by Jennifer Robinson
So, you've got yourself a Pernese fire-lizard egg. Congratulations! Fire-lizards are great companions: affectionate, intelligent, and quite useful with proper training.
If you're not from Pern, though, you may not be familiar with these beautiful creatures and how to care for them outside of their natural habitat. This guide is intended to fix that. Before we dive in, though, there are three things you really need to know about fire-lizards:
- They're not lizards!
- In fact, they're not much like anything in the animal kingdom most of us are familiar with. They are warm-blooded and they don't have scales, so they're not reptiles; they don't have hair or nurse their young, so they're not mammals or monotremes, either.
- They won't breathe fire!
- Not unless you feed them firestone, anyway, and you shouldn't do that. You wouldn't want to get into trouble with your boss or the DIA.
- They're not minis!
- Yes, they look like miniature dragons. No, you should not feed them raw bacon, bouillabaisse, or Sues. Seriously, don't.
Now that we've cleared all that up, on we go!
Anatomy & Physiology
Like all higher-order Pernese organisms, fire-lizards have six limbs: two forepaws, two bat-like, membranous wings, and two hindpaws. The forepaws and hindpaws differ in that the hindpaws have three toes while the forepaws, due to genetic engineering by the original Pernese colonists, have five retractable claws, including an articulating "thumb" that allows them to better grip prey and other objects. Fully grown, fire-lizards are about 50-60 cm (20-24 in) long from nose to tail-tip. They are slender and lighter than they look. They are warm-blooded, with a normal body temperature of 35° Celcius (95° Farenheit). Their blood is actually a dark green, copper-based ichor. They have a clean, mildly spicy odor, like cinnamon and nutmeg.
|Fire-Lizard Color Chart|
As noted above, they are not scaly, but rather have a glossy, hairless hide that is suede-like to the touch. They come in five colors; in order of size from smallest to largest, they are green, blue, brown, bronze, and gold. The greens and golds are female; the blues, browns, and bronzes are male. (An easy way to remember this is "G for Girl, B for Boy.") The exact hue depends on the balance of nickel, cobalt, and iron in their makeup. Greens and blues may display nearly the full range of hues in those colors. Browns can run from tan through chocolate. Bronzes always have a golden-green sheen; some can be almost as dark as a brown. Golds range from pale yellow to dark, antique gold.
A fire-lizard's head is shaped like a blunt wedge. They have sharp front teeth for catching prey and strong back teeth for chewing. The tongue is long and forked. The eyes are large and multifaceted, affording a nearly 180-degree field of vision on either side. They are protected by heavy brow ridges and three eyelids, the innermost being a transparent nictating membrane. The eyes appear to whirl with color that changes depending on the fire-lizard's mood—but don't worry, they're not Sues, I promise. Fire-lizards don't have ears, but back of the brow ridges, they have sensitive head knobs that act as auditory receptors.
Fire-lizards have a line of dorsal ridges extending from just behind the head down to the forked end of the tail. However, the ridges are not prominent between the wings. The tail is prehensile, capable of gripping a tree branch or an owner's arm for extra stability. Fire-lizard bones are based on interlocking plates composed of a boron-crystalline structure, much lighter than their calcium-based equivalent. The plates of the rib cage appear as one lacy piece, but the whole is quite flexible. Fire-lizards have an impressive lung capacity, and when fully inflated, the chest can swell to twice its normal size.
They have two stomachs. The first is a true stomach, for digesting food. The second is for breaking down firestone to produce flame, but the waste is regurgitated rather than further processed. A fire-lizard's sphincter is hidden in the fork of the tail. Its genitalia are concealed within flaps of skin just under the junction of tail with body; they are only revealed during mating.
Fire-lizards are capable of communicating telepathically with each other and with their bonded owners. They can also send to and receive from non-bonded individuals, but with far less efficacy. They do not have speech, so their mental communications are mostly in the form of feelings and somewhat impressionistic images. A fire-lizard's mood can affect its owner and vice-versa. It is important to be aware of your own mental state so you don't unnecessarily upset your friend or become distracted by them. In particular, if your fire-lizard gets involved in a mating flight, you may wish to retire someplace private to avoid embarrassment during the excitement. (For more information, see Reproduction & Growth below.)
