THE MYRMEX

APPEARANCE - SPECIAL ABILITIES - TERRITORY
HABITAT/BEHAVIOURDIET - MATING - MYTH/LORE

This industrious digging insect is omnipresent in Caelereth; wherever there is a bit of loose dry earth, the Myrmex makes its home and builds its tunnels.

Appearance. The Myrmex is a crawling insect, its shiny dark body made up of three divisions: head, torso, and abdomen. Six jointed legs sprout from around the torso, the back four ending in a split walking claw and the front two in a more sophisticated triparate pincer. The head is small and diamond-shaped, with two large, glittering eyes set atop, and a pair of tiny curving fangs set into the mouth area. Several delicate protrusions wave above the eyes, which appear to be sensory organs - some scholars say ears, others argue that the Myrmex uses them to scent and thus replace the nose.

The torso is shaped like a slim egg, with little vents set into it just below each leg. It narrows into a tiny waist and then flares out to join the swollen, counter-balanced abdomen, which the Myrmex carries horizontally, not allowing it to touch the ground unless the insect is wounded. The abdomen seems to store food, wastes, and other secretions, as well as the reproductive organs.

There are several known types of Myrmex, most similar in appearance and behaviour. The most common are listed below with some of their characteristics.

As with the malise, their insect cousins, the Myrmex live in colonies ruled by a single female. The Myrmex Empress, as we may name her, is at least double the size of a regular worker, and spends her entire life deep within the bowels of the colony producing eggs. She is fed by the foragers which rotate regularly from surface to storeroom to larvae to Empress, gathering and dispensing food for the colony. Apart from the Empress, it seems that all Myrmex can build, fight, forage, or perform other necessary tasks (such as food-egg laying - see Mating, below) for the colony without specialization. Return to the top

Special Abilities. Certain types of Myrmex have abilities which other types do not: for example, the Fire Myrmex is venomous and can poison larger insects such as wasps, beetles, and flies that it takes unawares. The Delver seems to have an amazing ability for architecture, creating vast underground tunnel systems in its home colony, which can grow up to five peds across and nearly a ped deep. But certainly the most interesting and useful ability, from a humanoid perspective, is the Stone Myrmex’s binderspit (as it is colloquially called).

This small grey insect, easily mistaken for a larger crystal of the sandy grit in which it makes its home, secrets a thin whitish "glue" within its body, which it can spit over its prey to create paralysis and rigidity. The substance seems to form short "stitches", like minute bits of thread, which attach to the victim’s shell and entangle its legs. It also seems in some way to make the victim tranquil, as it ceases struggling almost immediately, watching the Stone Myrmex approach to devour it without fear.

It is well-known that the wild tribes of Nybelmar and Aeruillin commonly use the Stone Myrmex to seal small cuts, drawing the edges of the wound together and then placing the insect’s head along the incision, whereupon the beast spits its defensive material, which hardens upon exposure to air. A single Myrmex can seal about a thumbnail’s width of cut before its supply becomes exhausted (indicated by an unwillingness to bite and a lax, drooping abdomen), and another insect must be chosen. The sealed cut resists infection, and the ‘stitches’ will hold up well under perspiration and water, but must be renewed every few days with the natural shedding and flaking of skin.

We regret that here in Sarvonia our civilized affectations prejudice us against the use of this natural remedy, as certainly many people who could not otherwise afford the ministrations of an apothecary or cleric might prevent infection and scarring!
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Territory. Most species of Myrmex, as described above, are believed to be found on all continents of Caelereth. From the southern deserts of Sarvonia, to the plains of Nybelmar, and the wilds of Aeruillin, this industrious insect may be found. It serves as an essential part of many larger insects or smaller beasts’ diet, and itself is active in scavenging the most minute bits of carrion and plant waste that would otherwise build up. They prefer loose dry soil or sand, and cannot tunnel where it is wet, mucky, rocky, or too heavily clayed. Apart from that, forests, plains, beaches, towns, hills, and even shallow caves are all alike to them.
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Habitat/Behaviour. Myrmex spend much of their time foraging for food, tending their eggs and larvae, or expanding their tunnels. As noted above, various types of Myrmex have different behaviours: the Common, Delver, and Stone variety prefer to do their own hunting and are non-aggressive to other Myrmex, while the Fire and Imperial will battle either to feast upon the losers or ravage their colony for eggs to be enslaved.

