Equal parts vital and disgusting - just like me!Shroom-Crawlers are slug-like animals with parasitic gardens of mushrooms and fungi rooted onto their backs. They burrow into the Crawlers' flesh to spread their spores as the creatures slither across through Araea, offering food and safety from predators for the slow, lumbering beast in return. Shroom-Crawlers are common across the Inner and Outer Shell, an often vital part to life in the caverns. Without them, many fungi and mushrooms would never spread beyond small enclaves of light, surrounded by desolation and bleak stone. When a crawler dies, their rotting carcass feeds the gardens they carry until the spores are picked up by another, ensuring the cycle continues.
Crawlers are squat and broad, ranging in length to about a meter, with soft and yielding flesh, almost acting like a wet sponge when pushed. The top of their bodies is home to a dizzying variety of mushrooms of every color and kind, with no Crawler looking quite like the other. Some have large, weighty stalks on their backs while others are barely visible beneath thick strands of fungi that hang about them like moss. No matter what they carry, Crawlers wet with rot from their cargo and leave a trail of mucous. They have a flabby, pale underside, lined with muscles that they use to drags themselves along the cavern floors, with the organs vaguely visible through the mucus-covered flesh.
The crawlers' front is dominated by a short, grey beak, lined with ridges for ripping and tearing, with a long prehensile tongue that can reach out to grasp and pull. Two long, curved claws are folded behind two short stubby arms, used for digging through piles of fungi or scavenge corpses.
Young crawlers are at their most vulnerable before they've developed this protective shroud, carrying just the small budding of fungi and mushrooms.
Shroom Crawlers are slow beasts, always moving about their domains to spread the spores from their parasitic coat and feed what grows from it. Crawlers are not territorial or aggressive animals, and will often share their domains with several of their kind, though they exhibit little in the way of social interaction. They keep no nests but curl up into balls among the growth of their domains to hide when they rest.
Some Crawlers become home to insects who nest on their backs and feed on the mushrooms there, feeding them in turn when they die. These present another hazard for any who disturb the Crawlers, as many are poisonous and aggressive.Though Crawlers primarily eat mushrooms, fungi, moss, and insects, they are opportunistic scavengers. Should a corpse or injured animal present itself, Crawlers will just as readily eat those, usually by tearing openings into the body and devouring the organs. Such scavenged feasts spread the spores onto the decaying bodies.
Crawlers reproduce alone, each one capable of growing another Crawler within itself. A 'pregnant' crawler will swell from within until it is almost twice its normal size before they slough off another Crawler from underneath itself. The child will follow its parents for a few months while they are still naked and vulnerable, absorbing the spores left wafting from the first Crawler.
Some Crawlers die early, if the parent happens to be host to particularly demanding or invasive species of mushrooms. They grow for about a year before becoming adults and can live for up to three decades if they carry especially benign parasites. Most live no more than two, and some only reach one decade before their gardens kill them and devour them from within.
Shroom Crawlers are an essential part of life in the caverns, spreading mushroom and fungi spores across their travels. In many cultures, the Shroom Crawlers have become part of myth and legend, as a sort of life-bringer. Hunting them is often illegal, and offenders sometimes bound and disemboweled in the mushroom fields of the Crawlers.
Even so, Crawlers are hunted and eaten occasionally, either from desperation or depravity. Others harvest the mushrooms of their back and leave the beasts alive, but many crawlers don't survive long without their coat of mushrooms. The flesh of a Crawler has the consistency of rotting flesh, wet and unpleasant.
The Inner Shell Shroom-Crawlers are found in the greatest numbers in the Inner Shell, deep within the cavernous world and far away from sunlight. At this depth, the caverns are much larger and the tunnels less cramped than further above. There is more space here for life to grow and it is here most of Araea's city-states are found. Fecund caverns stretch for miles, with Shroom-Crawlers nesting where-ever they can. Read More About The Inner Shell
Mushroomiriffic MultitudeThe exact appearance of the Crawler depends on where they are and what spores they have encountered. Some are shrouded in a constant hazy of poisonous spores from their carry, while others are lined with softly glowing bioluminescence. The difference is vast enough that Crawlers are on occasion mistaken for other creatures entirely.
Some mushrooms aren't content to wait for the Crawlers to come to them but instead hunt them down to root themselves in them.
Shroom-SicknessNot all mushrooms are so helpful to the Crawler, and they can become home to parasites that sicken or kill them. A sick Crawler becomes a battleground between the different species that have taken root in their flesh, with the winner deciding if the Crawler lives or dies. Such diseased animals are sluggish and foul-smelling things, avoided by other animals.
One particularly insidious kind of fungi called the Antaram sometimes infect the Crawlers and completely overtake it. They turn the crawlers into living nests, organic spires of sickly bloated flesh and fungal growth, alive but immobile.