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At a glance, spine lizards look similar to Terran crocodiles, with the addition a fin-like frill that starts at the back of the head and terminates just in front of the pelvis. This frill can be held erect or flattened, and is used for heat regulation and communication. Spine lizards are somewhat slimmer and leaner than a Terran crocodile, and have longer legs. Like Terran crocodiles, spine lizards are covered in bony scutes, which form bony ridges down the back and tail. The snout is narrow, and teeth from both upper an lower jaws are visible when the mouth is closed. Unlike Terran crocodiles, spine lizards can change their skin color, like a cuttlefish or chameleon, and use this both for communication and camouflage. Average adult size for a spine lizard is 12 - 15 feet, although rumors exist of 20 ft monsters. Male spine lizards have a dewlap, and are somewhat larger than females.
Spine lizards live near the river in the Ibabesh tribal territory in shard 27. They generally stay near the water, but may wander overland in search of food. The climate is temperate, with warm summers and cool winters. If the winter gets too cold for the spine lizards, they will move south towards the mouth of the river where the temperature changes are less dramatic. Spine lizards can also slow down their metabolism in the winter when food is scarce, and even enter a sort of hibernation for short lengths of time.
To the east of the river, the climate is wetter, tending towards swampland near the mouth of the river. The plants grow lush in the spring and summer, providing food and shelter for various animals. To the west of the river, the climate quickly becomes drier, with hardy grasses and short brush. Spine lizards are more likely to be found further from the river on the eastern side than the western side.
Spine lizards are not exactly territorial, but older and bigger males will choose where they want to be and drive off any smaller males. An older male will often stay near a desirable spot, where food and basking are plentiful. Older males do not usually tolerate being "too close" to each other, but will tolerate females and smaller males as long as there is enough food to go around. This means that adult spine lizards are often found together when food is plentiful, but there will be many smaller ones and few larger ones in a given congregation. When food is scarce, spine lizards tend to be less tolerant of others and are usually fairly solitary.
Spine lizards are most comfortable in the water, and often spend hours drifting with just the eyes and nostrils above the waterline (much like Terran crocodiles). They can travel across land when needed, and can move at a decent speed with a sort of bounding gallop. Spine lizards do not usually chase prey over distance, but have a very short, fast sprint for ambushing prey. This is most useful when the spine lizard ambushes prey from the water, as it can use it's powerful tail for even more speed.
The spine lizard uses its frill and color-changing skin for heat regulation, camouflage and communication with other spine lizards. Frills can be raised and colors lightened in order to lose heat, or lowered frills and dark colors for absorbing and conserving heat. The frill and colors can also aid in camouflage, by changing the apparent shape and color of the animal. Spine lizards can communicate with their colors and frill as well, in order to signal intent when breeding, feeding, or establishing where an individual stands in the pecking order.
Hunting and Eating
Spine lizards are strict carnivores, but are not particularly picky about their prey. They will eat pretty much anything they can catch, using a "death roll" to tear off chunks of meat if the animal is too large to fit in their mouth. Spine lizards usually ambush prey, by using their color changing and frill to blend into the environment. When unwary prey wanders by, often hoping for a drink of water, the spine lizard grabs it. Small prey is usually killed and swallowed outright, while larger prey is usually dragged underwater to drown. The spine lizard can also use it's color-changing as a "lure" for certain types of prey.
Spine lizards may mate year round, but breeding usually happens during the warmer times of year. Males use various tactics to attract female attention, including bellows, slapping the water with head or tail, or using infrasonic sounds (sound lower than the limit of human hearing). Infrasonic sounds are sometimes visible as vibrations in the water surrounding the spine lizard, although the sound carries much further.
When a female comes within sight of the male, he raises his frill and displays intricate and changing color patterns in an attempt to woo her. The female will initially raise her frill, and exhibit bold bright colors (such as stripes or spots), while she inspects him. If she chooses to mate with him, she will lower her frill and allow him to mate. Otherwise she will simply leave. If the male tries to peruse a female who rejects him, or after mating, she will attack him. Males are larger, and can overpower a female, but not without risk of injury.
Shortly after mating, the female will lay her eggs. She will make several nests along the riverbank, choosing locations near time crystals when possible. The development of the eggs will be affected by the time crystals, so some clutches will hatch faster than others. This means there is less competition between the offspring of a given female. The proximity to time crystals also protects the eggs from some predators. As with Terran crocodiles, the temperature of the nest during the first part of incubation will determine the gender of the hatchlings.
The female will check her nests until one hatches, and then care for those hatchlings. During this time she will continue to travel to her other nests, to check for new hatchlings. A female crocodile may also adopt hatchlings other than her own, as they often nest in the same areas, and don't know exactly when their own clutches will hatch. This means a given female may be accompanied by a brood of hatchlings of various ages.
Young spine lizards will stay with their mother for their first several months. The mother will protect them from predators, particularly other adult spine lizards. After 4-6 months, a clutch (siblings hatched from the same nest) will leave their mother and strike out on their own. The clutch will hunt as a group, and the group also provides some protection against predators. The clutch will stay together for 2-4 years after leaving their mother, with groups of males usually splitting up at a younger age than groups of females. Former clutch-mates are generally more tolerant of each other than they are of other spine lizards.
Spine lizards hatch from their eggs about 8 inches long, from nose to tail tip. They grow quickly at first, and reach about 18 inches in their first three months. By their third year, they will be around 4-6 feet long. They mature after about 15 years at 12-15 feet, with males being larger than females. Although they continue to grow throughout their lifetime, they grow at a much slower rate. The normal lifespan of a spine lizard is 60-80 years for males, and 80-100 years for females.
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