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"Exquisite Beast" Evolution Fanart

Earlier today I hosted a livestream inspired by Exquisite Beast, a great evolution-themed blog by my friends Evan Dahm and Yuko Ota.  It’s an evolutionary progression where each week they further the development of this imaginary creature’s lineage over millions of years.  In the stream I took two of the iterations, and from there drew evolutionary offshoots based on environments and ecological niches suggested by the audience. 

Here’s the first one, by Yuko:

The bottom mouth-appendages are becoming more like arms, and covered in cilia for manipulation.  At the same time, the bottom tail growths at the back are possibly becoming more like weight-bearing appendages.  The tails are becoming fan-like, likely as a sort of signal or display.

From here, the audience suggested a tropical arboreal incarnation, so I put together what I thought that might look like in a few million years’ time:

This is a creature that spends its entire life up in the trees, eating mostly plants and the occasional small animal. The limbs have elongated and become much stronger, with the front appendages adapting very well for curling around tree limbs. The toes of the back legs have become thin and pointy to ward off any predators coming from underneath, and the back “fins” now act as a balancer for when the creature scampers along branches, as its actual tail is too large and thick to function the way it would for a monkey. The eye stalks are still flexible, but tuck forward when swinging through the trees.

The next, still based on Yuko’s design above, went a very different direction with an apex predator in a steppes-like environment:

For a social pack hunter, I took the basic shape and increased the size dramatically and lengthened the hind limbs. The top “tentacles” have now hardened to become a kind of upper skull (perhaps used to butt heads with rivals), with an opening at top that functions as a nose. The eye stalks tuck under the “skull,” and the bottom tentacles now form a pair of flexible jaws useful in grabbing and digesting prey. The back fins have grown in size as well and can expand for sexual or territorial display. Given the flat, open environment, this predator has no use for camouflage.

The next iteration is Evan’s:

This one’s gone pretty far. Upper mouth-appendages are small and more neatly cover the mouth. Lower back-appendages are thickened, almost false legs. Extensions on back appendages have become long and narrow, and are extended in threat display

One evolutionary path from here, again suggested by the audience, was a grassland herbivore:

I brought the front “torso” forward to make a large, powerful head that did not need to turn much (because of the advantageous eye stalks. Here is a creature that can browse at leisure, using its bottom tentacles to pick up food to be chewed by its top tentacles, which act as a grinding apparatus. The back tail fins have grown to allow identification of others of its kind through the tall grass. Also, because it possesses no horns or a moving neck, I’ve given it a row of sharp bony blades down the side of its body to discourage predators.

The other direction was an intelligent, arctic mountain-dweller:

I kept most of the lower body the same and just made it thicker and stockier, like a grizzly bear. This creature has to endure harsh winters at high altitudes without any hair or external insulation, so it needs a ton of body mass. It also needs to have a reduced body surface area, so the spindly eye stalks and back fins have been shortened to fit a more arctic environment. The front toes are stubbier with the exception of one hooked claw, used to dig through the snow for small fungus meals. I’ve also added a forebrow, not so much to allow for a larger brain but to protect the eyes from the elements and reflected sunlight. The beak has become smaller and softer to allow for speech, with the mouth opening much smaller to conserve heat. The spines on the eye stalks have been preserved on the sides of the head and are used for communication. I also didn’t change the arms much because they facilitated toolmaking, though (unlike the legs) they are boneless are still function more like tentacles than hominoid arms. And the back fins, while small, now serve as a marker when these creatures have to march, single file, through heavy blizzards.

So there’s that. Hope you liked it! And if you’re into this sort of thing, you should definitely check out Exquisite Beast!

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