(4th planet out from Manticore A)
A rocky terrestroid planet orbiting Manticore A with a semi-major axis of 2.54 AU (1,273 light seconds; 21 minutes, 13 light seconds). The planetary’s physical parameters include a mass of 13.6212^24 kg (2.28 x Earth), density of 5.73 kg/m^3 (1.04 x Earth), and a concurrent surface gravity of 13.171 m/sec/sec. (1.349 x Earth). Planetary orbital velocity is 10.56 km/sec, while planetary escape velocity is 14.81 km/sec. The local planetary year is 5.2 T-years, and made up of a pattern of 46 months, alternating between 39 local days and 38 local days, with a leap day every 7 local years.
Geostationary orbit height is 53,216.45 km, and a 500 km orbit height has an orbital velocity of 10.23 km/sec. The planet has two moons, Perseus, with a diameter of 672 km and a density of 1.62 kg/m^3, orbiting with a semi-major axis of 142,000 km, and Bellerophon, with a diameter of 426 km and a density of 2.12 kg/m^3 and a semi-major axis of 332,000 km. Minor mining operations occur on both moons. Both moons combined produce tides that are less than 10 percent of Earth’s. This is not unusual, as Earth is something of an outlier as a near double planet in mass. The planetary hydrosphere is 68 percent of the planetary surface, and the total land surface area is 229 percent that of Earth’s.
The planetary axial tilt is 14.51 degrees, and the land horizon is roughly 5.76 km, and the nautical horizon at 12.87 km. The planetary instellation averages roughly 73 W/m^2, or a bit less than 17 percent of Sol’s; this lack of instellation is compensated for by a much higher greenhouse gas percentage than Earth’s; the planetary CO2 levels at surface partial pressure can cause rapid breathing syndrome in new arrivals as their breathing reflex adjusts. When all factors (albedo, greenhouse gas mix and instellation are accounted for) the average surface temperature of Sphinx is 285 Kelvin, or 12 degrees Centigrade; this is a full 10 degrees cooler than Earth.
The combination of low axial tilt and low instellation means the planetary ice caps are prominent, greatly impacting planetary albedo. This has secondary effects on the planet’s climate and recent geological and biological history.
Sphinx has an unusually thick mantle for a planet of its mass and density and has a lower level of tectonic activity than its mass and size would otherwise indicate. This is still somewhat higher than Old Earth. Sphinx’s topography, as is typical of planets in its mass range, is of very deep seas and mountainous continents. Most of the land on Sphinx is, geologicaly speaking, fairly young, and large basin-lands are much less prominent on the planetary map.
This lower than typical level of tectonic activity and assessments of Sphinx’s Milankovic periodicity (shifts in its orbital eccentricity and the traverse of its axial tilt) indicate that until roughly 30,000 T-years ago, +/-10,000 T-years, Sphinx’s ice caps extended nearly twice as far towards the equator as they do now. It is thought that the Stubleford Traps formation in northern Slocum, near the northern pole, may have released enough CO2 into the atmosphere to trigger a glacial retreat. This area of active volcanism appears to be over a mantle plume hotspot and is still active; it is roughly the size of the region of Brazil on Old Earth.
The low temperature differential between the equatorial oceans and the poles inhibits ocean current circulation, and the lower axial tilt means that seasons are less extreme on Sphinx, though they are longer. Sphinx’s equatorial regions do not get as hot as Earth’s, but the degree to which the climate changes per degree of latitude away from the equator is lower than on Earth, until the glacial region is reached, at which point the temperature gradient drops suddenly.
There is ample biological evidence for a recent glacial retreat on Sphinx. The Sphinxian climate has gotten warmer and wetter, and there are many species that still show adaptations such as larger sizes and thicker coats for a colder climate, and there is a great deal of evidence indicating that species are moving into new biomes, looking for new or different food sources.
In a very real sense, the human colonization on Sphinx appears to have arrived during a period of geology-and-climate induced punctuated equilibrium.
