The Pteronaut – a spotter’s (ptwitcher’s?) guide

The Pteronaut is the protagonist of my book Race the Red Horizon. But what exactly is a pteronaut? Here is a handy spotter’s guide.

Shape: humanoid – two arms, two legs, head, body… You know the rest.

Plumage: None. The Pteronaut lives inside a symbiotic skin-suit to survive in the harsh environment of the dead red deserts. The skin-suit has a scaly exterior, and can heal itself. It also recycles the Pteronaut’s waste, including water, provides heat, and supplies (pure) oxygen from its own respiratory processes. The skin-suit has its own muscles which it uses in concert with the Pteronaut’s muscles for climbing and powered flight.

Colour: varying. The skin-suit is basically red and black for camouflage in the dead red deserts, but the scales can switch between these colours for the purposes of thermo-regulation – black absorbs heat, (pale) red reflects it.

Eyesight: excellent. The Pteronaut has two forwards-facing eyes (a legacy of an arboreal or cliff-dwelling past?) hidden behind goggles. As well as providing constant information about his state of health and his surroundings via a ‘head up display’, the Pteronaut’s goggles have low-light vision and telescopic sight. The existence of other visual modes is currently unknown.

Call: none recorded. Although Pteronauts can perhaps read written numerals in their goggle-display, they do not appear to be verbal creatures, at least not when on solo flights. No group behaviour has been reported to date.

Diet: high-calorie ration-bars. In addition, the Pteronaut has photosynthesising tattoos beneath two sections of his skin-suit which can be made transparent to provide additional sustenance during daylight hours. Water is obtained by digging from the permafrost.

Preferred method of locomotion: soaring flight. The term ‘Pteronaut’ has Greek roots: ptero- ‘wing’ and -naut ‘sailor’. Pteronauts are all equipped with a wing-pack on their back, within which is hidden away a set of ingeniously folded wings. With the assistance of the muscles of the skin-suit, Pteronauts can achieve and maintain powered flight, but not for long. They can also walk, run, and are excellent climbers.

Intelligence: The Pteronaut appears to be highly intelligent (though perhaps not socially so), with expert problem-solving skills; very useful for surviving in the dead red deserts.

Numbers: One (male) known to be alive at present. There may well be more.

Anything else you need to know? Ah yes – Pteronauts are not the friendliest of creatures, and will protect themselves aggressively if they feel threatened. So, keep your distance.

Grab your binoculars and get ptwitching!

Header image: Mars, a place the Pteronaut would probably feel at home (By NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS (http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/jpeg/PIA17944.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)