Spiny-tailed Ghahonky

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Spiny-Tailed Ghahonky
The adult spiny-tailed ghahonky, (Spinustes religiosa) is a small, predominately flightless rat-like mammal that typically weighs less than eight pounds and which is not usually known to disembowel babies. It usually has a thick layer of silvery grey fur, rarely red or black. On its head the male usually has two small antlers, which rarely grow more than four inches long and which are used by males to fight during the mating season. The animal has five toes on each foot, except when there are less or more, and on the end of each digit is a long claw used to climb the redwood trees in which it lives. It has ears and uses these ears to shield it's face from the venom of spitting cobras. Unlike any other mammal, the ghahonky is capable of digging holes in soft soil and making noises on occasion through either its mouth or its nose. Also unusual for a mammal is the spiny-tailed ghahonky's second brain, which is located in it's hips and which controls it's rear legs and it's thumbs.

The spiny-tailed ghahonky also has a tail. Contrary to its name, the tail is not particularly spiny but is actually quite smooth, like velvet, and delicate enough to slice with a spoon. Unfortunately, the spiny-tailed ghahonky does have a very rough, spiny tongue, which it uses to groom itself. The animal likes to taste where it has been, so the tongue is sometimes dragged along behind the animal as it walks, resembling a tail, and this is likely how the confusion began.

edit Habitat

The spiny tailed ghahonky has an extremely limited natural range - it only lives in the redwood forests of the Gulf coast. It shares this habitat with the infamous Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus, it's main predator, and the mink, which eats it's babies on occasion but for the most part stays on the forest floor, out of the way of the adult ghahonky, which lives in the treetops and only comes down at night to feed.

The spiny-tailed ghahonky makes a new nest out of pine needles, bark, and it's own feces each night, never using it more than once. These nests provide shelter for scores of other animals, including squirrels, abalones, owls, porcupines, and red-rumped tree antelopes, as well as the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus, which often raises it's young in the nests abandoned by ghahonkies.

In very unique circumstances spiny-tailed ghahonkies have been recorded over 500 miles from their native habitat swimming out to sea. While little studied, it is believed that ghahonkies are semi-migratory, some individuals swimming aimlessly out to sea when food in the forest becomes scarce.

edit Diet

Spiny-tailed Ghahonkies

Two female ghahonkies feeding on fern fronds in a Pacific northwest parking lot.

The spiny-tailed ghahonky is unfortunate in that it lives in an area where little food exists, for while the redwood forests of California are rich in plant life, these trees are quite inedible and thus the only sources of food for most animals are pine cones and the small mammals that feed on them. However, the spiny-tailed ghahonky has developed a marvelous adaptation to survive there - it can digest the normally toxic leaves of the hug-of-instantaneous-death fern, a small non-flowering plant that grows in profusion on the forest floor and which causes instantaneous death in all other animals. Thus, the ghahonky can live in the forest the year round.

If available, the spiny-tailed ghahonky will also eat the leaves of most other toxic fern species and a very select few other plants, most notably many mushrooms and poison sumac.

edit Reproduction

The spiny-tailed ghahonky, though it may live for over fifteen years, does not breed until it is at least six years old. After that, they may have up to twelve litters annually for the remainder of their life, each litter having up to to twenty babies. Fortunately, the mother ghahonky's diet is especially toxic, and thus the milk is oftentimes carcinogenic. Because of this a female ghahonky is exceptional if she raises two babies in her lifetime.

Courtship in the ghahonky is little studied and thus not much is known about it. Reportedly, the male ghahonky inflates his breast like a brilliant orange balloon and honks loudly five times to seduce the female into copulating. Invariably the female is persuaded to mate and the two may do so up to 54 times an hour for seven weeks.

The ghahonky then lays one small blue egg each day for twenty days and incubates them. The mother carefully maintains an even temperature in the eggs by periodically licking, urinating, and turning the eggs to keep them at a steady 165 degrees. If the eggs are kept below 150 the babies will be horribly disfigured or will not hatch at all. Eventually, the babies start to hatch, one each day for twenty days. This means the oldest baby is 19 days older than it's youngest sibling. Due to their wide age gap, the first three or four siblings to be born usually kill and eat their less developed brethren.

After feasting on flesh for several weeks, the remaining young graduate to mother's milk, offered by the mother twice each day. The young grow very slowly on this nutritionally lacking and slightly poisonous diet, which usually kills no more than half of each litter by the time they are weaned.

After nine months of doting care, the mother grows tired of her young. She then discards them out of the nest like used napkins and the babies are sent hurtling hundreds of feet to the ground. Usually, they are killed by the impact of their heads against rocks, but occasionally some may land on a soft bed of moss and survive unharmed. If so, they disperse into the undergrowth, where they spend the next six years of their lives.

edit The Juvenile Ghahonky

After weaning, young Ghahonkies remain on the forest floor for up to six years. During this time, only one out of every twenty will survive. It is dangerous on the forest floor, and young ghahonkies, only as big as ducklings, have multitudes of predators, most notably velociraptors, wild boar and octopus.

The young do little more for these six years than nibble the fronds of certain ferns, hide under things, and poop. Eventually, if they are not eviscerated by dinosaurs or crunched up by hogs, they reach sexual maturity and climb into the canopy, where they will spend most of their adult lives. At this point they are fast enough to evade almost all predators except for the Southern Semi-Miniature Banded Flamethrowing Swamp Deer, the Venezuelen trench-dwelling moose and the osprey.

edit The Spiny-tailed Ghahonky's Uncertain Future

While useless for food, clothing, milk or eggs, the spiny tailed ghahonky is nevertheless a prime victim of deforestation. As five-hundred thousand acres of it's forest home are cleared every four hours, it is only a matter of time before we think of the spiny-tailed ghahonky as we do the dodo, the land dolphin or the apatosaurus. Current estimates seem to show that in less than four weeks, the spiny-tailed ghahonky will be extinct. Luckily, this doesn't really seem to interfere with the animal too much and many individuals already afflicted by extinction appear to get around just as well as non-extinct ones. Thus, we can hope that the spiny-tailed ghahonky will be able to hang on, even through it's own demise.

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