Closely related to its southerly cousins, the Blue Myrmex is one of the few insects capable of surviving the freezing temperatures of the most northerly regions of Sarvonia, most notably the Icelands Coast, the Peninsula of Iol, and the Caaehl'heroth Peninsula from the northernmost Caaehl mountains through to the Icelands of Aeh'Os'th'er'oc, and even as far as the islands of Kalta'Goor and Karma'Goor. A single colony of Blue Myrmex can contain many thousands of individuals, but all seem to work towards the same purpose, that of finding food for the larvae which are nursed deep within their underground nests. For such a tiny creature, it carries within its body a very potent venom, with uses both medicinal and murderous.
To study the Myrmex in the wild, it was necessary to devise a method by which a
researcher could approach them safely whilst they went about their daily
scuttlings. It is recommended that anyone wishing to further their knowledge of
these insects should take heed of this method, and employ it wisely.
When a nest has been located, spend a while to observe in which direction the Myrmex leave and enter the nest. Choose a point perhaps five or six peds away from the entrance hole, and in the opposite direction to which the Myrmex are going. Using a stout stick or rod, gently pierce a small hole into the ice. If the rod goes easily into the ice, then you should withdraw immediately, as you have probably opened up a hole into the nest itself, and the Myrmex inside will soon appear to defend it.
If force is needed to pierce the ice, then it is safe to assume that you are stood on safe ground. Carefully begin to dig a trench, wide enough for a man to stand in comfortably, all the while checking with the rod that the ice beneath is still firm. When the trench is as deep as a man's height, you can begin to scrape away the ice wall in the direction of the nest. Gradually, the passageways and chambers of the nest will become visible through the ice, as if looking at them through a window. As long as the researcher keeps around a palmspan of ice-wall between himself and the nest, it should be safe to observe the Myrmex's activities unmolested.
Be warned, however, that a sentry should be posted above ground, to report immediately if the Myrmex begin to change the direction of their above-ground travels. All persons should leave the area at once if this occurs. A wary eye should also be kept upon the ice-wall separating the researchers from the nest, as the Myrmex are constantly expanding their homes, and could break through into the trench without being seen.
Other than for its colour and slightly larger size, the Blue Myrmex is not dissimilar in appearance to the Myrmex of the more temperate southerly regions. Acknowledgement for the following descriptions of these miniature creatures must be given to Rookie Brownbark, whose equally miniature eyes and hands afforded a view of these details hitherto unavailable to researchers.
Each Myrmex is made of three distinct sections: The head, the torso, and the abdomen:
The head is roughly tear-drop shaped, with the wider end being connected to the torso, and gives the impression of being slightly too large for the body. Two small, black eyes are set quite high and forward on the head, and between them are two slender 'feelers' of around one grain in length, which are constantly in motion, probing the air around the Myrmex, probably to help them sense their surroundings in their dark underground nests.
The male Blues, which are generally slightly larger than the females, have a powerful, viciously-barbed fang on each side of their tiny mouths. These fangs are extremely sharp, and are capable of piercing even the toughest hide. Within each fang is a tiny sac of venom. When the fangs are brought together, the venom is forced out through the tip of the fangs and into the victim. The females fangs are not as long as the males, but are equally as sharp, and equally as venomous.
Below the mouth, which is situated between and below the fangs, sits the external tongue. The needle-like, hollow tongue of the Blue rests, folded into three jointed sections, inside a shallow groove which runs along the length of the underside of the head. When the Myrmex is preparing to suck the fluids from a victim, it raises its head slightly, and unfolds the tongue from the groove. As it pivots forward, the three sections join seamlessly together to form a sharp, tapering tube almost two grains long, almost the same length as the Myrmex itself! Belying its fragile appearance, this tube is capable of piercing the hide of the largest creature. Even a fully-grown wison bull has no defence against the tongue of a Myrmex! When enough fluid has been drained to fill the abdomen, the tongue is returned to its resting place to enable the Myrmex to crawl through the narrow, twisting tunnels of the nest, until it reaches a hatching-chamber, where it is once again used to feed the larvae within.
The torso is roughly egg-shaped, and has six jointed legs growing from it, three each side. The back two pairs of legs have a small cloven 'foot' at their ends, which allow the Myrmex to walk quickly across any type of ground. The front pair, however, are split into three 'toes' at the ends. These are also used for walking, but can also be employed as gripping tools to help manipulate anything the Myrmex is carrying.
