Torpid Slivers #12

Of the hoofed filter feeders that roam the shores of the Black Sea, none has greater majesty than the Baleen Gazelle (G. gazella edentulata). Neither a denizen of the air nor of the waves that crash against the reefs, its dominion is over the jagged rocks of the Euxinovan coast, where it deploys its absolute sureness of foot, assuming the aspect of a magnificent sculpture while grazing.

While the term “air plankton” is a loose one, it helpfully comprises those species inhabiting the airborne pelagic vapors in turbulent reef areas. Many pass into new stages of their life cycles by means of release from a wave’s spume. None can survive further inland. A meticulous herbivore, the baleen gazelle selects only the flora, or phytoplankton, for ingestion, expelling all fauna (zooplankton) — many of which can live through the ordeal.

To graze effectively, a baleen gazelle finds a place on the rocks not far above the surging tide, becomes very still as though frozen (a curious sight in itself), then simultaneously widens its throat and parts its mandibles. The large and intricately furrowed tongue caresses the mouth-plates of the upper jaw, extracting the desired nourishment from the thread-like fringes. The residue departs with the next exhalation.

Whenever possible, they graze in pairs, feeding in turns. Should a threat appear — such as an increased violence in the waves, or an eagle hungry enough to bother with larger prey — the one not feeding locks horns with its companion, initiating a swift retreat. From this, naturalists infer an impairment of a baleen gazelle’s senses for the duration of its repast. Likely its mental faculties give way to sheer instinct as the mouthparts perform the complicated siftings.

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