The Riccio is a small rodent which is covered with sharp, spiny quills. The common Tharian name, "Pricklypig" derives from the way it roots into the ground with its snout, hunting for mushrooms, grubs or other tasty treats. It is also known as "yilthrog" in Styrásh (lit. "spear animal") to the elves, "JiiHok" (lit. "spike animal") to the Thergerim, and "Porkprickle" to the hobbits. It is a fairly common little creature, and frequently seen all across Southern Sarvonia, generally in the forests and wooded areas. There are three known varieties of Riccio in Sarvonia - the common Southern, a Northern Sarvonian variant that is considerably larger - which the Kuglimz people call the "Curi'sar" (lit. "arrow pig") - and the rare Desert Riccio, found in the Ráhaz-Dáth Desert, between Bardavos and Strata.
An adult Riccio measures approximately 10
nailsbreadths or 2
palmspans from snout to
tail. Males and females are not discernibly different to the casual glance,
though the males are very slightly bigger. Riccios have a furry, soft grey
undercoat. overlaid with sharp black hollow spines, which can be as much as 3 or
4 nailsbreadths long. These
usually lie flat against the body, but when the Riccio is frightened or
startled, it is able to lift the spines so that they stick straight out of the
coat, with a threatening rattle. This presents a formidable defense as well as
making the animal look considerably bigger. If attacked, they will shed spines
vigorously into the attacker's face or paws. These spines have tiny barbs, which
help them penetrate, but do not come out so easily.
The only part of the Riccio that has no spines is the head and soft underbelly, which it protects by curling into a tight prickly ball, while thrashing its short, spiny tail defensively about. The tail is about four nailsbreadths long. The Riccio's head somewhat resembles that of a ferret, except that it has no fur on its muzzle, which terminates in a leathery gray snout. The short stubby legs end in small clawed feet which look like tiny hands with four fingers and a thumb. Riccios have small, dark eyes and do not see extremely well, but they have an amazing sense of smell and can track down an enticing scent with great determination. Male Riccios are called boars, females sows, and the young are known as hoglets.
The Northern Riccio is very similar, but is about twice the size of the Southern variety, being about four or five palmspans long, and spines that are around a palmspan in length. It is considerably less common and is rarely seen south of the Tandalas, though there are a few in that region.
The Desert Riccio is about three palmspans long and resembles a large Southern Riccio, except that it is generally much lighter in colour, being a sandy brown colour with slightly darker brown quills. Curled into a ball, it resembles a little tumbleweed in the desert.
Beyond its startling and very effective defensive mechanism, the Riccio's only
special ability is its amazing sense of smell. The creatures have poor eyesight
and cannot move very quickly, managing a slow shuffle at best.
Territory. Riccios tend to live in wooded areas, but will often venture into human, hobbit or elven settlements in search of food. They are rarely afraid of people and can be quite a nuisance in some areas. Southern Riccios may be found from around the Thaelon Wood to the woods just north of the Aj-Nuvic Grounds in the Shendar lands, while the Northern variety usually range from the Hovel Fronds Forests to the Heath of Wilderon. A very few reside south of the Tandalas, in the Calmarios Forest below the mountains. In Sarvonia, the Desert Riccios are only found in the Ráhaz-Dáth Desert, though they are also known in Aeruillin.
Habitat/Behaviour. In spite of its sharp quills, the Riccio is typically a very gentle animal. If it is not frightened or hurt, it will even allowed itself to be gently handled by people. Riccios are usually affectionate little animals, and are easily tamed. Hobbit children especially love to keep them as pets, sometimes to the dismay of their parents. However, they can be useful, as they can be trained to hunt for edible fungi.
Pricklypigs usually live eight to ten years, if they are not felled by predators. They are solitary except during the mating season. Sometimes they may be seen in small groups, but these are not permanent "herd" structures, simply chance meetings.
Diet. Riccios are largely herbivorous and, like many rodents, have strong sharp teeth. They eat fungi of various types, twigs and grass, fruits and vegetables, and occasionally grubs and beetles as well. They can easily chew right through a wooden fence post and sometimes can be caught gnawing on one. They love salt and many a cow or horse has put its muzzle down into a salt lick and yanked it back with a nose full of quills. Many a farmer has cursed the little creature when he finds his (wooden) tool handles chewed to bits, for the salt left by his sweat makes them irresistible to a Riccio.
Mating. During the breeding season, which occurs throughout the early spring to the late summer months, the Riccio sow will signal her receptivity to a male by emitting a sweet, high pitched chirruping sound which resembles that of a songbird. She will raise her quills, and sit on the ground "singing" until a male finds her. If two boars arrive simultaneously, they will face off with much grunting and hissing, nipping and quill raising. The displays are fierce but rarely become serious fights - a smaller or younger male will usually back down quickly and look for another female. Then the two Riccios circle each other tentatively, the female occasionally reaching out a paw to gently cuff her suitor's head. These are not hard blows and seem to increase the male's interest further. The female keeps her spines erected at this time, while the male's are flat. When she is ready to mate, she drops her quills so the boar can mount. This is an awkward process at best, for the quills are slippery and the male has to hold on to them with his teeth and claws to succeed.
After mating several times in succession, the two go their separate ways. The sow will give birth to a litter of around 3-6 young in about five weeks time. At birth they are white and fuzzy, with soft rubbery spines which harden within about one week of birth. They wean in about one month's time. If the female has had her litter very early in the season, she may mate again and produce a second litter, but this does not happen often.
Usages. The Riccio is edible, with a tasty, pale, fatty meat that is reminiscent of pork (thus the hobbit name "Porkprickle"). A favorite hobbit meal is "Clay-baked Porkprickle", in which the animal is killed, cleaned (without removing the skin) and coated thickly in clay, then baked at low temperatures in an oven or buried in coals in a firepit to cook for a long while. It may be stuffed with forcebread if desired, though often it is simply filled with a mixture of chopped meldarapples, weeproots and various spices (squillfung and kragghi are popular choices). After baking a few hours, the clay is broken open and removed, taking most of the quills with it. Then the skin is stripped off and the Porkprickle is ready to eat.
The quills are used both as decorative items and to "inject" medicines into the body (for one who may be too ill to swallow). A tiny sac, made from animal intestinal membrane, is filled with medication and attached to the base of the hollow quill. Then the very tip of the quill is inserted into a vein in the arm or leg, and the sac is squeezed to inject the medicine into the body. Thus a hobbit healer might say "One quill of this medicine twice a day for two days, or "You'll need three quills worth of this". These are typically the larger quills, imported from Northern Sarvonia as trade goods. Kuglimz women like to tie the quills on ribbons or strips of leather, string beads on them, and braid them into their hair or sew them on garments as decorations.
Myth/Lore. There are a few sayings about the Riccio. The hobbits say "He's trying to bump bottoms with a porkprickle" when referring to someone attempting the impossible. Kuglimz people have a similar saying, "Don't wrestle the curi'sar", meaning the same thing. Variants of these sayings may be found across Sarvonia.