On a planet with as many diverse biomes as Sphinx has, a full planetary biological assay will be the work of a T-century or more. There’s simply insufficient manpower to do it, and too many pressing needs on the limited number of biologists available, many of whom do double and triple duty as veterinarians and as first responders. What follows is excerpts from the biological assay for the Tannerman Gulf Region, located on the western coast of Haley’s Land, and is where a number of new homesteads and freeholds have been established.
The Tannerman Gulf region has a slightly warmer than average climate for its latitude, due to an offshore warm water current heading southward along the coast of Haley Land. Much of this air is trapped by the mountain ranges on the eastern boundaries of the region. The eastern portion of the ranges are drier, have larger native biomes and have been mapped by aerial survey and ground penetrating radar for topography, but have no human settlements as of the time of this writing, and have had only four overland expeditions in them in the last fifty T-years.
The Tannerman Gulf region has frequent mild rains, as is typical for the weather patterns off of the ocean, and (for Sphinx) comparatively mild winters for its latitude; the snow generally lasts for a month or two per heavy snowfall, melting off, in patches, before the next snowfall hits, and winters in this region start and end with a rainy season; overall the “climactic” winter lasts a bit over a T-year. Temperatures in the winter are mild, going down to -10 to -15 centigrade in the coldest part of the winter.
By contrast, the summers are comparatively cool and pleasant, and the thicker Sphinxian atmosphere and lower instellation make heat stroke and sunburn almost unheard of. Scorchingly hot days in the Tannerman Gulf region get into the high 20s to low 30s.
The abundance of water, and relatively recent soil
formation make the dominant fauna of the region mixed copses of picketwood, with groves of crown oak and near pine
interspersed. Forest fires are sometimes a risk during the height of summer. In
the drier areas to the east of the
The picketwood makes up the dominant arboreal habitat in the Tannerman Bay region. It is a dual-deciduous softwood tree with a fairly quick growth rate, and sends down runners from its lower braches; these runners become nodal trunks, allowing the picketwood to asexually spread over large areas. The actual photosynthetic canopy of picketwoods starts roughly 20 meters up in a mature trunk, and remains productive well past the initial rainy season of winter.
Picketwoods offer a moderating impact on the local biome. Picketwood leaf-mass drop provides compost for wintering shrubs, which fix nitrogen in the soil for the picket-wood’s root structures to absorb. The bark is rough gray and black, with four lobed-splay patterned leaves. Typical height for a mature picket-wood tree is 35-45 meters.
The second most populous tree type, the near pine is an evergreen softwood with hairy seedpods and a deeply furrowed rough bark. The trees are highly resinous, and their seeds are edible, if enough effort is made to extract them from the seedpod; the oil from them can be used for cooking and is considered something of a delicacy if caught right near the end of the fall rainy season. The seed pods estivate through the winter, and when conditions are right, new near pine seedlings grow rapidly in the spring. When fully mature, near pines form relatively thick trunked trees reaching 62 meters in height, taking nearly 20 T-years to reach this height, and can grow by as much as 3 meters in a growing season. Near pines appear to be in the process of being displaced by picketwoods and crown oaks.
The red spruce is altitude adapted, and because of this, appears to have less competition for its ecological niche; stands of red spruce are seen on the sides of the mountains to the east of Tannerman Bay, and aerial surveys show that their range extends into the dryer areas beyond. Another evergreen, Red Spruce has scaled, very dark blue-green leaves and a pyramidal form. Its seedpods are smoother than the near pine’s, but the seeds themselves are bitter tasting with an alkaloid that makes them unpalatable to Terrestrial life, and causes allergic reactions in some. This same alkaloid allows the seed pods to pass through the digestive tract of Sphinxian chipmunks without harm. The name comes from the russet color of its wood, which is prized for decorative woodwork. Average height of a mature red spruce is about 17 meters (56 feet). It does not grow as rapidly as a near pine does.
