjoyment.
Minchin packs will attack you if you have but eaten meat in the past day, for they can smell it upon your breath.
The Minch can dig through solid rock, and can also eat and digest it when nothing else is available.
A she-Minch who has lost her pups will burrow through house walls at night to steal a human baby to suckle her, and the child will be raised wild by the Minch.
Obviously these are all wild distortions of some of the more unique facts about the Minchwrat; we are happy to be able to set the record straight in our research here.
Information provided by Bard Judith