Monday, 28 July 2008

The Great Wormtown Spade Disaster (Part 2)

Wormtown is about to face a natural disaster of sorts, although of course the reader will know better than the worms do! A huge shovel crashes through Wormtown, scoops a huge chunk out of it, and throws the chunk into a neighbouring field. Quite a sight, if one had eyes. The surprised Worms within this temporarily-airborne piece of home are fairly resilient creatures and survive the unceremonious landing with only a few fatalities. They quickly abandon the collapsed ruins of their part of Wormtown (it has now become aerated and quite uncomfortably cold) and burrow into the new field to found the community of Farland. Back in the old field, the survivors of the Great Wormtown Spade Disaster proceed to put their lives, such as they are, back together.
The day that Farland is founded, the populations of Farland and Wormtown are quite similar in size and composition. Although the Sharpies have a harder time escaping underground during the foundation of Farland, none-the-less roughly one in ten worms is still a Sharpie. This state of affairs won’t last for long though, because things in Farland are different. The Worms aren’t in Kansas anymore (or Wormtown for that matter).
Farland is a hostile land. Foods are in short supply, and a strange local kind of Foods called Fast Foods are more common but are often too quick to catch. Fast foods make life a lot tougher for the Farland Sharpies. Also, Eaters are more numerous here, and more aggressive, something which makes life very very difficult for the Farland Smoothies, who quickly find themselves being gobbled up by the hundreds. Within a few years it becomes clear that one of these two great pressures of life outweighs the other. The Smoothies of Farland are extinct because of the Eaters. The Sharpies struggle on, though their numbers are limited from generation to generation. It’s not the Eaters that are making life difficult for the Sharpies though, as the Eaters find the Farland Sharpies rather unpleasant to consume due to their pointy texture. No, what troubles the Sharpies is the shortage of Foods. Just as it seems the new community will never reach the heights of the long-forgotten and now mythical Wormtown, a child is born to an unassuming Sharpie.
The child is called Flash, because the muscles around his sharp graspers are larger and stronger than most Sharpies, allowing him to get over the Sharpie movement impediment and move quickly. Flash does very well in Farland. He finds that his speed allows him to eat the elusive Fast Foods. He still has his Sharpie features too and so Eaters avoid him. Flash easily finds several mates and has plenty of kids. Just like his distant ancestor Sharpie, Flash’s kids are a mixture of normal Sharpies and a smaller number of little Flashes. As the years pass, the Sharpies and Flashes mate with each other, but with each generation, the numbers of purebred Sharpies becomes less and less as the Flashes as Foods tend to get snapped up by the quicker Worms. The purebred Sharpies, who once struggled but survived in Farland, become extinct just as the Farland Smoothies before them.
The Flashes of Farland thrive. Their kingdom spreads widely. Just like Sharpie and Flash before them, special kids are sometimes born. Not all of them do so well. Some die before they can have kids. Others have kids who find themselves beaten in the race for food or gobbled by Eaters. But some survive to bring great changes to the Farlanders.
The Farlander civilisation spreads so far that they one day encounter a strange new kind of animal in a distant land. Not small like Foods or big like Eaters, they have found the Fast Smoothies. The Fast Smoothies are descendants of the Smoothies who stayed behind in Wormtown. In the great many years since the Shovel came they spread out into the lands between Wormtown and Farland. Just like the Flashes, they became faster to catch the local Fast Foods they encountered and now they have found their long lost brethren. The Fast Smoothies have long since out bred the old Wormtown Sharpies and Smoothies because they could eat even more of the Foods of Wormtown. So much has changed that the Farlanders and Wormtowners wouldn’t recognise each other any longer. The bulky, spiky Flashes of Farland only vaguely resemble the lithe Fast Smoothies of Wormtown. And the more adventurous of them find that interbreeding produces no young.
And so the lands between Farland and Wormtown (which the locals would call Fencepost, if they were able) come to support a mixture of both communities, a balance which prevails for many years. But the Flashes and the Fast Smoothies never successfully interbreed. They have become different species, all thanks to strange Worms like Sharpie and Flash, and an even stranger phenomenon called The Shovel.

To learn more: Google these terms: Introduction to Evolution, Speciation, Mutation, Genetic Drift, Natural Selection, Habitat Fragmentation, Peripatric Speciation.

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