"Proto-Stenza" is the designation given to the youngest known not-quite-Stenza species which evolved around the area of the Ice Flats from that particular genetic stock. The species is mostly known from specimens found in caves, alongside bones from prey species such as ancestors to the Basket Horns and Kʉrdeneχ. The cave specimens are remarkable in their completeness and have been extensively studied, and their placement in the caves has been subject to some debate. Skull analysis shows that Proto-Stenza are likely to have had a form of Collective Knowledge, which suggests that they were intelligent even if they lacked the ability to speak. This may imply that they buried their dead and had particular beliefs about doing so (most of the caves Proto-Stenza have been found in are on the opposite side of the rim from the Ice Flats), although this cannot yet be confirmed. The specimens range in age from around one or two years of age to eighty. Studies of the youngest specimens suggest that there is little physiological difference between Proto-Stenza young and modern Stenza Pups, with the most significant change over time being the addition of the gene or genes responsible for Shifting.
Proto-Stenza were quadrupedal, with opposable thumbs and elongated faces and long fangs as well as flat shearing teeth in the front of the face. Studies of flesh samples attached to the bones after so many millions of years suggest that, like modern Stenza after them, Proto-Stenza were a variety of shades of blue. They ranged from five to eight feet in length, and could stand six and a half to eight feet tall on hind legs, if they practiced facultative bipedalism. Reconstructions have been made and demonstrate the best known representation of what Proto-Stenza might have looked like; these suggest a muscular form that looked almost feline (from an Earthly perspective).
Genetics and Reproduction
Analysis of tissue, skeletal structure, and genetics of especially female specimens suggest that like modern Stenza, Proto-Stenza had litters of young, possibly following a yearly cycle along with and lined up with their known migration patterns. It is unknown if there was a system to regulate the amount of reproduction in any given year, however, despite the suggestions that Proto-Stenza had some level of intelligence.
Dietary Needs and Habits
Proto-Stenza are known to be exclusively carnivorous (slightly more so than modern Stenza, who have adapted to accommodate 'Alashaia fruits and little else over tens of thousands of years), and have followed herds of more herbivorous animals, which then followed food and warmth. Some sites of remains suggested that when times were tough, Proto-Stenza refused food for the sake of their pups, possibly implying that pups routinely ate first. However, evidence is as yet inconclusive.
Proto-Stenza are known to have followed a more circuitous route across the year, like many other Mudeweian species. This is tied in with the reproduction cycle and the seeking of food. In a looser form of modern Stenza cycles, it seems that Proto-Stenza gave birth near (or possibly within) the Ice Flats, and the resulting pups followed or clung to their parents or nearest adults (as per claw marks and other indentations on the skeletal remains) to find food and escape the harshness of winter.
Perception and Sensory Capabilities
Skull analysis shows that Proto-Stenza had a well-developed olfactory sense more connected to taste than that of modern Stenza, and suggests they had a form of Collective Knowledge.