They are also capable of getting around via teleportation. In transit from here to there, they pass through a black, freezing void known as between; when reappearing, they may be accompanied by a gust of cold and feel slightly chilled to the touch. In order to make transit, they must have a clear image of their destination in mind, or they risk becoming lost and vanishing between forever. Normal passage takes about three seconds. They can travel through time as well as space, but "timing it" is more difficult and dangerous. The further they go, the harder it gets.
Fire-lizards may employ telekinesis to lift objects they would not otherwise be able to carry, such as a big, squirming fish, but this is costly, and they won't attempt to lift an object they do not believe they can lift.
Fire-lizards are social animals, so on the whole they are intelligent, demonstrative, and vocal, much like a cat or dog. Yours will perch on your shoulder with its tail about your neck and rub its head against your cheek in a show of affection. They make a wide range of sounds from humming or crooning in pleasure to chirping and chittering in excitement to screeching and hissing in anger or distress. They like to preen themselves and may arch their bodies or sit up and flap their wings in display. In play, they might engage in mock-battles and demonstrations of aerial agility.
Some of an individual fire-lizard's basic intelligence and behavior is related to its color. In the wild, fire-lizards live in "fairs" of varying size, about 30 at most. Each fair is led by a dominant gold "queen" fire-lizard. She coordinates the others in hunting activities and defense against predators and Thread. Next under her in dominance are the bronze and brown males who are her mates and are also capable of coordinating the others. Greens are egg-layers who live on the edges of their fair's home range and split their evolutionary chances between their own small clutches and those of their queen (who is likely to be their mother, sister, or half-sister). As such, they are slightly more dominant than blues, who stand the least chance of passing on their genes and earn their keep in the fair by bringing food to the dominant members and helping the queen to raise her hatchlings.
Therefore, golds are the most intelligent and may come across as "bossy" or "pushy" even toward their owners. Bronzes and browns are also very intelligent and self-assured, with browns being somewhat less competitive. Greens are gregarious, but also more likely to squabble with each other for a higher place in the pecking order and to scold their blue brothers. Blues are the most submissive and easy-going.
Golds and bronzes are the most likely to take initiative on their own, and may even anticipate subconscious wishes you haven't fully realized yet. The other colors require direction, with blues and greens needing the most patient instruction. Greens are the most difficult, and may respond in a cat-like manner and ignore you if they become frustrated, but don't hold it against them. It's not their fault you can't speak perfect fire-lizard, after all.
Intelligence and Memory
The best way to illustrate just how smart fire-lizards can be is to give an example from canon:
In Dragonsong, a young woman named Menolly happens across a wild gold's clutch in danger of being drowned by a freak tide. The gold has been trying to relocate the clutch to a small cave about halfway up a low cliff overlooking the shore, but she can only just lift one egg, and the smaller fair-members can't help at all. The gold is clever enough to realize that Menolly can help her and, with an effort, make Menolly understand what she wants.
It must, of course, be noted that this was an extreme case, and most wild golds (and some tame ones!) will attack anything that comes too close to their eggs.
Unlike dragons, fire-lizards have good memories. This includes a species memory for momentous events that affect a lot of fire-lizards, such as a volcanic eruption. Impressed fire-lizards can be trained to recognize a great many objects and perform moderately complicated tasks. However, they lack imagination, so they can't, for example, be asked to travel between to someplace they've only seen in a picture.
Fire-lizards are primarily carnivorous. In their natural habitat, which is tropical saltwater shoreline, they mostly eat fish, crustaceans, and shellfish. They also hunt and scavenge for food away from their beaches and won't hesitate to snap up any source of protein and fat, from insects to carrion to eggs, including those of other fire-lizard fairs.
In HQ, you may find yourself tempted to feed your fire-lizard on table scraps, since they will readily inhale anything you give them, but you should resist the temptation. A bit of chicken or beef as a special treat won't hurt them, but please refrain from giving them carbohydrate-heavy foods altogether. Do not feed them cat or dog food.
