(This entry is the third part of a continuing quasi-scientific investigation into the nature of Azeroth, the world better known as “of Warcraft”. Here we move on from geophysics to study the local ecology. Part 1 and Part 2 of the series are still online.)
The ecology of Azeroth is perplexing. In addition to the most populous group of what we call the ‘PC races’ (humans, night elves, dwarves, gnomes, draenai, orcs, trolls, tauren, blood elves) there are at least twenty other humanoid, sentient or semi-sentient races (goblins, yeti, quilboar, satyrs, gnolls, harpies, furbolg, murlocs, owlbeasts, various species of giants, centaurs, dryads, earthen, kobolds, nagas, troggs, tuskarr, ancients, pandaren, those ugly bastards from the Badlands, et al) all of which seem to have followed distinct evolutionary trees.
In addition there is a dazzling diversity of other large species: more than two hundred of them. This is an extraordinary number for an area as small as Azeroth, which as noted in Part 1 has a landmass of 113 square kilometres (the Galapagos Islands, which has a landmass of 7880 square kilometres, supports only 22 native species of reptiles, 29 species of birds and six species of mammals). Even odder is that almost all of the species that run wild in Azeroth display traits that mark them as natural predators, which is to say meat-eaters. This will be explored later.
Animals in Azeroth are fiercely territorial, and many never move more than twenty metres from where they spawned. Some will pursue a perceived predator (i.e. a member of the PC races) for some distance, but will return to their regular turf as soon as the interloper has been chased away.
Myopia appears to be endemic in almost all the species of Azeroth, as well as deafness and apathy. It is possible to shout, leap up and down, fire guns and even fight and kill a member of a species less than twenty metres in front of one of its fellows without the other reacting at all, or even appearing to notice, even when it walks over the corpse of its fellow a few seconds later.
It is unclear why the different species have evolved to fill certain ecological niches. There are large numbers of predators in a geographically small area empty of prey animals, herd animals that do not form herds, scavengers in areas empty of carrion, and so on. There is no sign of an orthodox food-chain: neither herbivores nor carnivores have ever been observed to eat anything. The predators and carnivores do not typically attack each other, or the large herbivores. The herbivores do not graze. Scavengers do not feed on corpses. Nothing ever drinks at streams, ponds or moonwells.
There are only three possible conclusions we can draw from this. Firstly, either the creatures of Azeroth with the exception of the PC races and their pets do not need to eat or drink (in fact the PC races and their pets do not need to eat and drink either, they only do so for recreation or to speed recovery from wounds). Secondly the creatures may be very shy and only eat when there are no observers around, but the lack of observers makes this impossible to verify (this paradoxical theory is known as Schrodinger’s Kitkat). Or thirdly, they are acquiring sustenance by another means.
This last option is more likely than it sounds at first. We have already observed in part 2 of this series that the atmosphere of Azeroth is thicker than our own, and seems to contain minute particles that obscure animals and objects from being seen at a distance. We propose that these particles are a variety of micro-organisms, types of airborne plankton that have evolved a symbiotic relationship with the rest of Azeroth’s animal (and plant and elemental and daemonic) life. This works as follows:
- Animals derive nutrition and hydration by inhaling the plankton in the air around them.
- When a host animal dies, the plankton strip its carcass in a matter of minutes, leaving nothing behind, not even the bones. The skins of creatures on Azeroth appear to act as a defence against the attacks of these plankton: when a carcass’s skin is removed the remaining flesh and bones disappear almost immediately—devoured with ferocious speed by the airborne plankton.
It would be easy to prove the theory by dissecting the corpse of almost any of these creatures, to observe whether its digestive system contains any solid food or has adapted to filter, process, digest and defend its innards from these micro-organisms. However, because of the very action of these micro-organisms on corpses, this has so far proved impossible. We remain optimistic.
This hypothesis also explains one of Azeroth’s more curious visual tricks: the way that creatures will fade into and out of view a short distance from the observer. If the airborne plankton are not uniformly spread through the atmosphere but congregate around their symbiotic companions, then they will hide the creature from sight until an observer is really quite close but, being microscopic, they are not detectable themselves. Creatures that can use a ‘stealth’ form do so by increasing the density of micro-organisms in the air around them, hiding themselves from view.
The presence of ‘wind’ in only a few of Azeroth’s regions can also be explained by the airborne plankton theory. Wind seems endemic to desert regions (Tanaris, Badlands, Silithus), and obscures vision by whipping dust into the air. However, as we have seen in part 1, the dust of Azeroth is far too heavy to be lifted into the air by air currents. Therefore we theorise that the deserts are the breeding-grounds of the aeroplankton, and what appears to be a duststorm is in fact the local microfauna in a frenzy of activity. This may be a mating-frenzy. As with so much, Azeroth lacks the proper tools for an in-depth analysis, it is difficult to bring samples away from the world, and besides amoeba-porn isn’t really our thing.
It is notable that one group of creatures are not subject to the effects of these micro-organisms on their corpses. When a member of that subgroup of intelligent humanoids we call the ‘PC races’ dies their corpse will remain whole for hours and sometimes days, and after the flesh has been removed then the skeleton stays whole and visible for some time. Apart from PCs, the only species whose bones are ever exposed to the air without immediately disintegrating are those of huge and possibly long-extinct beasts whose remains can be found in Tanaris, Desolace, Un’Goro and other areas. One can hypothesise, therefore, that the PC races are not originally native to Azeroth, but are recent arrivals whose bodies are not properly attuned to the local ecology. This explains a number of things, including the way the rest of Azeroth’s ecosystem regards them.
I said above that the creatures of Azeroth are almost never seen to attack each other. However, there is one group of species that the majority of creatures will attack on sight: members of the PC races. The reason for this intense (and, it must be said, usually mutual) bloodlust is not clear, but is clearly more important to them than any other normal biological urge including self-preservation. Apart from this, Azeroth is a haven of interspecies harmony and tranquility.
The creatures of Azeroth do not follow any recognised behaviour in matters of mating and reproduction, and in fact in most species there is no clear difference between males and females. Mating is never observed. While some species nest and produce eggs, and a few of them even hatch, these are rarely the same species in which young are observed in the wild.
Instead, the creatures of Azeroth have a bizarre way of… one cannot call it ‘reproducing’, but it’s the closest thing they have. When a member of a species dies (for which read ‘is killed’, as this is the only way that 99% of Azerothian creatures can die: members of the PC races can also die by falling long distances or drowning, and there is a kodo graveyard in Desolace though no kodo has ever been seen to die there of natural causes), a few minutes later an almost identical creature at an identical level of maturity appears, phoenix-like, in almost the same spot.
This bizarre occurrence can be explained by an observable process when a member of the PC races dies. At this point their spirit reappears at the nearest graveyard, and must journey back to where their corpse lies before it can resurrect itself. It seems reasonable to assume the same process happens every time one of the non-PC creatures dies: their spirit is transported to a graveyard and must travel back to where it died before it ‘re-spawns’. By this time, of course, the local airborne micro-plankton has already dealt with its corpse. The process by which it acquires an entirely new body in a matter of seconds is not clear at this time.
So far we have explained a number of the strange individual behaviours of Azerothian fauna, but have failed to tie those explanations together into an overall theory of life on Azeroth. We do have such a theory, but it is so startling in its nature that it deserves a part of its own.