Joined to the torso by a narrow waist is the large abdomen. Being of a similar shape to the head, albeit around twice the size, the torso contains within it a large, stomach-like organ in which the Myrmex stores food and waste and also carries the fluids it has drained from its victims. This stomach fills almost the entire space within the abdomen. Behind the stomach are various strangely-coloured entrails, which are assumed to be the intestines and the reproductive organs.
The abdomen is always carried horizontally in a healthy Myrmex. A drooping or dragging abdomen is usually a sign of some illness or injury. The Blue Myrmex tends to be slightly larger than the other types. A mature male will be up to two grains in length, while females seldom exceed one and a half grains.
As a juvenile, the Blue Myrmex has no blue to it at all, being a brilliant white colour all over. As it matures, at around one year, the armour-like skin begins to take on a faint, irridescent blue tint. When fully mature, at two years, the faint blue has spread across the whole body, but only appears when the light strikes the creature in just the right way. This effect can be quite breathtaking when occuring in a large group, giving the impression of rippling water. There are no more changes to this colouration until the Myrmex dies, at sometime in its third year.
Although tiny, the smooth skin, or shell, of the Myrmex is incredibly strong, and though it is no match for the weight of, say, a Dwarven boot, it is able to withstand suprisingl amounts of pressure before splitting.
Usually, by the time you realize that a Myrmex has found some bare skin, it will already have bitten you. But, if you happen to sense the slight tickle of one crawling across the hairs of your leg or arm, you would be well advised to flick it off as soon as possible, as trying to squash it will only anger it and cause it to bite sooner and deeper. The force needed to split the shell open will also probably leave you with either a very stingy leg, or a nasty hand-shaped bruise.
Perhaps the most obvious ability posessed by the Blue Myrmex is being able to
survive in temperatures and conditions which would ordinarily kill most other
insects. They do not seem to notice the freezing temperatures of their
territory, and can often be seen quite happily scurrying around on the surface
of the snow and ice in the search of a meal.
On occasion, this ability is taken to an extreme level. All Blue Myrmex dig their nests into the solid ice of the frozen northern regions. Sometimes, due to a slight increase in temperature, or by a particularly excessive rainstorm, parts of the nest may become flooded. As the Myrmex are unable to swim, they are effectively trapped within the tunnel system of the nest. Any other Myrmex would almost certainly die in this situation, but the Blue's ability to withstand the cold again helps it to survive where others cannot.
In the event that a Blue finds itself trapped in freezing water within the nest and escape has proven impossible, it will stop all movement and appear to go to sleep. As the water freezes around it, so to does the Myrmex's body freeze, becoming as hard and cold as its icy tomb.
When conditions and temperatures improve and the ice begins to melt, the Blue will miraculously emerge, seemingly unscathed, from its frozen slumber, and will either rejoin the colony (if it hasn't moved on to new territory), or begin the process of establishing a new colony with any of its brothers and sisters which have survived with it.
The discovery of this amazing ability was made by researchers living with the Ice Tribes of the Icelands Peninsula. They noticed that occasionally, within some of the blocks of ice used to build the hunting shelters of the tribesmen, Blue Myrmex could be seen suspended, as if frozen in time. As the shelters began to melt due to the heat of the cooking fires, they were amazed to see them slowly return to life, and once completely thawed, they banded together and returned to their duties as if nothing were amiss. The hunters told them that this was not unusual to them, and there were many tales of lost or stranded hunters surviving by deliberately flooding a Myrmex nest and eating the many thousands of frozen bodies from inside.
Another unusual ability of the Blue is that of the effect its venom has on the flesh of other creatures. When bitten by a Blue Myrmex, very little pain is felt, as the venom within its fangs has the instant effect of freezing an area of flesh around the bite. The area affected by the freezing venom depends on the size of the Myrmex inflincting the bite, but a fully-grown adult male will usually numb an area of around the size of a man's little fingernail.
This may not seem like much, but imagine the effect that many hundreds of these bites would have on one's ability to move. Now imagine the same effect but multiplied by thousands, and you will have some idea of what it feels like to be attacked by a colony of Blue Myrmex. With their prey paralysed with freezing-venom, they are free to begin draining the body of fluids, and then, when all the fluids are gone, they can start the task of removing as much flesh as possible before the meat freezes.
Once bitten by a Blue Myrmex, the area of paralysed skin will never fully recover. Even many years later, the numbness will still be evident, and if the attack was severe, walking will probably be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the rest of one's life. A single colony of Blue Myrmex has been observed to bring down a mature wison bull with their paralysing bites, drain it of blood, and strip most of the flesh from the legs within a period of less than two hours!
