The deathbug, famously the subject of poetry by Arariax and often the focus of scientific debate, is believed by some to be the larval form of the burnfly. It is found mainly in the area surrounding the Evesque Valley vineyards and plantations, where it feeds on animals that feed on grapes. Commercially, the deathbug is considered a delicacy, consumed by the wealthy and used by winemakers. Its two forms of venom have also found uses, both in wine production and by assassins and armies.
The body of the deathbug is composed of a series of wide, hard-shelled segments, usually numbering between six and twenty, with a half-dozen cilia-like feet distributed beneath each. The locomotion of a deathbug is extraordinarily swift, combining ciliary action with a unique ability to compress its body like a spring for bursts of speed. With documented reports of almost a quarter sugro-nanit per hour, deathbugs often strike much larger prey animals and retreat before they have a chance to react.
Deathbugs grow to be between 5 and 14 inanits in length, not including the tails. Most notable about the deathbug are its two stinger-tipped, whip-like tails, each producing a different form of venom. The first form causes an intense thirst for grapes and wine, while the second causes paralysis and often death.
The head of a deathbug presents a collection of piercing mouth parts, used to feed upon prey animals, as well as sensory stalks used for navigation and finely tuned to the presence of grape juice and wine in the ichor of other animals.
Behavior and Diet
Primarily, deathbugs are nourished by sugars and compounds found in the lifeblood ichor of animals that have digested large quantities of grapes or fermented grape juice (i.e. wine). Grapes themselves are toxic to deathbugs, so they live in a parasitic relationship with other animals, needing their digestive systems to filter grape toxins.
Much of a deathbug's time is spent prowling for prey. When the deathbug has spotted another animal, it generally does one of two things: if it senses that the animal hasn't recently fed on grapes or wine, it attempts to strike with the first of its stingers, with the intent of inducing a hunger for grapes. However, if it senses that the animal has recently consumed grapes, it attempts to strike with the second of its stingers. If successful, the toxin from the second stinger will paralyze the animal, allowing the deathbug to feed in leisure upon the grape-rich ichor.
A strange, as yet unexplained, property of the second venom is that it has disproportionately greater effects on larger animals (such as us Ghyllians). While smaller creatures attacked by a deathbug can survive many cycles of being struck and fed upon, others experience almost immediate death. This explains the name historically given to the animal.
Although some biologists believe the deathbug is the larval form of the burnfly, no one has been able to reliably document said burnfly's pupal stage. A few scholars have claimed the deathbug burrows underground to form a chrysalis, but to date, the discovery of a genuine chrysalis has never been reported (although, for a Quezloo or two, a town fair sideshow will provide a peek at an "amazing burnfly hatching" in progress.)
Accordingly, this remains a missing link in the deathbug/burnfly life cycle theory and, indeed, most scholars vehemently deny that these two creatures are linked at all, especially since our own form of reproduction bears little resemblance to the life cycle proposed by deathbug researchers.
Any discussion of the deathbug would be remiss without at least a passing examination of commercial harvesting and use of deathbugs. Although very dangerous to capture and collect, especially to Ghyllians who have recently imbibed wine, deathbugs are treasured as a delicacy by the Amphitheatre aristocracy. Roasted bodies of deathbugs, when the tails and toxin sacs have been removed carefully, take on a very rich and intoxicating flavor of fine wines and fruit due to their diet. In fact, some high-quality wines have been rumored to have ground or squeezed deathbugs mixed into their preparation vats to enrich the flavor.
What has also been rumored, less charitably, is that the grape-thirst-inducing venom (commonly called Winelust Syrup) of the deathbugs has been used by winemakers for generations to increase the demand for much less palatable products. While there has never been any official record of such a practice, renowned wine connoisseurs have occasionally remarked upon a certain addictive, inexplicably good quality found in some varieties.
-- Tamlin Moon 25 Sep 2004 11:10 (EDT)