The crown oak is a dual deciduous tree that produces pine-needle like filament leaves for the winter months, sheds them in the spring, and generates five-lobed leaves more suited to a wetter climate in spring to last through the summer months. It is adapted to a drier climate than the near pine, and as the area around the Tannerman Gulf dries in adjustment to climate change, it is opportunistically expanding into ranges left open by wildfires which devastate the near pine stands. At full height, this tree reaches a height of 80 meters. Efforts are underway to sustainably harvest timber from this tree for furniture and flooring, and it is seen as a potentially valuable export commodity.
Rock trees appear to be a living fossil species; their tall, straight trunk and long narrow leaves make them well suited to shorter growing seasons and extreme cold. They can survive on much less moisture than picketwoods and near pines, and are more common east of the mountains, though stands of them are scattered throughout the picketwood forests. Their name come from the unusually high concentrations of bonded silicates in the cell walls of the trunk, making for a very fire resistant and difficult to cut wood. The wood itself is nearly fireproof for temperatures commonly found in nature. There are several varieties, known for the color of the lumber, which is labor intensive to gather, and process, but highly in demand.
The lace willow is a common understory runner-plant, and is a relative of the same genus as the picketwood, though it is most common in marshy areas. It has streamer-like leaves, and the Tannerman Gulf area appears to be the southern edge of its natural range. The name comes from the pierced meshlike nature of the leaves, which are used to capture insect analogs and drop them down as a source of nutrients into the root structure.
A native Sphinxian flowering shrub which fills much the same niche as azaleas or laurels, attaining a maximum height of about 3.6 meters. Its leaves are dark green and spade shaped, and it produces very sharp thorns up to 10 centimeters in length. Its blossoms, which come in many different colors, are vaguely tulip shaped and are prized for the flavor their pollen gives to honey produced by imported terrestrial honey bees.
This woody plant is a low moisture adapted relative of the near pine, and its westernmost range creeps around the eastern mountains bordering the Tannerman Gulf region. It grows to roughly three meters in height, with a single trunk that’s roughly 3 cm in diameter, and produces very small forms of the near pine’s needles. During the fall, it produces a lighter weight seed pod at the crown of the plant; the center of the plant is a woody pulp that can be ground and used as a flour, or be made as a porridge. The seed pods are high in tannic acid and have to be blanched before they're edible, but can also be used to supplement the pulp. While the Range Barley has a number of similarities to terrestrial grasses in its growth cycle, and as an edible food source, it is not a wind-blown self-pollinating grass such as might be found on Old Earth. It is a curiousity because it appears to be a recent mutation. It is thought that tuskelopes (see below) eat range barley when they can find stands of it, but there are few areas in the Tannerman Gulf region where picketwood and range barley grow near each other.
A native Sphinxian fruit shrub that grows in moist moderate climates, the fruiting mechanism is triggered by environmental factors which have so far proven difficult to isolate; it is considered, after the range barley, to be the likeliest native Sphinxian plant to become domesticated and cultivated for food. The shrub grows in the understory area beneath picketwoods and crown oaks, and has a blade-like leaf structure. The fruiting body shows up after the first snowfall each year, and is a multi-segmented fruiting body that’s the color of a green apple, in a thick rind reminiscent of terrestrial citrus. It is tart, and sweet, and used locally for preserves, jams, pies, and as a garnish for poultry and ham.
Nearly all Sphinxian life forms have hexapedal bilateral symmetry, and the species near the Tannerman Gulf region follow this body plan. In areas where the dominant plant life is the picketwood, the middle set of and forward set of limbs are commonly dual purpose, with the mid-limbs configured for grasping and locomotion and the forelimbs specialized for grasping itself.
Nearly every species of animal on Sphinx is exothermic; this is nearly a requirement for surviving the long winters. Unlike plants, which remain in the same place, animal species tend to migrate, in response to seasonal changes, mating habits, and pursuit of food sources. There is a large amount that is unknown about Sphinxian biota, even in this area. It is a widely held contention among Sphinxian Forestry Service biologists that there are at least two medium-to-large herbivorous species that have not been directly or indirectly observed yet.