As for what you should feed them, I hear Leto Haven sells something called Dragon Chow that will satisfy the needs of a marine-based diet, but I'm skeptical. You could do far worse than frozen shrimp, preferably with heads and shells attached, and unprocessed small fish (e.g. sardines). For variety, try them on crickets, mealworms, waxworms, etc.
Also note that fire-lizards require a certain amount of boron in their diet, the same way most of us require calcium. Proteins from World One and World-One analogues will not contain the trace amounts they need, so you will have to give them a supplement, which you can buy at the General Store.
Reproduction & Growth
Fire-lizards reach sexual maturity at about 24-26 months, with the males maturing sooner and the females later. From then on, the females will go into heat twice a year or more, depending on their health and the suitability of their environment.
When a female is nearly ready to mate, she will grow restless and agitated, and she will be especially hungry as she seeks to supply herself with all the nutrients her eggs will need. Her color will become noticeably brighter, and any males in the vicinity will be paying her close attention until she rises. Fire-lizards mate in the air and can't fly while copulating, so to ensure the longest possible coupling with the best available male, the female will lead the males on an aerial chase, flying higher and higher while the males strive to outclimb and outmaneuver each other. Whoever is fastest, cleverest, and strongest gets the girl. In a gold flight, this will usually be a bronze, due to their size and smarts, but sometimes a particularly large brown will outcompete his fellows. Blues don't stand a chance—they simply lack the endurance to keep up with the big golds and bronzes. Greens are usually chased by browns and blues, since the bronzes tend to be more attentive to their queen.
As noted above, if your fire-lizard is involved in a mating flight, you will feel your friend's excitement and will almost certainly find yourself becoming aroused in response. Owners of a female in particular, you might find yourself acting snappish and irritable for no reason shortly before she rises. When she does, you will feel almost as though you are inside her head, sharing her feelings of power and superiority in flight, joy and repletion in mating.
Being bonded with a mating fire-lizard, male or female, will not impair your judgement in any way—no fire-lizard owner has ever jumped anybody just because their pet had risen—but nonetheless, you might want to go someplace private to avoid the embarrassment of suddenly feeling hot, becoming flushed, breathing heavily, etc. (Men, you know what "etc." I'm talking about.) On the other hand, if you are in a relationship with someone who owns a fire-lizard likely to mate with yours . . . wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more. It should be noted here that your preferences do influence your fire-lizard's.
About three weeks after mating, the female will lay her eggs. Laying can take several hours for a large clutch. The eggs are roughly the size of pigeon eggs (Menolly could safely hold three in her hand while scaling a cliff) and mottled in pale versions of the various fire-lizard colors. When first laid, they are soft to the touch. They harden over a 4-5 week incubation period, until they are ready to hatch. Any nearby fire-lizards will congregate around the eggs and hum when they are hatching—and at human and animal births, too.
Gold clutches in the wild are medium to large, with known examples containing anywhere from 21 eggs to over 50. The size depends on the virility of the winning male and the length of time spent copulating (hence the high flying). There are roughly equal numbers of males and females in a clutch, which means about half will be greens. There is often a gold egg in a gold's clutch, but not always, and it's less likely in a gold-brown mating. It is impossible to tell for certain what egg will contain what color of fire-lizard, though larger eggs are more likely to contain bronzes or a gold.
Green clutches are small, generally around 4-6 eggs and never more than 10. The eggs themselves are smaller, too. They will contain mostly greens and blues, few browns or bronzes, and never a gold.
Newly hatched fire-lizards are about 5-6 inches long from nose to tail-tip (about the length of your hand). They are quite independent at birth. Their first instinct on hatching is to eat, and they will consume anything nearby, including their clutchmates. The lucky and the strong will get far enough away from the nest to find food of their own, usually supplied by the adults of their fair. Given the chance, new hatchlings will continue to eat until they are completely stuffed, at which point they fall asleep, relying on their fair to protect them from predators.
It is only during this first big meal that it is possible to Impress a fire-lizard, but more on this later.
