Friday, February 1, 2013

Weird Science: Speculations on Wesen Biology

And we're back! This time with the Lebensauger, and I cannot begin to describe how disgusting that is. So. Lampreys have a reputation for being repulsive (which to our mammalian brains they probably are) and parasitic (which they all of them are not although some are), and in this case it's probably more their reputation that comes into play rather than their biology. In the episode itself Chekhov's Intern shows no extra-human abilities and a whole lot of abnormal behavior, which leans neither in the direction of his Lebensauger nature nor the direction of his non-functioning alcoholic mother's lack of nurturing abilities. Even odds what caused him to go off the rails, and most likely a combination of both. Since Lebensauger means 'life suck' the writers are going with the common view of lampreys as being parasitic, which does not convey any particular threat or ability in the animal kingdom. In the Wesen kingdom... who knows. One interesting thing I have now discovered about the lamprey is that they possess an immune system similar to our own, which has contributed to our understanding of how the immune system has evolved. However, the Lebensauger's presence in the show showcased his biology less than his body dysmorphia and antisocial personality disorder. (Not that this is a bad thing! It just makes for a sparse paragraph on speculations of what a lamprey wesen might do.)

All three Lowen with significant roles appear in positions of authority, which provides an interesting and subtle commentary on the psychology both within the species and surrounding the species and its reputation. Without further data it's difficult to tell what other biological features they might have, but they do seem to gravitate towards leadership roles over a cluster of subordinates in their chosen field, whether that's steering young offenders (the prison Lowen in the Drang-Zorn episode Jess Reilly), teaching gifted children (the Lowen Coach Don), or controlling easily manipulated criminals (Leo Taymor). We'll skip along to the Nuckelavee for a moment only long enough to note that this actually is a creature from folklore that does not exist in nature, and so is more likely bound by the same laws that govern the Hexenbiest, given that we haven't seen any other evidence of strange biology.

Back over to the Mausherz and the Reinigen. Both of these creatures share similar manifestations in the two episodes where they were showcased: they were bullied, they were in the class margins of society, and both were pushed to the point of fighting back in a drastic manner. The fact that the Mausherz did suffer a terminal stressor and commit several homicides may likely be the fact that his aggressor was his own father, as opposed to the Reinigen, whose father was protective and supportive. Neither of the parents nor the relationships with the children is given as being typical of either species, too, so it's likely this is more the individual psychology than traits inherent in their neurological or endocrine makeup. The Mausherz escapes down a narrow passageway, emblematic of the way rats and mice have skeletal structures designed to pass through narrow openings. The Reinigen shows no such ability, but that may well be more a matter of plot than anything. The interesting thing about the Reinigen is the ability to control rats in large numbers; while it's true that rats are social creatures, the extent to which a human-shaped rat creature could direct the actions of any group of rats is questionable. It would most likely involve scent glands or scent expression of some kind, and long-term acquaintance with at least several larger more dominant rats to act as secondary leaders.

The Murcielago only display one extra-human trait as far as we can tell, and we get at least a couple good samples for them. The Spencer Harrison character seems to be stable and shows no alarming traits, the Lucinda character's sociopathy appears to have nothing to do with her Wesen nature. So we're left with a roughly humanoid biology with abnormal vocal cords, perhaps two sets of vocal cords? One for the humanoid voice and one for the Murcielago glass-shattering scream. Such a thing isn't unheard of; cats have two sets of vocal cords for two different purposes, a Murcielago might be the same. This would allow the Wesen to pass unnoticed while preserving their apparent defense mechanism, as echolocation is eminently possible without that sort of ear-shattering brain-bleeding pitch and duration of noise. Hey, speaking of echolocation, the Murcielago would also have to have specially configured ears and receptors in the brain to process the data, assuming they retain their echolocative abilities. Which, given other Wesen and their relationships to their animal origins, we have no reason to suspect they don't. However, such a thing would likely only be noticeable in a medical exam.