Upon occasion a colony of Myrmex will simply grow too large for its area, at which point the Empress will produce a bevy of Empress eggs (creamy rather than milky white, and larger than normal). A group comprising about a third of the colony will take up the eggs, and food, and depart, like a troupe of pilgrims. The column of traveling Myrmex is vulnerable to attack and attrition as they seek out another spot, but as long as at least a few of the eggs survive, they will tunnel in and create a new colony. The first Empress to hatch will break her fast on her unhatched sisters, then begin producing new worker eggs as is her duty for the rest of her life.
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Diet. Myrmex are omnivorous and will eat anything that is edible by the loosest standards. They prefer sweet substances such as flower nectar, tree sap, fruit juices and human scraps, but will bring back insect carcasses, bits of moss, scraps of flesh from animal corpses long since ignored by larger predators, grains, and so on. Foraging Myrmex will fill the storage sacs in their abdomen to near-bursting before racing back to the colony to eject it for the benefit of the larvae and the Empress. In residential areas Myrmex can become an actual plague, as their tiny bodies can pass through even the smallest of cracks in sealed containers, corked jugs, and the weave of cloth to seek out foodstuffs. Many a housewife has found her baking cooling on the windowsill to have been invaded by a black column of hungry Myrmex, all nibbling away with their tiny fangs, or a loosely-capped syrup bottle to be full of happily-drowned Myrmex bodies!
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Mating. Although it is difficult to determine the gender of a beast the size of a baby’s fingernail, it is believed that Myrmex are both male and female as necessary.

To explicate upon this startling statement, let us say that as far as it has been observed, the Empress is obviously "female", being the egg-layer of the colony. Also, we may consider the foragers female, as they lay sterile eggs which are subsequently used as food, and tend and nurture the eggs and larvae during their development. Yet any worker/forager Myrmex at all may come into the Empress’s presence and mate with her - thus they must be male! Examination of the abdomens of various Myrmex types so far has revealed no obvious physical bias to answer this paradox one way or the other. If only our lenses and blades could be made more finely, more powerfully, more carefully - surely scholars and sages would greatly benefit from the increased store of knowledge we could thus obtain…
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Myth/Lore. Myrmex have their place in literature as well as science, and indeed their busy, ever-present character has led to their inclusion in proverb and story. Some better-known expressions:

“Seek the Myrmex to teach thee manners!” (Peasant saying, to a lazy child or youth)

“The Myrmex turns many a stone to find her food.” (from the writings of Sage Alkemus, regarding persistence)

“Bryng downe th’ tyrant’s grasping bloodie rule / as doth th’ Myrmexene Imperyal’s bane / Where insycts struggle, shal we humans cease / To sette our handes to virtue’s ways agayne?” (Anonymously scrawled across the great gate of Marcogg, during the Civil Wars)

“As busy as a Myrmex…” (commonly heard simile when one has too many duties to perform at once)

Currently some jaded nobles who have wearied of gladiatorial combats and bardic performances and poetry recitals have turned to Myrmex Battles. Importing Fire Myrmex, raising them in great glass-sided tanks full of earth, and then pitting them against each other with wagers and pomp, is now considered an aristocratic pastime. We give you here one contemporary account taken from a court journal of New-Santhala:
 

"…We sat shoulder to shoulder around the small clay arena, its walls high and straight, its floor barely a seatprint in size, as Kardus took out his vials of Fire battlers, each marked with his house colour on their swollen abdomens – a red splash of pigment that looked like blood, or flame. “Herrentha,” he challenged, “will you pit your myrmidons against mine? Come, let us see the results of your breeding…”

