Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

Blog

In the world of TUYO: Are Ugaro and Lau the same species?

If you’ve read even a little of TUYO at this point, then you’ve met at least one Ugaro and a lot of Lau. You have undoubtedly noted that these two peoples are very different.

I made the difference much more extreme than you would see between any real-world populations, just as extreme as possible. I mean, the Ugaro are comfortable in short sleeves in the middle of a Canadian-style winter, as long as they can stay active. Their muscles don’t lock up in frigid water. It’s not as clear how extremely heat-adapted the Lau are, but eventually maybe we’ll see that; they are just as extreme.

Then I whammed the two peoples together in highly distinctive environments separated by about, what, a hundred yards or so rather than a couple thousand miles. Did anybody else wonder if the Ugaro and Lau are actually the same species, or is that just my own biology background showing?

How about theLakasha-erra of the far south? Does mentioning them make anybody wonder about this? I mentioned, but did not describe, the Tarashana of the far north, the starlit lands. I may come back to them later in another book; I left a definite plot hook for that, which some of you may have noticed. I think I know what they look like, which will also be highly distinctive.

Did anybody notice I suggested that a little bit of interbreeding may take place between Ugaro and Lau? Not a lot, and given the events in the story, you can probably see that any resulting children would probably wind up settling in the borderlands between the winter country and the summer country.

I’m actually not sure whether the two peoples are the same species or not. In story terms, it doesn’t matter — neither the Ugaro nor the Lau would think of it in the way a modern biologist would — but since I have a biology background, I do sort of wonder just how different two populations can get and still be considered the same species.

The “biological species definition” says that if two populations can interbreed and produce fertile offspring, they are the same species. This is not, of course, correct.

I would like to pause for a moment to emphasize the above statement. The biological species concept is a handy guideline, but it is not correct. It’s widely known, widely referenced, and frequently wrong. For example, grizzly bears and polar bears can interbreed and produce fertile offspring, but any fool can easily see that they are different species. There’s a loooong list of related species like this, so at this point I would really like to drive a stake through the heart of the biological species concept. It gets cited all over the place as though it’s Gospel Truth, which it isn’t, and it’s causing way more confusion than it’s worth.

There are (at least) three other species definitions in use today, if you’re curious: the evolutionary species concept, the phylogenetic species concept, and the morphological species concept. Personally I pretty much go with the morphological species concept: if it looks like the same species, it is; and if it doesn’t, it isn’t. “Looks like” includes behavioral and metabolic and for that matter DNA similarities and differences. In the real world, I want to emphasize, you’re always going to be able to argue around the edges because real organisms don’t necessarily feel inclined to follow textbook definitions.

One current school of thought declares that dogs and wolves are the same species. This is done because of a (wrong, imo) interpretation of DNA evidence. Let me just rapidly list important differences between dogs and wolves in order to illustrate the kinds of differences that I think are important but that some people are willing to ignore:

— Wolves, but not dogs, are pack animals and form relatively stable family packs in the wild with consistent positive (affiliative) and negative (agonistic) behaviors that support family pack formation. Dogs really do not do this, except for dingos. Dogs, including dogs living in the wild, don’t form the same kind of pair-bond between mated pairs, don’t show the same behaviors that maintain a pack, don’t generally show cooperative care of puppies, and just on and on. Dogs are highly social, but they are not actually pack animals.

–Dogs, but not wolves, can digest carbohydrates rather well. This doesn’t mean that a vegan diet is okay for a dog, but it means that a dog will starve to death much more slowly on such a diet than a wolf would, often living long enough to develop deficiency diseases rather than dying before those diseases turn up. You are safe to assume that I am absolutely disgusted by people who delude themselves into thinking it’s okay to feed their dog a vegan diet, but it is true the dog does not outwardly starve on this kind of diet as fast as a cat would. Or a wolf.

— Dogs have smaller teeth and weaker jaws than wolves of the same basic size. This is true of dogs that supposedly look like wolves, such as Siberian huskies and German shepherds, not just of, I don’t know, Pomeranians or whatever. Dogs have smaller brains relative to their body weight than wolves. Dogs have shorter legs proportionally, and smaller feet, and the head is rather different, and the eyes are seldom yellow, and on and on.

Based on all that, as far as I’m concerned, dogs and wolves are definitely not the same species. As an added perk, this lets me say much more firmly that wolves are terrible, terrible pets and that wolf-dog hybrids are also terrible, terrible pets. People who think dogs and wolves are the same species have a hard time saying this firmly enough and then people get wolves or high-percentage wolf hybrids, nearly all of which get put down young because the owner can’t cope, and I am now standing on a soapbox, so let me step down and bring this topic back to the two peoples we get a good look at in TUYO.

The Ugaro and the Lau — different enough to be two distinct species? Or not? I don’t actually know, but it was a question that drifted through my mind from time to time as I wrote the story. I think this is why I exaggerated the differences even more than necessary — for example, the Lau often live half again as long as the Ugaro, with a typical lifespan of well over a hundred years — did you notice that? But then I got rid of old age for the Ugaro just because it’s a nice thing to do — they may die younger, but they barely show their age till right at the end. (I wish I were aging like that, but alas.) So those are important differences.

Plus of course sorcery is a lot more common among the Lau. I could tell you why, but I think I’ll hold onto that worldbuilding detail in case I want to use it as a plot point sometime.

For me, the question of whether the Ugaro and Lau are the same species or not adds depth to the world and I enjoy thinking about it, even though they’re not nearly as different as, say, Tolkien’s humans and elves.