Fire-lizards grow rapidly during their first three weeks of life. The first week in particular is spent doing little but eating, sleeping, and growing. By the end of the third week, the growth rate slows, and the size differences between the colors become noticeable. At about 10 to 14 weeks, the fire-lizard will reach its full adult size, though it will not mature sexually for much longer.
Interestingly, once a fire-lizard is fully grown, it may live on for a hundred years or more, virtually unchanged. The exact lifespan of the species has never been found out. In the wild, there are plenty of things besides old age to keep their numbers in check.
You & Your Fire-Lizard
Impression is the moment of imprinting that bonds a fire-lizard to its new owner. When you Impress a fire-lizard, its mind becomes telepathically linked with yours, enabling you to share thoughts and feelings as well as communicating vocally.
Beyond the obvious requirement of being in the right place at the right time, a successful Impression has two components. The first is food. A new hatchling has exhausted all the nutrients in its egg, and it emerges ravenous. It will project its feelings loudly to anyone in the vicinity (normally its fair-mates) in order to compel them to feed it, and it will take whatever it can reach. If you entice it to eat from your hand, you're nearly there. It is important not to frighten your hatchling, or indeed let its voracity frighten you. Remain calm, speak softly to it, and stuff its little face until it falls asleep on you. It will reward you with gratitude and devotion—meanwhile looking to you for its next meal!
The second component of a successful Impression, what will make it last beyond the initial imprinting, is emotional warmth and responsiveness. Fire-lizards are sensitive creatures, and their Impression bond is not indissoluble like it is with dragons. They are tolerant of different styles of care, but they will not stay with anyone who is neglectful or cruel to them. You must be attentive to their needs, give them affection as well as discipline, and remember that they can sense your moods just as you can sense theirs. They will comfort you if you're sad, defend you if you're threatened, and exult with you if you're happy—and if they feel they are not wanted, they will leave.
During the first 7-10 days of your new pet's life, you will need to feed it at roughly three-hour intervals, bathe it daily, and oil its rapidly stretching hide as needed. Fire-lizards love to swim, so you'll have no trouble getting them to bathe, although you might find yourself getting an unexpected shower in the process. For oil, it's best to use pure substances that will absorb completely into the hide, leaving no greasy residue. Almond oil and mineral oil (e.g. baby oil) are good choices. A little scent is okay, if you're into that. Watch out for dry, patchy areas on the skin and make sure to give them extra oiling. They can lead to dangerous lesions if left unattended.
Over the next two weeks, your fire-lizard's appetite will gradually slack off and stabilize at two feedings per day until it reaches full growth at 10-14 weeks, by which point it will only need one. Whew! However, it will still require regular bathing and oiling to keep its hide healthy. They enjoy the attention and will reward you for it with affection, so making it part of your routine will help keep your bond healthy, too.
Fire-lizards are tropical creatures, so they appreciate a warm spot to curl up and nap in. It should be noted that Pern has more atmospheric oxygen and about ten percent lighter gravity than Earth, so in the Earth-based conditions of Headquarters, they may seem to tire easily. A sun or heat lamp would be a wise investment. Your fire-lizard is likely to make friends with your mini-Balrog, if you have one, too.
I advise owners of green fire-lizards to take them to Medical for sterilization at about fourteen weeks of age, or anytime after within their first year. You'll be saving yourself (and the owners of male fire-lizards) the trouble of frequent mating flights, not to mention tracking down tiny clutches that aren't good for much in trade. You may find you have a calmer, less temperamental friend in the bargain.
If you have a particularly randy male you do not wish to breed, you may follow the same advice.
Fire-lizards can be trained much like any other companion animal. They can be quite a nuisance if they're not taught manners, and they're smarter than the average cat or dog, so it's well worth the effort. The key difference between training a fire-lizard and any other animal is the mental link you share with them. This can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the ability to visualize what you want for your friend will make getting them to understand what you want much easier. On the other hand, they will instantly know if you become upset or frustrated, which can in turn upset and frustrate them and sour the whole process. More than any other animal, it's vitally important to remain calm and use positive reinforcement when training a fire-lizard.