Herrentha of Emeraud House set her flask down, the green-spotted warrior inside clashing its fangs in readiness. “Aye”, she answered, “My green will take your red… and take your gold with it! I’ll set a tenbard down on this one…” Kardus was quick to grin, and quick to answer. “Single combat? Why, certes! I’ll see your tenbard in my pouch ere the candle’s a grain shorter…”

A strong male hand reached the long-handled whisk delicately over our shoulders, brushing and cleaning the arena’s surface to terra-cotta smoothness. A flick of a finger opened a small, imperceptible-till-then chute, the debris from last battle sliding down into oblivion, and closed it again. “The arena is ready, sirs and my ladies,” the Pitmaster announced, and Herrentha and Kardus tipped their fighters into the clay circle.

The Red reared, its front trigraspers clacking together, the sibilance audible in our bated ears. The only other sound was the insectoid click of wager tiles changing from hand to hand, as nobles placed and replaced their bets.

The Green took stance at its end of the arena, seemingly oblivious to the other myrmex. It raised a leisurely grasper to groom its mouthparts, then set it down again. Suddenly its feelers flickered to full alert and it swung to face the Red.

The Red began its eerie sidle, near the wall, legs dancing over the pottery surface. The Green’s head was raised, its emerald-pigmented abdomen stretched perfectly horizontally, as if in relaxation, but its feelers still flickered and twitched, tracking the other myrmex.

With a scrabble of claws on clay, the Red charged, its front legs up and its fangs open. It went full for the Green’s vulnerable abdomen, ready to seize and bite. Human breath hissed in and huge shadows fell over the arena as the bettors leaned in for a closer view, then retreated as they were glared back.

There was no hesitation in the pit. Red’s leading grasper scraped Green’s flank as the second whirled, its whole body pivoting around the torso, to place its head and its own fangs in the crevice between Red’s head and torso. It sank its fangs, slashing more like a dog than a myrmex, and flung itself back, away from the shaking Red.

The crimson-splashed myrmex reared again, its graspers contracting wildly. It flung itself forward at the Green, feelers flattened, and struck an outflung leg. There was a quick scuffle, too tiny to see in detail, and then the two warriors were at opposing sides of the arena again.

Human heads thrust forwards and back, but we could all see the Green’s missing leg segment, and the Red’s hunched posture, as the neck bite began to tell. Someone muttered a curse and was silent as the two myrmex began to move towards each other for the last time.

Green kept its wounded side towards the red-spotted warrior, seemingly an invitation which it could not resist. Again the Red flung itself in a frenzy, fangs open, and again the Green whirled and struck at the juncture of head and torso, and this time did not release.

The two bodies came together in a grotesque grappling, their legs thrashing and scraping chitinous reverberations from the clay surface. The Red drubbed its free abdomen back and forth in spasms as the Green sank its fangs deeper. Then suddenly they were still.

A sigh went over the group, and Herrentha began to lower her long-handled myrmex tongs into the arena, glancing at the Pitmaster as she did so. “Wait,” the man rapped out sharply, and the lady drew her hand back. “The Green still lives,” he said as coldly, “and thus I judge it the winner.” His gesture freed us all to look closely, and we bent forwards to peer into the clay circle.

The Red lay contorted in a parody of movement, still and stiff. A faint mist of venom hung about its head, involuntarily sprayed from the poison sacs in its deadly jaws. Between two of its front legs the Green was caught, still struggling weakly as the light refracted from its eyes. Even as our breath reached it, and the noise of happy winners and disgruntled bettors began, the green-spotted warrior tossed its body once more and then went as still as its enemy, only the torn leg still flicking faintly.

“Green wins,” the Pitmaster said again, and the whisk came down out of the sky, the trap opening, and the two bodies vanished into the darkness below the arena…
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