The coolest animals I never thought of

Writing the Juniper Crescent series is a lot of fun. People tell me about their favorite animals, and why, and I get to throw a wrench in the works by figuring out what side effects a person would have to deal with to be mixed with their favorite animal, thanks to the fictional Isis operation.

The other side of the coin is finding the animals that would produce really cool humans. There are so many different animals in the world, I could spend years developing humans who have been mixed with them. Recently, I stumbled upon two animals that seemed to be made for the Isis operation: the pangolin and the cuttlefish.

The pangolin is the only mammal to have a thick armor of keratin scales. Keratin is the compound our hair and fingernails are made of, and is used almost universally in the animal kingdom for protection, from crustaceans to – almost certainly, experts say- dinosaurs. This animal is seriously cool. It resides in Asia and Africa, and sadly, is on the endangered species list due to deforestation of their natural habitats and the fact that it’s popular as a game meat. The pangolin scales have been used historically as armor. King George the III was given a gift of pangolin armor.

So, if a human received the Isis operation with a pangolin, quite likely their back, neck, and outer arms and legs would be lightly scored, getting down to the subcutaneous skin. As he/she recovered, scales would grow in, instead of the paper thin skin we were born with. With this natural armor, they would be ideal for sports like soccer, lacrosse, football, or even hockey. They could have jobs as bodyguards, police officers, security officers, anything where armor would be a big help.

If armor just wasn’t your thing, then how about the cuttlefish? This creature is in the same family as octopus and squid, but this guy makes the chameleon look boring. To hunt, the cuttlefish will seek out its prey, usually crabs or small shellfish, and once it sees one, will shift the colors of its skin rapidly, like a Vegas marquis. It’s not even an exaggeration. Thanks to PBS, I got to see these animals shift their colors around for pretty much every purpose imaginable: mating, hunting, camouflage, and even warning away predators. Scientists have also discovered that cuttlefish are the most intelligent of invertebrates. Cuttlefish have three layers of skin that produce the wide array of colors, and these patterns can happen in the blink of an eye. Cuttlefish are so amazing, one scientist described it as the closest we’ll ever get to examining an alien species. I have to agree. Cuttlefish, as well as octopus, are the only creatures that can manipulate the color, texture, and pattern of their skin. They are masters of camouflage.

So, think of what this could do for a human. This would be perfect for rangers, snipers, and scouts, but also for the tattoo connoisseur. You see something that you like, and then think about it, and it’ll form on you. With practice, you could even make that tattoo move. Your eyes would probably change, and likely, you would be colorblind, but your eyes would see every distinct shade of black, white, and grey to the point that color wouldn’t matter a whole lot. It would take some time to get a hang of shifting colors, but once you do, the sky is the limit.

The world is full of amazing creatures, ones with skill humans have dreamed of having for centuries. So many ideas come when I read about these animals, and think of the Isis operation where, even in our imaginations, we can have those powers.

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