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Greater Lateovul



Upper left: Variant facial markings
Upper middle: forepaw with killing claw
Upper right: Hunting technique

Other colloquial name(s): Shadowstalker, Strangler Raccoon, Leaping Bandit
Genus & species: Lateovulneratus papillionops
Meaning of: Concealed one who wounds, butterfly-face (for facial markings)
Ancestral creature: Raccoon Procyon lotor
Size: 250-300lbs, the size of a large jaguar
Activity cycle: crepuscular
Habitat: Broken forest, temperate zone
Social structure: Pack of 3-7 closely related individuals

Overall, the Lateovul is a stocky, compactly muscular, ursine animal. Males are 30-50 pounds larger than females. The head is broad and blunt, the jaws surprisingly small and weak-looking. Its grey-brown coat consists of dense, coarse, water-repellent hair with a thick undercoat which sheds out in warm weather. Vivid patterning on the face allows recognition of individuals from a distance - there is considerable regional variation in facial patterns. Its walks on the flat of its heel, with a lumbering gait. The digits of the forepaws are long and prehensile, and the inner digit bears a sharply hooked claw carried swept back, off the ground. When excited, Lateovuls emit a musky odor from glands under the tail. Their dens tend to reek of this scent, warning other animals off. Lateovuls regularly dunk themselves in streams and roll in fragrant herbs to cut the stink. Lateovuls make a wide variety of noises to communicate between pack members.

Capable of sprinting up to twenty fives per hour over short distances, Lateovuls tire quickly and if prey escapes the initial attack it is rarely pursued. Its preferred hunting grounds are areas of thick brush which provide cover, usually where forests meet open lands, and it is most active at dusk and dawn. It is a surprisingly deft climber, considering its size, and an adept swimmer. When it can’t bring down the usual large herbivore prey, a Lateovul will happily eat anything it can catch, including snack-sized creatures like frogs and rodents. They adore eggs, and will eat small amounts of fruit in season.

The progenitor of the Lateovul was the raccoon, a tough, clever, adaptable omnivore present in a wide range of habitats. After a series of droughts dried up small streams and made plant food harder to find, the ancestral raccoon switched to a more carnivorous diet. Originally, small prey was subdued by pouncing and grasping it firmly in the forepaws to immobilize it, and a killing bite then delivered to the back of the neck. The forelimbs of succeeding generation became stronger, the paws developing sharp claws and becoming more important in the actual kill, with the proto-lateovul pinching off its victim’s carotid artery. This produced unconsciousness in seconds as the prey animal’s brain was deprived of blood. The proto-lateovul could then kill it easily, without requiring the specialized jaws and teeth of canids or big felids.

Because the proto-lateovul walked flat on the palm, the claws were constantly dulled by wear. Paralleling deinonychid dinosaurs and the retractable claws of cats, the semi-opposable first digit enlarged to support a hooked killing claw. The jaws remain similar to the ancestral animal, although somewhat deeper to anchor chewing muscles. As the proto-lateovuls began taking down prey that provided more meat than they could eat, a pack structure began to take form.

Like the ancestral raccoon, the Lateovul is an intelligent animal, and much of its shrewdness is exercised in its hunting strategy. Lateovuls live in small family groups led by a mated pair and their subadult cubs of various ages. When hunting, the largest, strongest and most experienced members of the pack position themselves and the younger, more active members attempt to startle and harass prey animals (by leaping at them and striking with the foreclaws), directing them towards the ambushers. The lead hunter wraps its forelimbs around the prey‘s neck, seeking to slice open the carotid artery with its claws, while the others hang on wherever they can find a clawhold, using their weight to immobilize it. Once the coup de grâce causes the prey animal to collapse, the pack cooperates in tearing the carcass into manageable pieces and carrying them back to the den.

Lateovul kits are born (3-5 per litter) in the early spring and mature at a leisurely pace. Their extended developmental phase no doubt gives them time to properly learn hunting strategy. Kits reach sexual maturity at three years, slightly sooner for males. Lateovul mated pairs stay together for life. Young males leave the familial pack at an early age and generally have a rough time of it until they can woo a young female away from her family group. Some individuals do not breed, instead staying with the family group their whole lives, acting as ‘babysitters’ for the small kits when the rest of the is out hunting. Injured and sick individuals will be cared for by the pack. Lateovuls can live for up to twenty years.

The Greater Lateovul is the commonest version, but Lateovuls proved to be a successful design and speciated to fill several large carnivore niches.
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