|Wounds and Weapons
|Podge (Omnivore Gatherer)
|* Also injects venom causing dizziness followed by rapid paralysis
The Podge is a small viviparous monotreme found on Gehenna living in the old growth coastal rainforests. The animal is social and found in groups (‘clans’) ranging from 12-24 individuals, clustering in loose family groups of 3-6 individuals. Podges, as nearly all animals on Gehenna are, is venomous, though they are not usually a danger to humans unless cornered and/or frightened. They are, however, easy to care for as a pet and thrive in captivity, and enjoy human company. Having a bluntly pointed face with large round eyes and a smile along its small jaws makes them, along with the fur, very appealing as pets, too.
The Podge is a small, round mammal-like animal with puffy fur that is extremely soft, and likened to chinchilla in quality. Because of this fur, the Podge has commercial value on some worlds and their pelts are high-end luxury items. Wild-caught Podge fur is more highly sought after than farmed, since the colors, ranging from creamy white to layered browns, tend to be richer and the fur denser. Podges have a long (1m) tail that is brown colored, smooth-skinned without fur, and thin – about as thick as a pencil. The tip of the tail has a bright pink to white puffball that contains a razor sharp set of barbs. The six barbs have venom sacs at their base and inject small amounts of a paralytic toxin into the animal’s prey. If threatened or cornered, a Podge will slap its tail at the threat and barbs will inject their total venom load when they hit. The venom will cause near instant paralysis after a few seconds of dizziness and blurred vision. In humans, the paralysis can last for hours and there is no pain. If not treated with the specific anti-venom, though, it can (1 chance in six) cause a total paralysis of the respiratory system and result in death.
If a predator actually surprises the Podge and bites (or swipes at it) the predator will likely hit the puffball waving about above the Podge. The last third of the tail will detach once the barbs sink into the predator’s mouth or paw, and the Podge will run away. The tail and puffball will regrow within approx 4 weeks and the clan will protect the Podge during this time. The clan will also help feed the injured Podge as well.
Podges use their tails to help catch the insects and small animals they eat by holding the tail straight up and slowly waving the puffball so it mimics a flower in the breeze. Insects attracted to the puffball are lured down to within reach to the Podge’s snapping jaws or grasping paws when the Podge slowly lowers its tail. Small animals that the Podge eats are tempted by the puffball being popped around on the forest floor, or waved around the front of the prey’s burrow. When the prey animal gets close enough, the Podge slaps it with the tail and barbs inject their venom to paralyze the prey. Podges that have lost their tails to large predators are fed by uninjured Podges who lure insects to within reach of the tailless Podges. Uninjured Podges also bring them small animals they have lured out of burrows. This social behavior is also seen when older Podges teach the young how to hunt and lure prey in with their tails.
The favorite food of the Podge is the Nepenthe Moth. This fat and large (6cm long with a 50cm wingspan) moth produces a powerful narcotic that mixes with the dust on its wings. This narcotic produces an ecstatic dream-state in humans when they consume it that lasts for hours. Unfortunately, the side effect is that people who take the drug (by eating the moth) also develop an increasing loss of short-term memory, hence the source of the name for the moth. Podges suffer no ill effects from the toxin and will become frantic in their efforts to catch a Nepenthe Moth. The moth’s toxin is one of the ingredients of some Podge’s venom, however, and if not fed the moth a Podge’s venom will be far less potent. In captivity, a Podge will retain some venom toxicity, but it will be about as bad a bee sting so long as Nepenthe Moths are not provided as treats, nor any other toxic insects or berries from a long list. The list can be had from any dealer in pet-quality Podges.
The venom provides yet another commercial value for the Podge due to its anesthetic properties of achieving paralysis without pain. Pharmaceutical firms are known to raise Podge populations, feeding them with poison enhancing food in order to obtain it for pharmaceutical products (to the protests of ecologists and animal rights activists). Rumors suggest other, less legitimate uses being explored by the weapons sections of those same industries, but no proof has yet surfaced.
As a monotreme (similar to the Terran platypus and echidna), the Podge is mammal-like but has some reptilian attributes. They have glossy black scales covering their heads and feet. They are viviparous, but bear live young since the soft-shelled eggs hatch inside the mother. The mother then provides nutrition internally to the young while they finish development. When the young are born, they nurse from the mother for 6 weeks and are weaned to live food and berries. Podges reach sexual maturity in 8 months and have litters of 2-3 pups. Podges do not appear to mate for life, and there seems to be no interaction with the pups involving the males that fathered them – instead they are raised by the clan’s mature females in large nursery groups.
Podge vocalizations range from low ‘meeping’ sounds that act as comfort noises for the young to loud barks when an alarm is sounded. Podges make long, trilling chirps when they greet each other and when they play – tag seems to be the favorite. A Podge will race around the herd chirping and carom off the others, who then fall down and freeze until the Podge that is ‘it’ stops running. Then they jump back up, and one of them now becomes ‘it’ and repeats the process. Xeno-zoologists specializing in animal behavior have no idea why Podges do this, and sometimes this game can last for an hour or more, but since neighboring herds will intermingle during the game until all are involved so it must fulfill some ritualized social behavior.
Because the Podges make easy to care for and affectionate pets, albeit pets with a potentially dangerous stinger and defensive reflex when startled (or when chased into a corner by playful children), there are laws regulating their importation and ownership, commercial or private. Occasionally, these laws are challenged as cruel when they involve removal of the stinger, but the process does not appear to cause any discomfort to the animal. So long as food items known to enhance the Podge's venom to the paralytic and dangerous level are not fed to the animal, the venom will not be any more dangerous than a bee sting - however, since anaphylactic shock is more likely among humans the stinger is still dangerous.
After 4-5 removals, done every two months, the stinger will atrophy to merely a series of pointed bumps along the tip of the tail, and the Podge can no longer sting. Such domestic Podges are a source of controversy in Podge Showing, since only ‘intact’ animals are admitted into the competitions, but that average pet-quality Podge does not seem to miss the sting. The pet industries markets numerous toys and live food simulators to allow owners to feed their Podge in such a way as to allow the animal to use its natural predator strategy to ‘catch’ a moth or other small animal. If the Podge is startled and slaps a person on the arm or face with the de-venomed tail, it will only leave a small bruise.
On worlds with Law Levels of 5 or higher, domesticated Podges are required to have their puffball/stinger removed by a licensed veterinarian on a set schedule (before the venom is produced). Failure to do so will result in the Permit for Possession being revoked, and the Podge confiscated. The only exceptions are issued on a case-by-case basis for zoos, medical facilities (usually involved in production of anti-venom or research), for “guard Podges” leased by licensed private security firms, or for governmental organizations.
On worlds with LL of 2-4, owners of Podges are required to post a warning at all entrances to premises where venomous Podges are kept. Owners of venomous Podges are usually held liable by civil law for medical treatment/damages caused by their venom, unless a person engaged in criminal activity at the time suffered the injury.
On worlds with LL of 1 or lower, ownership of venomous Podges is unrestricted.