Please Feel Free to Share:

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

12 Comments In the world of TUYO: Are Ugaro and Lau the same species?

  1. SarahZ

    I might be alone in this, but this particular line of questioning makes me sort of uncomfortable. I keep having to remind myself, in reading this, that while the Ugaro and Lau are modeled off of real-world populations, they’re different enough to be their own things. Otherwise, the idea of considering if they’re different enough biologically to count as different species feels very uncomfortably close to a conversation that could be dehumanizing to said real-world populations. I know that’s not the intent, of course, so sorry if you’d rather I kept that all to myself. Maybe it’s all just more at the forefront of my mind with what’s happening now.

    To change the subject, I just read that Becky Chambers novella, To Be Taught, If Fortunate, and it seems right up your alley (lots of science-y alien biology discussions). Did you read it yet? I’m not sure how I feel about the ending yet, and am curious what other people think.

  2. Elaine T

    I didn’t wonder if they’re the same species, they both read as human (variants). and then Ryo did wonder if someone – Esau, IIRC – was part Ugaro. Even with the aging differences, which yes, I noticed. The Lakasha-erra, OTOH, don’t. And I have been wondering if what drove away the starlit people, the Tarashana, related to any events in this book, or at least a sorceror somewhere, but couldn’t tell. I”m rereading it, BTW, and appreciating Ryo’s insecurity about whatever he thinks or feels once he finds out he’s been near a sorceror. Most books I’ve read which have characters who can do what Ryo fears don’t get into the heads of the (possible) victims.

    The Teen was being haunted by an MG book Far Flung Adventures: Fergus Crane authors Paul Stewart and Chris Riddel and and wants me to read it to help figure out why. i thought of you several times in the first 15 pages as food and food smells went by :-).

  3. Rachel Neumeier

    SarahZ, really? I guess I could revise the post to remove references to real-world populations. The Ugaro and Lau are quite a bit more extreme than any real population. I think of the question as biologically interesting, but first, no more relevant to the real world than Tolkienesque elves and dwarves, and second, not relevant either way to questions of personhood or worth.

    Out of curiosity, would you feel the same way in an SF setting, something like Seveneves, with the genetically-engineered marine people who are so very biologically removed from other human populations?

  4. Mary Catelli

    When they went to tame the silver fox in the Soviet Union, their sole criterion was — how close the fox would let you approach before bolting. By this, rigorously applied, they produced in 40 generations a fox that would seek out humans — and looked very much more like a dog.

  5. SarahZ

    It’s just the fact that they’re so obviously Inuit and Maasai analogues that bugs, although I agree it’s not super logical. No need to edit, though. Sorry if it was too weird to bring up

  6. Rachel Neumeier

    Well, Sarah, they do have to have those basic body types and coloring, unless you absolutely throw out real biology altogether. But I certainly don’t mind that you brought it up. I think adaptive differences in human populations are biologically and especially evolutionarily interesting and socially neutral, but it’s true of course that people have a tendency to use real differences as a basis to make up fake ones and then create fake social hierarchies.

  7. Allan Shampine

    I did wonder that! And I did notice the reference to Ugaro/Lau offspring living on the borders. I had assumed they were just the end products of adaptation to their environments, and I further assumed that the far southern race(s) came from different roots (animal heads?!?). Haven’t finished the story yet, though.

  8. Rachel

    Ugaro and Lau are totally the end products of adaptation to their environments, Allen, but that is almost exactly what allopatric speciation IS — the continued adaptations of (largely) reproductively isolated populations to their environments, leading eventually to speciation. And of course that’s why in the real world there are a thousand situations where you can’t quite tell whether different populations belong to the same species or not. For example, in so-called “ring species,” it can be absolutely impossible to draw real species boundaries between most of the populations in the ring — like here, for example, where only the two most northern populations are definitely reproductively isolated.

    In the real world environments grade into each other and there is generally a HUGE amount of migration and therefore when a species is widely distributed, we get overlapping normal curves along every possible axis of physical type. Wolves are a great example; Mexican populations are very different from Alaskan populations, but not so different we’d say they’re different species. It’s so different when you drop a major barrier between different populations and leave it there starting, I guess, when time began — I have no idea about the creation myths, if any, of the Ugaro or the Lau. Maybe, if somebody knows the truth about the creation of the world, it might be the Lakasha-erra.

    I really do not know where the Lakasha came from. Not just from ordinary evolutionary processes, I think we can be quite sure of that. I’m not sure whether the Ugaro and Lau have some kind of magical influence pushing them to be so extraordinarily well adapted to their different environments, but it’s definitely possible.

  9. Sandstone

    Sarahz and Rachel, I happened to see the original version and it hit me wrong in the same way, I think that because there is such a history of racists claiming with full seriousness that different human races really are different (and sub-human) species with pseudoscience based on physical features like physique, fat distribution, and face shape in the real world that even in a fantasy worldbuilding context very divorced from reality talk of fantasy cultures inspired by real human cultures being separate species can’t help but ring that bell to some degree. While I have faith that Rachel didn’t mean to echo this, I do think that it’s appropriate that the post was edited and rephrased so that the fantasy exaggerations beyond real human biology were made clearer.

  10. Rachel

    Sandstone, I appreciate Sarah letting me know it could come across that way.

    I think population variance is interesting and I just have a hard time believing people keep wanting to load those differences with social importance.

  11. Craig N.

    I always figured that the Ugaro and Lau are _mostly_ the same species, because of the few mentions are mixing, and that the Lakasha-erra aren’t, because animal heads.
    I note that the Lakasha-erra have a much less human group ruling over them. I’d give odds some Lau think those living sphinxes magically altered the Lakasha-erra from original human (that is, Lau) stock.

Leave A Comment