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Literature / The Snouters: Form and Life of the Rhinogrades

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A speculative mockumentary book first published in 1957 and written by German zoologist Gerolf Steiner (under the pseudonym of Harald Stümpke). It documents a (fictional) order of strange mammals (mostly) native to the Hy-yi-yi Islands known as the Rhinogrades, or Snouters. Among other things, the most unique trait of the Rhinogrades is the nasarium, an organ derived from the nose that has evolved to fill every conceivable purpose imaginable.

You heard correct; they use their noses for everything. Including eating, singing, walking, jumping, grabbing, camouflage, burrowing, and swimming... among other things. As ridiculous as it sounds, the author documents them like real animals, right down to the last details.

Can be read in full here.


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This book provides examples of:

  • All Animals Are Domesticated: Skamtkvist somehow manages to tame an adult male Tasselsnouter and teach it to whistle two of Bach's pieces almost perfectly (however, it should be said Tasselsnouters are thought to be highly intelligent and have no predators).
  • Alluring Anglerfish: The Lilysnouters hunt at night and have glowing mucus.
  • Amazing Technicolor Wildlife: Unlike other mammals, the fur colour of snouters are often very beautiful and vibrant.
  • Beware My Stinger Tail: Several species of Snouter have venomous spikes (derived from hair) at the end of their tail. It's used mainly for defense, but Heberer's Predatory Nasobame uses it to kill prey.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: Aside from their noses, some of their anatomy is incredibly strange; to the point some species are confused with flatworms.
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  • Bizarre Alien Locomotion: Most of them can only move around on their noses (if they move at all) and the limbs of many have become highly reduced.
  • Bizarre Alien Reproduction: Most snouters breed few and far between (due to their low mortality rate from the lack of predators), and many do not suckle their young (some species don't even have mammary glands).* But by far the strangest are the hermaphroditic marine species found off the coast of Antarctica (one of which breeds by gemmation).
  • Broken Tears: When a Tyrannonasus catches a Nasobema, the prey will break down in tears because once caught, there is no escape.
    The noteworthy fact that the captured Nasobame weeps has psychological interest, for it presupposes that the animal possesses insight and the power of reflection.
  • Cartoon Creature: What are the Rhinogrades? The book never gives an origin beyond "primitive insectivore", but considering their native archipelago is also home to six-winged insects (which became extinct before the first dinosaurs), it's implied they came from a prehistoric lineage that long died out elsewhere.
  • Chest Monster: The Flower-faced Snouters, Lilysnouters, and the Orchidsnouters (among others) all disguise themselves as flowers to attract insects.
  • Ear Wings: The Earwing (Otopteryx volitans) flies with its ears (using its nose to steer).
  • Fantastic Fauna Counterpart: The Shaggy-faced Snouter is really obviously based on the woolly mammoth. They are covered in thick fur, eats plants, have large slab-like molars, uses their noses to grab things, travels in herds, and are one of the largest Rhinogrades.
  • Feathered Fiend: Besides the Tyrannonasus, sea birds will occasionally prey on snouters.
  • Irony:
    • Strangely enough, some species of Rhinogrades breath through their tear ducts (despite having multiple noses).
    • In-universe, the Orchidsnouters don't actually mimic orchids because there are no orchids on the Hy-Yi-Yi Islands (they actually mimic an orchid-like flower known as the Rochemontia renatellae).
  • Gag Nose: The final evolution of this trope. The rhinogrades have, at minimum, absurdly large, human-like noses which they utilize for almost every conceivable activity, with some species being more nose than body.
  • Historical In-Joke:
    • The book was inspired by Christian Morgenstern's nonsense poem "Das Nasobēm", which is suggested in-universe that Morgenstern visited the Hy-Yi-Yi Islands before its formal discovery.
    • Some water-dwelling Rhinogrades may have degenerated so much that they actually evolved into Turbellaria "flatworms".
  • Humans Are Bastards:
    • Nearby secret nuclear testing sinks the Hy-Yi-Yi Islands (which have been around for almost 300 million years), along with all the world's specialists who were holding congress on the islands at the time.
    • Averted with the archipelago's natives, they are a peaceful race that do not hunt the Snouters and manage the islands' resources well, despite a population of over 800.
  • Lost World: The Hy-Yi-Yi Islands. Home to not only the Snouters, but many primitive arthropods that should have gone extinct over 250 million years ago.
  • Mike Nelson, Destroyer of Worlds: The discoverer of the islands; Einar Pettersson-Skamtkvist, accidentally causes the extinction of the archipelago's peaceful tribal nation (Hooakha-Hutchi) and the intelligent Tasselsnouters (Rhinochilopus) after he introduces the common cold, to which neither the tribe people, nor the Tasselsnouters had any immunity to.
  • Mockumentary: All the seriousness of a formal scientific paper presented on the detailed description of a non-existence clade of funny-looking nose-centred mammals.
  • Non-Mammal Mammaries: Inverted; some species of Rhinograde don't suckle their offspring and thus don't have mammary glands because they don't need them. Played for laughs in another, immobile species that bribes other rhinogrades to bring it food in exchange for milk, as even the males have large (and suspiciously human-like) mammaries.
  • Not So Extinct: Although the Snouters were believed to have died out when the Hy-Yi-Yi Islands sank beneath the sea, numerous marine species that lived outside the range of the archipelago were later discovered.
  • Our Monsters Are Weird: Really, really weird. The Snouters are a group of shrew-like mammals which have evolved to resemble and behave like molluscs, nematodes, carnivorous plants, and insects more than vertebrates.
  • Prehensile Tail: Because of their reduced limbs, some species have a very long tail that works like a substitute arm (or technically more like a tentacle because sometimes they don't even have bones).
  • Regional Redecoration: The Hy-Y-Yi islands sank when atomic testing 125 miles away triggered a massive earthquake, taking its unique ecosystem and the world's specialists with it.
  • Shout-Out: The Rhinogrades were inspired by the poem Das Nasobēm from the Galgenlieder (Gallows Songs) by Christian Morgenstern (1871-1914). This is lampshaded in several places in the documentary.
  • Spectacular Spinning: The Nasobame's last resort defense against a Tyrannonasus is to grab a branch with its tail and spin around, confusing the predator and making it dizzy to the point of throwing up.
  • Speculative Biology: While not as well-known as later works in the genre like the seminal After Man, it came out more than twenty years before that, making this a Trope Maker.
  • Speculative Documentary: One of the oldest, if not THE oldest. It presents an entirely fictional animal group and equally fictional setting with unwavering scientific rigour despite the absurdity of the concept.
  • Super-Persistent Predator: Tyrannonasus imperator (Heberer's Predatory Nasobame), will chase its prey for HOURS, but it's justified, because of its low metabolic rate and its ability to store glycogen (glucose energy) not just in its liver. Even so, they rarely catch their prey.

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