All the Schakal we see are criminals or violent personalities, and while two of them are more ordinary criminals involved in kidnapping and short-term violence, two of them have had their personalities altered by the coins. As with the Lowen, one could make theories about the personalities of Schakal that make them criminals or scavengers; again as with the Lowen, we have no in-text evidence that anything is going on here other than a coincidence written by narrative convention. Monroe translates the description of the Schakal only as "baby eating badasses," which, as entertaining as that is, gives us nothing in terms of their abilities.

The Seltenvogel is interesting, especially considering she's supposed to be extinct. And it's not difficult to see why, the throat-bubble or throat-bezoar (we all remember those from Harry Potter, right? It actually is a thing.) seems like such a counter-evolutionary trait, especially if they can't extract it themselves before it crushes their windpipe or otherwise cuts off their air. In order for it to form, too, generally the components would have to be inherently generated within the body or consumed from external sources, well. Either the Seltenvogel would have to be chewing on a lot of gold things (unlikely) or they have a particle accelerator within their body. Or they are born with gold within their bloodstream or other internally mobile system, which again begs the question how the hell did the gold get into the system of a biological entity in the first place? For this, I have nothing. It's possible, however unlikely, to synthesize some chemical compounds within a human body. There was, in fact, one case back in the nineties of a woman being admitted to an emergency room with what she thought were complications from her advanced cancer; she later died, and her ammonia-scented blood sickened over twenty people who had attended to her or were near her bodily fluids in some way. The worst of those remained in intensive care for weeks with symptoms up to and including
necrosis of the bone marrow. So, yes, a biological body can do some very strange things. But the ability to synthesize a stable metal isotope within the body is not something I have ever heard of. If I were to address the physicality of this and make science fiction of it, I would have to have the Seltenvogel chewing on gold or gold-plated materials, processing even dilute gold through their system and accumulating it within the throat, possibly within the humanoid equivalent of a crop, which is found in most birds and some related animals. The crop stores food for later; in a Seltenvogel, the crop would store gold for some other purpose. And again, I still have no idea what such a solid mass pressing on the windpipe could have as an evolutionary purpose. That seems like a trait that would be selected against, not for, as it requires outside interference to ensure the continued survival of the creature. It's barely possible that it started as a kind of mating ritual and evolved from there, in which case no wonder they're nearly extinct.

The Siegbarste is unique not in and of himself but in that we get some medical jargon here as described by someone who probably examined him while not in woge and while unaware of the Wesen specifically. Because he was a prisoner and then a fugitive, his medical records are read out for us to hear as relevant to apprehending him. He's described as having abnormally dense bones (remember that? we addressed that last time!) and congenital analgesia, which amounts to durable and if not impervious to pain, well-shielded against it. Abnormally dense bones might result in or coincide with denser than normal muscles, though it would also most likely result in harder hits than humans would be used to. Or even Grimms, as we saw demonstrated on Nick. Based on the file we actually caught a glimpse of (five major injuries, three gunshot wounds and two stab wounds, all to the torso) and Stark's attitude throughout Game Ogre, there may also be an increased healing factor though this is unclear and could be accounted for by his inability to process pain. Also noteworthy: inability to process pain as a permanent attribute, that isn't accompanied by an increased healing factor, isn't exactly an enduring trait. Pain being the body's way of letting us know something's wrong, one would think that increased pain tolerance would be selected for along with increased healing factor, whereas increased pain tolerance by itself would be selected against and the possessors would die young of injuries they didn't register.

The Spinnetod is less fantastic a creature than it might initially seem; it's not like we don't already carry around a barrage of strong acids. A Spinnetod would have to have a durable everything from stomach to esophagus to teeth to lips in order to avoid acid burns, as anyone who's suffered repeated vomiting due to any of half a dozen conditions could tell you. So there's the kill mechanism, and as far as the aging goes there are a number of progeria-variant conditions that could perform the same in a Spinnetod. The part that I do not yet understand is how a Spinnetod can feast upon the innards of another creature and intake substances that keep her young. On the other hand, the aging process is not well known either, except that there are certain substances within the body, protein groups and cell mutations which cause (or, possibly, arrest in the case of one young woman with the body and mind still of a toddler) aging. It's possible, at least as far as we understand the process at the moment, that in addition to stomach acid the Spinnetod vomits some sort of protein compound which breaks down the victim into component parts basic enough to then ingest and absorb into the Spinnetod's system to arrest or reverse, up to a point, the aging process. I'd have to do some more research to be able to hypothesize the process more fully, and it's stretching my capacity to explain now, but I'd consider it possible.

