Millions of years ago, when the global climate began to warm and the continents shifted towards their current positions, the mighty glaciers that once spanned nearly the entire globe were forced to retreat towards the distant poles of Sagan IV. This situation left one of the major predators native to them, the Ice Teuthopins, in a predicament. With several populations now isolated on the various peaks across the globe, it was only a matter of time before genetic drift would lead to the appearance of new species. The mudslider teuthopin is one such example. Descended from populations located on Verserus peak that had - as a result of overpopulation - descended into the surrounding alpine regions, they have since split from their ancestors and spread throughout the interior regions of the Dixon-Darwin supercontinent. The average lifespan of a mudslider teuthopin is roughly fifteen years, though with the threat of predation many don't live to see beyond five.
Compared to its ancestor, the mudslider teuthopin has expanded upon its habit of both tunneling through and expanding the passageways of its favored prey items. Now entirely fossorial, they have adapted to this lifestyle in several ways. The most prominent of these adaptation are their more pronounced claws, which are both longer and broader, and perfect for tearing through soil and snow with ease. Their beaks have also elongated, and will also aid in the digging process with the aid of repetitive, upwards/downwards motions as they shove loosened earth out of the way. Their breathing holes, now more pronounced, face backwards in order to prevent dirt from clogging them. As for their vocal sacs, which dominate the tops of their bodies, they are now covered in a layer of skin and blubber that both protects them from damage as well as reduced the amount of heat that would otherwise be lost through what was, in the ancestors, fairly exposed. Their ancestor's "tails" are longer, fatter, and slightly more flexible, and serve as storage for the majority of the calories these teuthopins take in on a daily basis. Compared to their ancestors, a lifetime of tunneling has reducing their capacity to change color - with one notable exception - though they are still capable of darkening and lightening their pigmentation when needed, such as when sunning themselves or attempting to communicate with one another.
When not basking in the sun during the early morning, this species burrows through loose earth and snow. During the warmer parts of the year, they will manage to dig vast tunnels in both the search of prey and the avoidance of predators. They are incredibly ravenous, gorging themselves upon almost anything moving that can fit into their beaks, and for good reason. It is during these times of warmth and plenty when they must maintain their blubber stores, for when winter comes, they will need to rely upon metabolizing it to survive. If they fail to prepare properly, they are likely to freeze to death or even be too weak to unearth themselves by the time spring returns.
As the first chill of winter arrives near the end of fall, the mudslider teuthopin will dig out an earthen chamber only slightly larger than itself and proceed to fill it with bits of small flora, such as Pioneer Quillballs, as well as the branches of larger ones, such as the lacy-leaf obsiditree. Once its den is snug and secure, the mudslider teuthopin will enter a state of torpor as it winters through the colder months, relying on the stores of fat it accumulated from the gorging it underwent prior to its slumber. During this period of time, a healthy adult can lose nearly a quarter of its bodyweight as its body continues to perform the bare necessity of functions needed to maintain life. It is only when warmth returns to the land and the first flaw begins to soak these underground burrows will the teuthopins stir once more, and once they do so they will seek the surface so that they may bask in the suns rays in preparation for filling their empty bellies. It is these first spring ventures, when the teuthopins emerge in mass while the land is wet with melting snow and fresh mud - inevitably leading to them covered in the later - that has led to their namesake.
Mating & Reproduction
Mating occurs in early fall. In preparation for this, healthy hermaphrodite specimens will, over the course of a week, take on a rich vibrant teal color. This hue is not unlike the favored camouflage of the ice teuthopins, and signifies both as a sign of sexual readiness and also to help attract potential mates. The process begins early in the morning, with individuals surfacing and searching for secluded, open spot, whereupon they will repeatedly release a heavy thrumming sound as they rapidly vibrate their vocal sacs. While there is great risk in doing so, the desire to mate overwhelms them, and as such they may do this for hours at a time. Should they be successful in their endeavors, they will attract several others of their kind. What follows next is much like how other, early teuthopins did to reproduce, though with one additional step. A small "tournament" occurs, with mock fighting between the various contestants going on in order to determine which is the more powerful individual. Said fights involve smacking beaks together and slapping each other with their tentacles, until one contestant surrenders. In time, a victor is determined, and who then goes on fertilize all the other hermaphrodite's eggs, before they are all placed in the pouch of a carrier or two, depending on how many contestants there were. This process can be exhausting, especially for the victor, and most will soon retreat underground - because of the energy expended by the winner, who often doesn't have their own eggs fertilized, they will resort to reabsorbing their unfertilized eggs in order to regain some nutrients and energy. (edited)
The hundred or so young eventually hatch inside the pouch, where they will remain for a week or so as they develop further, nourished by the shells of their former eggs as well as by numerous unfertilized ones. Unlike in their ancestors, beyond this point they are showed no further parental care, and are released in mass. The young must head out into the world by themselves, guided only by their natural instincts, and begin to hunt within hours of their "birth". They put on weight rapidly during this time, and for good reason. With the colder winter months approaching, they need all the blubber they can accumulate, else they risk dying from the cold. Many will not survive, with over 90% succumbing to the elements, predators, and on very rare occasions, even outright cannibalism by older, larger individuals. Those that do survive, though, will reach sexual maturity towards the end of their second year of life, thus giving them a chance to carry on the species.
Interactions with other Species
The constant burrowing and tunneling of the mudslider teuthopins inevitably brought them into contact with another fossorial species, the Gnarbolonks. While not above hunting the occasional isolated offspring should a teuthopin be particularly desperate, their interactions otherwise are fairly amicable. Both help to expand and maintain the tunnels of the other, and the teuthopins will even clear out verminous species that would otherwise steal from the gnarbolonk's larder. This relationship has proven so beneficial that the latter have managed to spread to all regions the teuthopins now inhabit.
The mudslider teuthopins also comes into contact with one of the local major predators of the regions they inhabit, the Long-Tailed Flunejaw, though their relationship in this case is not so positive. The flunejaws are likely to kill a teuthopin should they come across one, and for good reason. The teuthopins, much like the flunejaws, rely on sensing vibrations in order to sense the world around them - especially when underground where eyes are basically useless. As such, they can exploit many of the tricks the flunejaws use, especially their habit of burying stockpiles of incapacitated kruggs in the soil. Sensing the vibrations of the crippled prey, the teuthopins will gladly help themselves to the feast. This ability works both ways, however, and the flunejaws are more than capable of detecting - and inevitably reaching - teuthopins communicating with one another under but a few feet of snow and/or soil.