Scientific Highlights: The Crokabek
Little is known about a majority of the Petpet species living in Neopia. For some, such as the Crokabek, this knowledge gap is particularly large. What is considered common knowledge in terms of their biology, including that of their disease vector status is, at best, a partial truth. A disease vector in this incidence would be a pet that aids in the spread of sickness. It is for this reason that I have compiled a short paper about a species known by many as “the bringer of omens,” “dark wings, dark words,” and “Nightbringer.” It is my genuine hope that I might show the beauty of an avian Petpet oft synonymous with despair and gloom. I will do this by introducing my reader to some of its most fascinating behaviors as well as to increase awareness for its current plight.
Major Biological Features:
Before one can explore the fascinating behaviors of this Petpet species, they must first learn the major aspects of its biology. Crokabeks are sociable Petpets (flock size typically ranges from 5-10) and opportunistic scavengers. These Petpets are well known for foraging near towns, cities, or even farm fields, but they also eat nuts, berries, and insects in their natural habitat of shrubby forests. They are predominantly diurnal hunters (e.g. hunt during the day) and rely heavily on their sense of sight to locate prey. Most are jet black, but lighter and darker variants have been seen. Albinism is rarely observed. Typical Crokabek lifespan is 7-10 years. Loss of young is low, but varies based on annual rainfall. Low mortality rates are seen during wet years, but rates are doubled in dry years. Lack of food in dry years can be attributed to this loss.
Clutch sizes vary from year to year, but it is typical for a Crokabek nest to contain between three and five eggs. Nest “helpers” are rarely seen giving aid to the parents and their younger kin. Aid is defined as assisting in the nest building process, foraging for their younger siblings, and nest defense. In all but one recorded case, nest assistants are directly related to their parents. Many are the previous year’s fledglings.
Parents take turns warming the eggs and guard them against larger, predatory Petpets such as Drackonacks, Cyodrakes, and, on occasion, Albats. Given their semi-colonial status (e.g. live in groups), Crokabeks are known to “mob” predators, and will harass potential threats en masse, targeting them with diving actions and loud screams. A few anecdotes have noted a pattern in mobbing behavior. Individuals that helped their neighbours in the past will in turn be aided when faced with predatory danger. Neighbours that choose to opt out of helping are ignored by the community and left to face the threat alone. Additionally, all Crokabeks “caw” and mimicry is common.
Mimicry and Memory:
Crokabeks are well known for being highly intelligent Petpets. They can be trained to mimic Neopian speech, fetch objects, deliver mail, and remember thousands of hiding placings for their treasures.
Mimicry is well recorded in this species. Dating back as far as 550 BN, high-class Meridellians would oft complain about Crokabek mimicry in letters sent to friends and family. The following is an excerpt of a letter from Duchess Silverspoon to her Mother:
Dearest Mrs. Swift,
Hours it is until daybreak, yet I hear the sounds of the city around me. Surely you hear it too, even miles away in your Brightvale villa. A clatter of hooves along the cobblestone way. Flower girls seeking sales, repeating their same lines like some melancholy chant. And the shouts! It sounds as if some hapless Neopian is being robbed every hour of the day. In Skarl’s name, if it were not for the duties that Nightbringers provided, I might wish them upon the Darigan-kind….
As Duchess Silverspoon suggests, Crokabeks repeat sounds, often while perching upon turret tops or windowsills. Sounds vary in their level of realism, as the Petpet appears to copy sound effects better (wagons rolling along roads) than the spoken word. According to recent research done by PhD candidate River Green, sound duplication is a means of predator evasion.
Ganuthor are a common predator of Crokabeks and use auditory cues to pinpoint their prey’s location before ambushing them. Capture rates are highest when Crokabeks make stereotypical “caw” vocalizations and lowest when Crokabeks imitate inorganic sounds such as blades clashing or wagon wheels on cobblestone roads. Surprisingly, despite the plethora of sounds made by these birds, individuals in their immediate community will often communicate using similar mimic vocalizations. It is thought, therefore, that Crokabeks are able to communicate with one another by mimicking the sounds of city life and use this as a means of fooling predators.
Facial recognition is spectacular in this Petpet species. Once they are trained to recognize a target’s caricature (or in some places, a “photograph”) it is rare for them to make an identification error. In a study completed two years ago by Smith, a colleague in our lab, Crokabeks were trained to deliver a paperclip to a student recipient. After training, Crokabeks were then set aside in a back room while five other students of the same species and color as the target entered the testing chamber. All but one of the twenty Crokabeks brought the correct student a paperclip on the first try. Number 17 landed on the head of a completely different student, dropped the paperclip on the floor, and hopped up and down while squawking incessantly. Disregarding number 17, however, a vast majority of these Petpets are able to remember facial features and use them to correctly deliver parcels. Perhaps this is why they are still used to deliver packages millennia after the practice first began. Claims that they have been used by the Sway are common but unsubstantiated.
