Каминяр Дмитрий Генаддьевич: другие произведения.

I. Akimushkin. The world is inhabited by armadillos

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  The world is inhabited by armadillos
  The armour was not invented by knights: a milliard year before iron-clad warriors began to ride through Europe"s dusty streets, nature had already dressed many of her children into strong armour. Albeit made not from steel, but from limestone, flint, bone, horn and even "sugar". For the chitin, which makes the armours of crayfish, spiders and insects - it is a polysaccharide, i.e. a substance made from many molecules of a simple sugar, like the glucose (but with nitrogen!) More than 90 percent of all animal species are dressed in more or less strong armour.
  There is not a one big zoological group that doesn"t have its armadillos. Only the birds - they do need to fly - never wore armour. All others - from single-celled amoebas to mammals - have their knights.
  The art of armoursmithing reached its peak in the XV century. By then, all that elegant and finely made iron plate that a knight put onto himself - all of those shoulder-guards, knee-guards, elbow-guards, mittens, helmets, cuirasses, face-guards - weighted... 60, or even 80 kilograms! At that all of these iron pieces were so finely adjusted to each other, so that the warrior encased in the steel sheath did not just walk and sat in the saddle, but also swung a sword. Still, if he would fall off a horse, then he would not be able to climb onto it again without help.
  But look at a crayfish: its armour - a copy of a knight's. Just as cleverly and finely adjusted to each other shield-plates. And even a cuirass on the chest! And how long ago was it invented - almost a milliard of years ago. Of course, at first the crayfish"s ancestors-the trilobites had somewhat simpler armour than the lobsters or spiny lobsters, but it still was.
  Those crayfish, which have a soft shell - like, for example, on the abdomen of a hermit crab - they hide in another's armour: in the shells of the molluscs. There is an entire family of crabs with soft armour. These are so-called shell crabs. The bigger part of their lives is spent in the molluscs' shells: not in empty ones, like the hermit crabs, but they get into the homes of live molluscs! And they live with the molluscs under one roof. As it grows, the crab moves to live into another shell that is bigger. It doesn't dare to live unarmoured outside a castle.
  If we from crayfish and crabs begin to go up through the family tree of the animal kingdom, then on the way to the insects we meet odd multi-legged creatures that are tied to a moralizing legend. On one of the Indonesian islands - Sumatra - lived an old woman. Once she asked her granddaughter to make her breakfast. The granddaughter made it and ate the breakfast herself. Grandma asks: "Is it ready?" - "Belum" ("Not yet") - granddaughter answers. Many more times did the grandmother asked and always heard in reply: "Belum".
  And so even now cries the granddaughter who had fled into the jungle from shame: "Belum! Belum!" People, who come to the jungles of Sumatra, who don"t know anything about the legend, think that that's a song of some bird. But the singer is not a bird, but a millipede that looks from the distance like a tortoise. Its armour - the invertebrate itself is the size of a child's palm - is hinged, like on a crayfish's tail, and therefore it can curl into a ball, like an armadillo.
  All armadillos live in Americas: mostly in the South, only one specie - on the south of the North. They eat insects, berries and roots. The biggest specie - reaches a length over a meter, the smallest - only 15-18 centimetres. The armour of armadillos resembles chainmail. The rings for the chains are plentiful - up to twenty, all lying perpendicularly across the body. They cover only the back and the sides; the belly is covered only by hair. But the snout, as well as the tail, are protected by extra shielding. It is usually thought that the armadillos, like the hedgehogs, can curl into balls, hiding inside the vulnerable belly. In reality only two closely related species that live in Brazil can do that. They are the three-ringed armadillos and when they curl up, they resemble cannonballs with singular openings via which an enemy could get inside, but even that is blocked by the head with a strong shield on the forehead that is put to the front.
  Giant armadillos do not particularly rely on their armour. Therefore when they notice an enemy they immediately hide behind "earth-work barricades" - very quickly they bury themselves un-derground. One of them so desperately worked its clawed paws that within a minute it burst through an asphalt road and buried down under it.
  The pangolins' armour resembles scaly mail. All of a pangolin's plates fall onto one another like scales on a fir cone. At first it was thought that this was "matted" hair. But after examining the pangolins' scales more attentively, it was established that they are made more like fingernails than hair-mats. Being armour-clad, the pangolins nonetheless are agile climbers of trees, can reach into tree holes and under fallen trees: everywhere they search for ants and termites - their favourite foods. They quickly lick these insects up with their cord-long and sticky tongues. We already know that these animals are also famous by their surrogate teeth located in their stomachs. They are two barbed plates of horn that grind against each other like millstones.
  Armadillos and pangolins - these are mammals. We came to them passing fish and reptiles, almost all of which are clad in more or less strong armour - scaly or in a single "plate", as in the case of the tortoise.
  The mammals - the most modern of animals - prefer to trust their speedy legs, their agility and their cunning. Armour is unfashionable among them. Only the twenty species of armadillos and seven pangolins have inherited the horny armour from their Mesozoic ancestors.
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