Territory. The Blue Myrmex can only be found in the most northerly areas of Northern Sarvonia. More specifically, on the Peninsula of Iol, the Icelands Coast, and in the north-west the Icelands of Ae'os'th'er'oc and the island of Kalta'Goor. Of these, the Icelands Coast is host to the greater population, with Iol's colonies seeming to be restricted to the western coasts. The strength of population of the Aeh'Os'th'er'oc and Kalta'Goor Myrmex are unknown at this time, due largely to the extreme difficulty in reaching these parts.
Unlike the other breeds of Myrmex, the Blue cannot survive in areas where the temperatures regularly reach above freezing. If they are exposed to even short periods of mild weather, their activity rapidly slows and they expire from the heat very quickly. As soon as the temperature begins to rise, the Blue's will retreat into the deepest parts of their nest to wait for the cold to return.
Habitat/Behaviour. When any warm-blooded creature stumbles into a colony of Blues, the Myrmex will immediately begin to attack the first part of it they come into contact with, biting with their powerful fangs and injecting their freezing venom. As the first part of the prey's body to come into biting distance of the Myrmex is usually the feet and legs, it doesn't take long for the victim to loose any ability to move away from the danger. This makes it easier for other Myrmex to crawl further up the body and begin the process of draining as much blood from the upper, un-frozen part as possible by means of stabbing the victim with their hollow, needle-like tongues and sucking the warm juices found within.
Owing to the loss of control of their legs, coupled with the rapid loss of blood that an attack by thousands of Myrmex brings, the prey will usually collapse quite quickly. This prevents blood draining into the legs, and allows even more assailants to join in the feast.
Once a Blue has filled the storage sac in its abdomen with fluid, it dashes back to the nest and regurgitates its contents into the ever-waiting maw of a larvae, then races around to the back of the larvaes cell to collect its prize. The larvae prize the fresh fluids so much that they will gorge on it until their white, fleshy bodies turn a deep red colour and are swollen almost to bursting point.
If the paralysed victim is not of a very large size, and the Myrmex manage to drain the body of fluids before it begins to freeze, they will then start to remove pieces of flesh and carry them into the nest for food.
It is thought that the adult Myrmex are unaffected by the warmth of the blood entering their bodies as each one carries such a small amount that the surrounding temperature cools it to an acceptable level very quickly. If no fresh blood is available, however, both adults and larvae are equally happy to drink the sweet sap from plants, the adults using their needle-like tongue to pierce the stems and leaves and suck out the moisture within.
Diet. Along with the other types of Myrmex, the Blues are omnivorous, eating and gathering anything within their territory which is remotely edible and returning it back to the hatching chambers of the nest as food for the developing larvae. The adult workers are particularly attracted to sweetness such as that found in the nectar of flowers or fruit. Unfortunately, these are in very short supply in the extremes in which they live. To combat this, the Blue Myrmex larvae have developed a quite remarkable method of ensuring a constant supply of food for themselves, whilst at the same time rewarding the efforts of the workers. Each time a worker feeds a larvae in its "cell", the larvae will produce a tiny droplet of a very sweet liquid from a small hole near its rear end. The "feeder" will dash around to the back of the larvae to collect this treat, leaving the way clear for another feeder to take its place. The larvae seem to have an inexhaustible supply of this sweet liquid, and can reward as many feeders as appear in front of it.
Whilst the adult Blues have a preference for sweet substances, the larvae show a great appetite for congealed blood and bodily fluids, and will reward the feeder which delivers this tasty treat with an extra large helping of their sweet liquid-food. The adults, quite understandably, go to great lengths to capture any living thing that comes within their reach, in order to gorge themselves on the fluids within.
Mating. Due to their size, the only moderately succesful method of determining the sex of a Myrmex is by observing which ones lay eggs, and which ones don't. It should not be necessary at this point to explain which ones are female and which are male.
Each colony of Myrmex is ruled over by a single, fertile female, or Queen. She is distingushable from the rest of the colony by several means. She is much larger than the other Myrmex in the colony, typically up to the length of a man's middle finger, most of this length consisting of her swollen, pulsating abdomen, from where she produces up to one hundred white, half-grain long eggs a day. These eggs are shaped like an elongated oval, and are treated with great care as they are carried off to the hatching-chambers.
Next, she lives within a chamber deep within the nest, specially constructed for her by the workers. It has only a small entrance hole in the wall, just large enough for a worker to squeeze through, effectively trapping her within. The reason for this is thought to be to prevent any intruder reaching her, should they manage to break through the ice above, and avoid death at the fangs of the workers.