As countless BVU students can attest, Crokabeks enjoy collecting shiny objects including jewelry, eating utensils, scraps of metal, and semester-long art projects. Their habits, however, extend beyond shimmering curiosities. Crokabeks are well known for stuffing food items such as acorns into their beaks and hiding them in crevices throughout the campus. These crevices are also known as “caches.” One Petpet can have hundreds of caches within the span of a few miles. Depending on the worth of the prize, some of them may even be defended, especially during the cold season.
Food scraps are often picked clean from the dining hall dumpsters on a daily basis, although curiously, many Crokabeks will stuff these scraps into rival caches. Once, when one of the campus Crokabeks was hiding dining hall food in a neighbor’s cache, they were spotted by the rival and chased away. Some of my snarkier students have claimed such behaviors to be understandable considering the college’s food quality. As of yet, BVU refuses to fund dining hall food studies on our lab birds. Intriguingly, such food hoarding is a common occurrence off-campus, although most individuals (over 90%) who live ten miles from the campus gather scraps for their own storages.
Crokabeks are Not Disease Vectors:
First off, let me say this plainly: there is no relationship between Crokabek presence and disease incidence. It used to be assumed that the appearance of these birds would mark disaster and ruination, especially if their numbers were high. Many texts, especially those of earlier eras, claimed them to be agents of darkness. Some even claimed them to be Darigan servants, sent to bring misery to the Meridellian region long after the wars.
Even now, hundreds of years later, Crokabeks are still thought to be a source of disease. Assumptions like these are tied to their close relationship with Neopian establishment, cities to be more precise. Crokabeks often seek food from markets and are found feasting upon spoiled food left in nearby trash bins. They also rummage through the discarded leftovers of Neopian homes. Flight-capable Neopians are concerned that indirect contact with contaminated objects will result in a higher risk of avian-contracted disease.
Local concerns have not gone unnoticed. Sick bird Petpets, Crokabeks included, have been spotted in regions abutting Brightvale. Before panic sets in, it is with absolute certainty that these sicknesses are not transmittable to Neopian-kind. They have been reported for eons; never has a case been recorded of an affected Pteri or Eyrie. If you do happen to see a Crokabek with cold-like symptoms, your options are many. Some of the readers here may be familiar with avian Petpet rescue centers, many of which are located in larger towns and cities throughout Neopia. If you are trained in such skills as safe Petpet capture and handling, bring it to one of these centers for evaluation. Although no blanket treatments have been developed for this issue as of yet, there are means to aid in symptom alleviation. If you are not comfortable with handling the Petpet, send a Neomail letter to a Petpet rescue clinic. There are almost always volunteers on stand-by waiting for messages such as yours.
Tool Craft and Use:
As shocking as this may seem, Crokabeks are amazing tool smiths and are capable of using these tools to problem-solve. Tool shape is partially dependent on the home range of the Petpet, although the ubiquitous Extra Wild Orchid is most often chosen. Not only is the stem rigid; the blooms and adjoining twigs can be easily removed before the Petpet sculpts an effective hook with the blunt end of the branch. Hooked-end branches can be used to remove items from caches, obtain hidden insects from hideaways, and even scare prey out of hiding. This particular skill set appears to be one that requires some learning, as young Crokabeks craft less effective tools in the wild than their adult counterparts. Petpets that are raised in the lab maintain their tool building skills, thus leading to the conclusion that these abilities are innate or available at the time of hatching.
Neopian-made structures (buildings, cobblestone paths) are also used to facilitate food consumption. Many Crokabeks eat fruits and nuts, both of which may contain hard shells. Breaking these shells can be taxing labor if done by beak alone. Craftier Crokabeks have turned to more innovative means of obtaining their food. Many a time has a student rushed into my office, exclaiming that a Crokabek had dropped a nut upon the cobblestone paths until it had cracked. This is quite common, actually. Why expend extra energy cracking a shell when gravity can do the work more efficiently?
Conclusions and Future Studies:
It is my earnest hope that this fascinating creature has piqued the interest of my readers. Research on this species shall last for many years to come as many questions remain. Some of these questions could be answered by citizen scientists and trained lab technicians alike. One of the more famous ones is their ability to comprehend Neopian speech. Some claim they are used to relay messages between Neopians. Only anecdotal evidence has been compiled about such abilities, however, much of which is tied to Sway allegations.
Another topic of interest is their ability to match objects and solve puzzles. Preliminary work by Green suggests that they are indeed able to match shapes and colors. This extends to a study that is exploring pattern recognition. It appears that they can correctly choose cards that follow a sequence without direct color and shape matches.
One final topic of interest is their population given Neopian population density and building size. With the help of Neopians such as yourself, we have made major progress in this particular field. As research increases on these delightful creatures, one can only imagine the incredible finds that are waiting in our future.
Dr. Quinn Corvis
Petpet Behavioral Ecologist, Brightvale University Modern Science Division