Baittail Soopchovy

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With the rise of new, well-equipped predators, it was inevitable that their prey would soon adapt to their presence. From a population of pelagic Ripplets came the Baittail Soopchovies - soopyfauna which have taken their gregarious habits a couple of steps further as they gorge on plentiful plankton.

The Baittail Soopchovy is similar to the ancestral pelagic Ripplet in a few regards. For much of its life, it wallows in dense plankton blooms with hundreds, even thousands of conspecifics. Much of the distinct adaptations of those Ripplets are also retained, albeit modified to better suit this descendant. Vascularized gills now pump in oxygenated water to better fuel its more active lifestyle, while wastewater is still pumped out via expulsory pores and hemooranganin blood ferries nutrients and gases alike as facilitated by a pumping heart. Powerful muscles attaching to a cartilaginous endoskeleton enable it to gain good speed while swimming while also providing structural integrity. Its eyes are keen to moving shapes and color, as the sensory acuity is much appreciated in such an open environment.

Adapted for speed and mobility, the Baittail Soopchovy’s fins are quite distinct. Paralleling the related Snipplet, a few of its fins have become more robust with sturdy cartilaginous bundled-rays; the sets of six lateral fins assist the soopyichthid in directionality, while the blade-like dorsal and anal fins aid in stabilization. Propulsion is handled by a furcate caudal fin, well-shaped for displacing water and, combined with the fauna’s bullet-shaped form, it’s easy for it to attain considerable speeds.

Baittail Soopchovies school in vast numbers, taking good advantage of the seasonal nutrient boons and the plankton these bring with; however, their arrival also attracts hungry predators like Snipplets and Paintface Swarks. It is during such instances why they’re referred to as Baittails - tightly grouping together into baitballs, these soopyichthids circle each other in a frantic sequence… and bare a frightening display of multitudinous monstrous gazes! This is achieved thanks to a collection of chromatophores centralized on the Baittail Soopchovy’s tail; while normally sporting the same uniform slate-silver countershading as the rest of the fauna, under threat this rapidly turns a variety of alarming colors - golds, ambers, and tomato reds - all arranged in a composition reminiscent of a nondescript larger predator staring its foes down, with a smattering of black to delineate pattern contrast and add to the illusion.

During particularly bounteous conditions, many Baittail Soopchovies gather to spawn. Gametes are deposited into the water column, conjugate genetic material, and become fertile eggs. A single pair may produce hundreds of thousands of eggs, hatching into planktonic larvae of which only an exceptional few survive to adulthood; this makes the Baittail Soopchovy an r-strategist. Also worth noting is that among some populations, the color-changing tail displays can also be used by some soopchovies to signal genetic fitness; it is likely that, with due time, these aberrants would diverge into a genetically distinct species.

Figure of the tail chromatophores bearing a vivid warning display.