Saturday, 2 July 2011

Purple Plasmid's Fentil

As confusing titles go, this one must achieve a fairly high score. What it means is that there a fictional moon Fentil, designed by someone named Purple Plasmid, who in real life goes under the name of Dan Emmerson. You will find his personal page on Deviant Art here, and his page on the planet Fentil right here.

If you, like me, are on the lookout for interesting projects on speculative biology, Deviant Art is not a bad place to search: it has enormous numbers of images and they are usually labelled sufficiently clearly to find what you are looking for. Some images of exobiological animals are very good, but quite often there is just one, and I much prefer a collection, a background story, or, in other words, more than just one image. Fentil has both background information and a collection of images, and so fits the bill nicely. There are over 60 images: some maps, some sketches, and some more elaborate designs. Dan's work exudes enthusiasm. Let's have a look.

Click to enlarge; copyright Dan Emmerson

These are 'pump fish', whose bodies are essentially cylindrical. They propel themselves by pumping water through heart-like chambers arranged one after the other, as the image shows. I like that design; that in itself is not surprising, as it is very much like some of my own designs that swim using peristaltic pumps (look for them on the water page, under 'swimming with tubes', or directly here if you do not mind losing the menu structure). I never named my own beasties, something I should rectify. One day I might actually just do that... Anyway, like my own creatures, pump fish probably do not show much movement on the outside when they are moving around. I started to wonder how many of these pumps should be placed one after another. For my 'peristaltic tube swimmers' I reasoned that one cycle moving along the length of the tube would be enough. In the pump fish case, you can see that the last segment is narrower than the front ones. If the same volume leaves the animal at the back as goes into the front in the same time, but through a smaller opening, the velocity of water must be higher, providing more propulsion. Do the successive chambers work at higher pressures, and is that the reason there are several?

Click to enlarge; copyright Dan Emmerson

I like the design of this 'sea sparrow': an elegant shape that seems very workable. They remind me of some sea slugs on Earth. The slug I had in mind is right here, and if you like sea slugs do not forget to have a look at the rest of the site they appear on. An intriguing part of the sea sparrow's anatomy is the combination of several paired fins with a large unpaired one at the back, giving it very original appearance. I would very much like to see an animation of how it moves.

Click to enlarge; copyright Dan Emmerson

A 'spot of fishing'. More precisely, it is a 'Rorschach sea sparrow' catching a pump fish. The accompanying text states that sea sparrows can fly and also chase their prey underwater. Gannets combine swimming and flying on Earth, although they are much better at flying in air than at swimming underwater. I suppose that it is possible to shift the point where an animal is at its best.
Dan's style with its flat colours and clear lines reminds me of some 'bandes dessinées' that use the 'ligne claire', such as shown here. I like this particular style. While seemingly simple, appearances are deceptive here. Dan wrote me he uses Flash for his artwork.

Click to enlarge; copyright Dan Emmerson

What you see here are some Fentil 'cloverheads' in the act of laying eggs. Cloverheads are herbivores that travel in great herds across vast plains. There are various cloverheads to be found on the Fentil section of Deviant Art. They all remind me a bit of Barlowe's animals, particularly as regards their feet, thatall look like elephant or sauropod feet. I think that this type of feet is very out of place in a fast-moving animal, but the explanation for that will have to wait for a post on what toes are good for.
What you might not appreciate is that you are looking at a first: this image had only been published before as a work in progress, but now it is final. A scoop for 'Furahan Biology and Allied Matters'!

Click to enlarge; copyright Dan Emmerson

These are 'Bghelly baskets'. These animals use sunlight to help raise temperatures in their gut sacs, which is a nice idea. They are larval forms using echo-location. Again I find the clean design very appealing.

Click to enlarge; copyright Dan Emmerson

Bone trees: without doubt they are among the most alien of Purple Plasmid's inventions. I would love to see a landscape painting with lots of them. The text provides a factual and neutral description about how they grow they way they do, but not why they do so.
Most plants on Earth have an enormous surface area in relation to their volumes, what with all the flat leaves and slender branches and twigs. Cactuses are notable exceptions: with their rotund shapes and no leaves to speak of, they clearly went for a very low surface-to-volume ratio. It is not difficult to work out why a cactus has a shape different from almost all other plants: a small area restricts evaporation, and their environment is very light anyway. As a bonus the large volume allows reserve water to be stored. Bone trees may look like cactuses, but they are found in regions where fresh water is plentiful, so there must be something else going on.
I thought that it might have to do with their skeletons being brittle, but Dan assured me that that was not the case. Instead, Fentil orbits a planet and suffers from frequent eclipses and the attending drop of temperature. This is what he wrote: "During this time, most plants hide within a protective shell, or retract their leaves (bone trees pull their leaves back into their shells) or just re-absorb the valuable photosynthetic tissue, which is usually free-floating in a transparent gel."

Click to enlarge; copyright Dan Emmerson

As hinted in the image above, There may very well be a website about Fentil in the future -another scoop!-, allowing visitors to click on cladistic trees to see what kind of animals they are dealing with. That sounds like a excellent idea. I hope Dan gets around to building one.


Evan Black said...

I've always enjoyed Fentil, and I'm glad to see it may one day have a website all its own! The interactive cladogram seems like an awesome idea, especially for speculative biology projects.

Pumped propulsion is a method that I enjoy, and am exploring in a speculative biology game in the SE forums. I'm always on the lookout for interesting and novel ways to diversify the "pump worm/fish" bauplan. With Fentil's pump fish, I particularly like the raking tongue, as I can easily see it adapting into a predatory tool a la Barlowe's Arrowtongue.

The sea sparrow is my all-time favorite of the project; as you say, Sigmund, it really does look elegant, and is one of the most unique creatures I've seen in all the major speculative projects.

And I've always thought that the bone trees were interesting too, reminding me of coral. I've always imagined a forest of dead, dried shells, crumbling with the passage of time. I hope Dan Emmerson/Purple Plasmid will be visiting this post so he can validate or refute the possibility of such a scene. ;)

Anonymous said...

Fentil's always a delight to see what new organisms have been added to it.

my favorites on that world, are the arch-shaped animals. its such a fun design, and I like seeing that it doesn't have to be an impossibility for organic megafauna (or larger than an inchworm)

Luke said...

I really like everything about Fentil, except for the design of the cloverheads. Aside from that it's really creative and fun to look at.