Lastly, she has a constant stream of workers tending to her needs, some feed her, others clean her and her chamber, many of them come to mate with her, while still others remove the eggs she produces and take them to one of the many hatching chambers around the nest, where they are placed in individual 'cells' in the ice, where they will stay until they have fully developed.
Every egg the Queen lays will develop into a worker, either a fertile male or an infertile female. What sex the egg develops into seems to be determined by temperature, as the eggs which hatch nearest to the surface almost always turn into males, whilst those hatched at greater depths within the nest are usually females. By using this method the Blue Myrmex can control the number of each sex within the colony.
As the Queen nears the end of her life, she begins to lay fewer eggs, and their fertility also decreases. When this happens, the workers will prepare a new chamber alongside hers, into which they will place a newly-hatched larvae from one of the female hatching chambers. Then, a swarm of them will descend upon the Queen, paralysing her with their venom. For the next couple of weeks, they will regularly drain her fluids and feed them to the nearby larvae. When the larvae changes into an adult Myrmex, it will have become a new Queen, ready to begin laying eggs almost immediately. Her first job as Queen of the colony is to eat the body of her Mother, which is brought into her by her new subjects, piece by piece.
The infertile females also lay eggs, although at a more normal rate than the Queen, usually one a day. These are used as food for the adults and larvae alike, providing them with a source of nourishment when the severe weather causes a shortage of food outside the nest.
Usages. Owing to their effective venom and vicious nature, many folk avoid the Blue Myrmex at all costs. However, there are a few hardy tribes within the Icelands, particularly the Faerons, the Aidin, and the Tarkyns, who have little choice but to share their daily lives with these fascinating creatures, and have, over the generations, found a few valuable uses for them. It must be remembered that in order to try any of the things mentioned here, the Myrmex nest must first be flooded and allowed to freeze before attempting to collect them.
Anyone who finds themselves, for whatever reason, without food whilst traversing the vast emptyness of the frozen wastes of the northern territories, would do well to locate a colony of Blue's, as they provide a goodly meal if enough of them can be gathered. They can be eaten raw or, if fire is available, they can be boiled. It is important to remove the heads before eating, as this is where the freezing-venom is stored, and even a small amount can cause severe stomach pain if swallowed. The taste is said to be not unlike that of pinnip seal meat, although less salty.
Another method with the potential to save life is to use individual Myrmex as temporary stitches to seal wounds. Holding a single Blue firmly between the thumb and finger, allow it to bite the skin on each side of a wound. This will numb any pain, and the fangs will bring together the edges of the injury, effectively sealing it. Once the Myrmex has locked its fangs together, a sharp twist and pull will detach the rest of the body, leaving the head in place to act as a stitch. Use as many Myrmex as is necessary to completely seal the wound.
The stitches should be renewed each day, as this lessens the risk of the wound becoming infected as the heads decay. It is recommended that this method is only used in extreme emergencies, as the numbing effect of the Myrmex venom could cause permanent disabling if used in excessive amounts.
Assassins, most notably those of the Osther-Oc, have been known to use the Blue Myrmex as a method of execution. However, luring a victim into a colony of Myrmex, or collecting enough individuals to kill someone and then finding a way of transporting them successfully, has proven to be to difficult to be a desirable method of despatching of someone.
It is thought that the Osther-Oc assassins use just the heads of the Myrmex, putting handfulls into the food of their victim. Death by swallowing Myrmex venom is very unpleasant. The pain is unbearable, leaving the victim feelling as though they have swallowed acid,this is the effect of the stomach being frozen. Even in the unlikely event of the victim surviving the venom, they will most likely die of starvation, as they will be unable to swallow any food past the solid mass of guts inside them.
The effects of the poison on the guts take a short while to occur, and the victim will carry on eating more and more of the tainted food before realising what has happened. Almost at the same time as the freezing begins to take effect,the tongue and mouth will erupt into a mass of pus-filled blisters, preventing speech and making breathing almost impossible. Once the venom has taken hold, death usually follows swiftly behind, but not before inflicting all manner of agonies on the poor victim.
Myth/Lore. There are several sayings or proverbs which use the Blue Myrmex as a subject: "Tread softly, lest the Myrmex pounce." - A traditional blessing from a wife to her husband as he departs on a hunt. It warns him to be wary of where he puts his feet, as a Myrmex nest is constructed in such a way as to cause any large creatures atop it to fall through the ice and into the waiting pincers below. Another one is: "As cold-hearted as a Myrmex" - A gossips slander upon anyone perceived to be heartless or aloof. Anf finally: "I'm colder than a Myrmex's arse" - Commonly heard oath from someone just returning from a trip outside their home.