Flora and Fauna

On Day 6, we talked about races in your world. For many, these races will be variants of the same species (human). However, you might also have multiple sapient species co-existing on the same planet, much like Tolkein envisioned the elves, hobbits, dwarves and humans sharing an environment.

Today, we'll focus on the other living creatures on your planet-- the non-sapient animals (fauna) and plants (flora). [Obviously, if you have sapient plants, you need to develop them the same way you developed your other races in Day 6.]

Take a look at your world again. Now, obviously cataloging every species on your planet is just going to be an exercise in tedium and frustration. So, focus on the big stuff, and add things as you go along.


Fill in the following lists.

For flora:

What plants are especially helpful to your society? Hemp and flax, for instance, are plants that provide important sources of non-animal fibers for making clothes, rope, and other materials. Are there similar crucial plants in your own world?

What are your peoples' main crops? This will vary by region, but will likely be some type of grain or starch vegetable. Not only do humans need a certain amount of carbs to survive, but many work animals (horses, mules, oxen) thrive on grain rather than raw vegetable matter.

What are considered delicacies? Just as strawberries are a real treat to some regions, and oranges were once a traditional and very coveted Christmas gift, sweet fruits and hard-to-grow crops can be very valuable to your people.

What fruits and vegetables can be turned into liquor or other drugs and medicines? Did you know that grapes contain enough yeast on the surface of their skins to ferment naturally? It doesn't make very good wine, but it will make wine, if left alone long enough. Asprin is derived from willow trees, and sassafrass tea has a calming effect. Humans have been turning plants into booze and drugs since the Neolithic Revolution. What do your people use to kill pain, put patients to sleep, become intoxicated, or get high?

What plants are dangerous? Hand-in-hand with the drugs and medicines question comes the poisonous and predatory plant question. Poisonous plants are plants with a passive defense-- they do not necessarily kill creatures because they need to, but rather because they are protecting their own biological imperative. Also, many plants are poisonous to one species, but fine for another; onions (a blood thinner) are fine for humans but can kill a small dog. In addition to passive defenses, there are some plants that are "predatory." They lure animals (usually insects) to them and kill them, with the eventual goal of composting the dead bodies into plant nutrients. On Earth, most predatory plants are in swamps, where soil nutrients are poor and airborne insects are plentiful. Do you have predatory plants on your world? Where are they, and do they only prey upon small insects, or do they pose a possible hazard to people as well?

For fauna

What animals are especially helpful to your world? In addition to domestication species, you may find that one species of animal is actually very helpful to your people, perhaps by preying on some other creature that is a nuisance or hazard to people. Even if domesticated, felines could be used in a pre-technological society to control a rat population that might otherwise spread disease.

On a similar vein, what animals have your people domesticated? Humans on Earth have domesticated a large variety of herd animals (horses, cows, sheep, goats, donkeys, llamas), several species of birds, and a few predatory animals (dogs and cats in particular). For the most part, we use the herd animals for work (horses and llamas) or food (cows and sheep), and the predatory animals for work or defense (dogs can be both working animals, in sled dogs and hunting dogs, or defensive animals, in herd dogs and guard dogs, while cats are largely defensive as hunters against pest animals).

Which of your fauna are used for food? Domesticated animals might be used for food, but wild animals may also be food sources in the form of game. In addition, if you have meat-eating domesticated animals, what do they eat, and do your people raise food animals for their domesticated meat-eaters?

Food animals also lead into the question of delicacies and exotics. One man's food is another man's abomination. Few Americans would ever consider eating any meat from another primate, yet in African countries it is not uncommon. The recent fiasco in New York City over cuy, a type of guinea pig meat eaten in Central America, highlighted the conflicts in different cultures' food choices.

What kinds of animals are used in medical or drug development? Although rare on Earth, some animals do have medicinal or mind-altering effects. Certain frogs excrete hallucinogenic toxins, and most antidotes are developed using the same venom or poison they counteract. Most recently, an advance in medical science uses products from shellfish to cause instantaneous clotting in humans, resulting in the development of a bandage that instantly clots a wound, halting blood loss, a major cause of death in traumatic injuries. These simple-to-use bandages are being used in the military today, cost $100 apiece, and will likely make it into hospitals and possibly home first aid kits in the next few years. On a more common level, musk from animals is used frequently in the development of colognes and perfumes, slightly mood-altering when worn in moderation.

Finally, which animals are dangerous in your world? Which ones are actively predatory, and would consider your people as "meat" if given the opportunity or enough desperation? Dingos will not usually attack humans, but will perceive small humans as a possible food source if they are desparate (because of famine or habitation encroachment). Which animals are not active predators, but have passive defenses that pose a threat to your world's inhabitants? Snakes on Earth are not considered predators for humans-- they are too small to swallow humans whole, and therefore will not generally bother. However, they pose a threat with their defenses because, if they feel they are threatened, they will bite, sometimes injecting painful or even lethal venom into their victims. Steve Irwin has made a living handling these kinds of animals because he knows how to approach them without inciting their passive defenses.

In short, spend fifteen minutes or so sketching out some of the animals and plants your characters might encounter in your world. If you want to add a little fun, toss around some plot hook ideas while you're at it-- an unfortunate bite from a poisonous beetle can really throw a wrench in the Hero's Quest, and an unruly beast of burden might give some comic relief to your storyline.

Reader Comments:

Angrysunbird Posted on: 2004/10/22 10:43

If I may just offer some extra advice, take a look at some of the world's less well known species for domsticated animals. Instead of a cat, why not have a ringtail (a racoon like relative from the Southwest) or a gennet, an African cat-like rodent hunter that was domseticated by the Romans for hunting rodents. Do your people live in tundra? Maybe they domesticated musk ox instead of caribou. Or they farm hippos in Africa (this has been proposed as they are the most efficient converters of greenery into flesh of any African animal). Why not have your riders mounted on red deer or elk? Or powerful antelope?

Feel free to raid the world of extinct animals too, there are some real beauts out there, including beavers as big as hippos, giant ground sloths, giant birds etc etc.