Over to something less complicated! As with all the bird-based Wesen so far, we don't have much on the Steinadler that isn't personality based and, again, our single example is tainted by the Coins of Zakynthos. We can speculate that he has potentially greater than human average senses, possibly is farsighted, and there might be some other avian digestive work at play, but that's entirely speculation at this point. But you know what isn't speculation? Next up in our alphabet, that marvel of murderation and paragon of pustulence, the Wendigo! Oh yay. Most of the non-human biology in the Wendigo can probably be traced back to the digestive system. Despite not being based in any existing animal, the Wendigo has a long folkloric tradition, most of which involves eating human beings for various reasons. This could be cannibalism if the wendigo in the particular tale starts out as human; since the Wendigo in Grimm are Wesen and therefore a different species, it isn't, technically speaking, cannibalism. Yes, it is still gross. And the manner of eating is likewise gross, though inconsistent. We see nearly full skeletons buried in the midden pit under the house, but we see an entire foot in the stewpot. Complete with all its little foot bones and toenails. Most of the ranting we did on this in the recaplysis itself, but to reiterate here, the digestive system of a Wendigo must be rather like that of an owl or other raptor, where it separates the meat and small bones from the fleshy bits and their nutrients in the gizzard and stores them there till they can be regurgitated later. But if that's the case, why is there a midden pit right under the damn house? Leaving aside the fact that keeping your corpses where you eat is just damn unsanitary. The most likely answer is, of course, that they had the Wendigo pulling the entire foot out of the stewpot for shock value and to underscore the fact that this creature eats humans. The entertaining (at least to me) answer is that the skeletons were discarded prey for whatever reason, and the Wendigo does have a gizzard and a filter mechanism somewhere within its digestive system. They'd still need to pull out the larger bones, though. And have a complex throat mechanism so that the smaller bones didn't catch and choke the creature.

Almost done! We know the Wildermen have a similar problem to the Drang-Zorn in terms of impulse control and violent reactions, but there are some small differences. For one thing, they seem to be less prone to immediate violence, more like a general inclination to strong emotions resulting in either less control of their woge for hormonal or neurological reasons or a cultural disinclination to deal with the more volatile aspects of their woge. The latter seems more likely than the former as the loss of control as well as the violent reactions are strongly indicated to be the work of the doctor who implanted the drug pumps in their bodies. So, while their hormonal makeup might be different in some ways from a human's, it's also probably closer than, again, the Drang-Zorn.

Finally and not entirely unrelatedly we have the Ziegvolk, noted within the episode for two biological phenomena in particular, with both concerning mating. The first, the Ziegvolk pheromone production which induces responses in human females, has at least some basis in animal biology. The output and receptor organs have been documented; the problem herein though is that humans don't seem to have the receptor organ, or if we do (the way some humans have wisdom teeth and some don't) it's been turned off. It's apparently possible for some animals to receive the pheromonal message regardless, but within human beings the manner of reception of pheromonal signal and by what means it translates to a response within the brain is very little understood. Let alone across the species barrier! So there's that, and although we have seen that the Ziegvolk's pheromone output seems to cross species barriers, it might also just have been for humor purposes. The other interesting thing that we'll get into in more detail later is that Ziegvolk seem to be able to cross-breed with humans. At the very least they can impregnate human females to the extent that a pregnancy can occur. We had no indication onscreen whether or not any of the births were live and the babies viable and expected to live an ordinary lifespan.

So that's it, that's the play by play for each species of Wesen as we've had it documented so far. I wish we had something more for you than "dense musculature" "abnormal endocrine system" but, unfortunately, scientific curiosity always takes a back seat to telling a good story. Still, it's a place to hang further speculation on, and we've got one more chapter in this series left for you! A general view of Wesen biology, things like blood types and reproduction and how the hell do they manage with being hospitalized, anyway? (Short pithy answer: with difficulty.)  All that and more, next week, on Unspooling Fiction!

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