The following article was submitted to the Alien August competition by Christmas Snow.
“Skymite” is a portmanteau of two words: “Sky” and “termite”.
It is a termite-like creature which lives on Talal, a super-earth planet with a dense atmosphere. The extreme forces of wind are created by it’s slow rotation: One day on Talal equals three days on Earth. This slow rotation gives each side enough time to heat-up under the sun as the other side cools down. A greater temperature difference coupled with a thick atmosphere make Earth’s storms look like a gentle breeze.
The sky mite has a general appearance of a termite: It is, in many respects, an arthropod (possessing an exoskeleton) resembling a termite. The two possess wings at some stage of their lives. Both have a hierarchical system of Queen, king, workers and soldiers. The difference is that skymites are predators while Earth’s termites consume cellulose. At some point in their evolution, the skymites have adopted a way of life in the air. The earliest ones used to settle on branches of high trees at night. They would form temporary nests in different locations, and then gather to take flight to their next destination.
The period at which skymites adopted life in the air is parallel to the Devonian period on Earth, when other flying creatures were not much bigger. Wherever plants and creatures conquer new soils, competition and evolution will follow. The air is not different. A well-known competition strategy is gigantism: Animals grow bigger over time. (Think dinosaurs…). While bigger may mean stronger, animals could not grow endlessly bigger in the air. The skymites have developed a unique strategy. The queen is the largest and it lays the eggs. It has an elongated abdomen, just as Earth’s termites do. The abdomen digesting prey produces gases, mostly methane and hydrogen. Those gases may provide lighter-than-air buoyancy if enough gas is produced. The flotation bladders in the queen’s abdomen grows larger over time. The new buoyancy bladder provides some new advantages, as well as challenges:
A floating hive: The queen possesses wings when she first leaves the nest. When she mates with her first male, she settles somewhere and lays her first eggs. Few workers and soldiers hatch. They follow the queen on her nomadic track. With time, her abdomen begins to swell and make room for flotation bladders. When she floats by herself, she sheds her wings. She grows large enough so the workers and the king can ride her back. Eventually, she will reach the size of a small car and her eggs become larger, giving birth to larger workers. The new workers and soldiers that hatch are at the size of a sparrow. Her exoskeleton grows to provide many cavities in which the workers and soldiers take residence.
Defense: The lighter-than-air flight is slow and cumbersome. To compensate for that, the queen has soldiers for its defense. They come-out of the cavities and attack whatever tries to devour the queen. The queen gets its food from the workers who hunt for prey. The eggs are stacked underneath scales in her lower abdomen.
Migration: The floating hive has learned to adjust the flotation bladder to rise or sink as needed. This way, it may ride the low winds which move to the warm side or the upper wind to get to the cooler side. The hive can therefore migrate with the seasons. The strong winds force many creatures to stay aloft for their entire life. As a result, the skymite needs not to land on trees or solid ground. The workers go and hunt for the queen, may often land on ground or trees, but eventually have to return to their hive.
Sentience: The skymite is about as intelligent as Earth mammals, such as cats, dogs or tigers. The workers and soldiers are capable to plan attacks on much larger creatures and charge in great numbers. Each hive may contain a thousand such individuals. The queen and its workers communicate with scents and sounds, greatly easing the task of returning to a hive which is carried by the wind.
Article by Christmas Snow.