Most Sphinxian animal life—even many species with “bird-like” names, more closely resemble Terrestrial mammals than birds or reptiles. The dividing line on local naming conventions is based in part on the whim of the first researcher to write a report on the species, and secondarily based on whether the species lays eggs for overwintering while the parents estivate, or whether they remain active year round and bear live young.
It is important, again, to emphasize that what is known about species on Sphinx is more broadly defined by what we don’t know than what we actually do know.
The Sphinxian chipmunk looks virtually nothing like its Terrestrial namesake, being the size of a small dog. The animal is a full-year active exothermic burrowing husker that lives off of the seed pods and fruits of the understory plant-life. The forelimbs and mid-limbs allow a little bit of arboreal movement. Its range appears to be tightly constrained by the picketwood environment. They appear to have a natural life span of two Sphinxian years, and are opportunists. Their burrowing ability allows them to dig through foundations and into greenhouses. In some areas of human settlements, they are on their way towards displacing Mankind’s oldest companion, the rat, as the greatest danger to household food storage and garbage disposal.
A reclusive species referred to as a cragsheep has been spotted by aerial survey in the mountains defining the eastern border of the region that, based on photographic evidence, looks to be in the 100 kg range. The species itself follows the hexapedal body plan, but with the middle and forelimbs somewhat geared for grasping and climbing. The rear limbs and mid limbs allow the species to make impressive leaps, and it is native to the uplands and hilly regions. It is not known if it is an egg-laying or live birth reproductive animal, but given its size, it is assumed to be live birth. While the cragsheep is an herbivore, there appear to be no analogs to it native to the lower regions on the western side of the mountains.
A Sphinxian mammal that appears to be distantly related to the chipmunk, these creatures live in aquatic and swampy biomes, and are omnivorous, but eat predominantly vegetable matter. In length, they are approximately 50 centimeters long, and their dentition is what gives them their name, though their body plan is less streamlined than a terrestrial beaver’s. The near beaver does bring down trees—avoiding the rockwoods—to make dams and convert sloughs into ponds. Subspecies of near-beaver have been found in every biome on Sphinx that humans have visited to date, save for the tundra and ice cap regions.
The range bunny is the pseudomonotreme competitor for the niche occupied by the chipmunk; like the other Sphinxian pseudomonotremes it lays egg at the first rainy season, burrows, and hibernates on top of them throughout the winter. While not as active in the winter, and not as opportunistic, the range bunny is capable of fairly rapid population growth every spring, and is of some concern to the Royal Agricultural Services as a possible pest eating human food crops. Its range of diet includes most leafy plant structures, and it is not as tied to the picketwood biome as the chipmunk is. The range bunny is known for its two stage loping gait, and it relies on speed to get away from ground based predators. It naturally avoids the picket woods if it can, due to the threat of arboreal predators such as the condor owl.
The wood rat is prey species of the crown oak biome, and is roughly 2 kg in mass. They are distinctly arboreal, and resemble mammalian six legged skinks in some ways. They are full-year active placental in their reproductive strategy, though there are anomalous reports calling them marsupials. It is not entirely certain if they’re native to the Tannerman Gulf biome or are immigrants moving with the increased range of the crown oak; they bear roughly the same resemblance to Sphinxian chipmunks that Terrestrial rats do to Terrestrial chipmunks. The creatures will gnaw on wood to keep their incisors sharp, and have been known to do damage to lumber products used for human use. The water-seal compound used for terrestrial lumber appears to be a candy lacquer for them, though it also kills them due to enzymatic incompatibility and intestinal blockage.
The Tuskelope is a cold-weather adapted prey species, vaguely resembling a six-legged cross between a musk-ox and a boar; they stand anywhere from 1.3 to 1.8 meters high at the shoulder for an adult, with a peak weight of 350 kg. They have large tusks that they use to break up ice pack and to dig up roots. Their primary defense mechanism is to flee into scrub that larger predators cannot pursue into, and to turn tusks onto predators only when flight is not an option, or when faced with a predator that is taller than they are.
Tuskelope population densities are too low to support the hexapuma sightings in the Tannerman Gulf region. The best working hypothesis is that the hexapumas are recent interlopers, and the tuskelopes provided them with the calorie sources to spark a population boom, followed by a tuskelope population crash.
The condor owl would strike any native of Old Earth as a particularly egregious case of “name does not fit the physical description of the animal.” It was, however, originally named by a xenoiologist from the Hesier System, where the original names had already been applied to some very strange creatures. Needless to say, it does not, in fact, resemble either an Old Earth condor or an owl—or, for that matter, a bat or a flying squirrel, which it more closely resembles. The condor owl is a crepuscular gliding or flying predator that attempts to swoop and catch prey, then drop it on rocks from a great height. It is a hexapedal Sphinxian mammal, with the fore-limbs specialized into wings, and folds of skin that give additional gliding and lifting surface when the midlimbs are extended, with the back four limbs holding grasping talons. The eyes are very large and forward facing, and are the most owl-like of its features.
A typical condor owl has a body mass of under 6 kilograms and a total body length in excess of 150 centimeters, and a wingspan of nearly twice that. The hide is covered in down, and the animal lays eggs and estivates over them through the winter. The condor owl often hunts in social groups of six to eight, and they have been known to arrange rocks with the jagged points up to better finish off dropped prey, a precursor to tool usage that bears further investigation.
Hexapumas are the best indirect evidence that biomes have shifted recently. A hexapuma has a body length that can reach five meters in length, as much as half of that tail, and the largest specimens encountered have weighed 800 kilograms or more. Sphinxian Forest Service biologists class hexapumas as the native wildlife most dangerous to human inhabitants, in part because so little is known about them, save that they seem to have a shortage of prey animals, and have no compunctions about treating humans as a remedy to that problem.
What is currently known about hexapumas is that the range in size between (apparently) mature individuals is quite wide—in the Tannerman Gulf area, they routinely run 3.5 meters or longer in main body length, while closer to the equator, genetically related samples are as small as 2 meters long and half the body mass; it is thought that there is severe selection pressure on hexapumas to have smaller children to deal with a prey pattern shift to smaller prey animals; there are numerous adaptations on the hexapuma, ranging from the depth of its coat to its foot construction, that indicate it was originally adapted to a much colder climate.
The advisories on hexapumas are to avoid them if at all possible, and to notify the Sphinxian Forest Service immediately if one is sighted, or if scat or other indicators is known. In particular, the Sphinxian Forestry Service is interested in finding out what they eat, and how often they mate and where they raise their young.
One of the handful of bird analogues of the planet Sphinx, the mountain eagle may in fact be an oviparous mammal that has evolved quills that function nearly identically to feathers. They are true flyers, as opposed to the condor owl, and have only been seen at a distance; they have two pairs of wings that between them make a single lifting surface, and in their flight patterns, tend to be gliders. They appear to be carrion feeders or opportunist feeders. Due to the higher temperatures on the eastern side of the Copperwall Mountains, they are more common there, and the eastern edge of the Tannerman Gulf region appears to be the westernmost edge of their range.
The peak bear is found near the southern edge of the Tannerman Gulf area, and is native to the mountains forming that edge of the biome. Very little is known about the peak bear aside from the fact that it can locomote in a centauroid gait, and that it doesn’t seem to regard humans as much of a threat. It appears to be omnivorous, though the portion of its diet based off of plants versus prey animals is unknown at this time. Specimens that have been photographed have stood nearly 1.4 meters tall at the mid-hip, and 2 meters tall at the top of the head when in centauroid posture—overall body length has been in excess of 4 meters total. Peak bears may be the competing predator causing hexapumas to range farther north. While current land grants are more than 100 km away from the peak bear’s estimated range, it does represent a concern for the future expansion of human colonization.