So this is a story I wrote a while ago, in response to the growing Furby customisation trend that I saw on Tumblr. It got me thinking about biology and the domestication process, and a hypothetical fictional world where Furbies were living, breathing animals.
I think that this goes without saying, but I (a random university student) own nothing, and this is a parodic short story.
So, without further ado, I give you "On The Subject Of Furbies"
In mammalian biology, there is generally considered to be two standard forms in the arrangement of a creature’s optical array.
One form is optimized for a wide field of vision with minimal blind spots, achieved by having eyes placed on either side of the skull. This form allows an animal to maintain a full picture of its immediate surroundings at all times, even when performing tasks such as drinking or grazing, when it has to place its head close to the ground. This form is usually exhibited in prey animals.
The second form is optimized for the tracking of fast-moving objects, precise depth perception, and vibrant colour vision. This is achieved by having both eyes close together on the front of the skull in a ‘binocular’ formation. The second form is found almost exclusively in predatory animals, regardless of whether they hunt by ambush or pursuit.
This pattern is very obvious when you look for it. For example; mice have their eyes on the side, while cats have their eyes on the front. What’s coming next might prove to be a bit of a shock. I’d advise you to sit down if you haven’t already.
Furbies have predator vision. The common or garden Furby is in fact a predatory animal.
To gain a full appreciation of this fact, we need to understand what a Furby is. Contrary to popular belief, the variety of Furby kept as a pet is a creation of the domestication process, and not how the species exists in the wild.
The first instance of a Furby in the academic record comes from 1735 when the species was documented in Swedish zoologist Carl Linnaeus’s “Systema Naturae.” While never seeing a living animal, he conducted his studies on the species through a pair of wet-preserved specimens shipped from New Caledonia. One of the two specimens was so large that no glass jar could be found to house it, and it had to be shipped to Linnaeus in a large cask of brandy.
He classified the species as “Platypus astranguloi”, meaning flat-footed strangler. He believed them to be related to the more famous duck-billed platypus, and while this isn’t quite correct, Furbies are indeed one of the six extant species of monotreme, and the only one to be domesticated.
As it turns out, this binomial nomenclature is an incredibly apt one for the species, as wild Furbies can be up to fourteen feet in length, and kill their prey via constriction. They feed mostly upon New Caledonia’s flightless bird population, with fully-grown adults able to take down animals as large as feral turkeys. They are theoretically large enough to eat human children, though outside of old wives’ tales there are no cases of this occurring.
Scientists aren’t quite sure what bizarre ecological pressures caused a monotreme to evolve into a long-bodied constrictor on par with a boa or python, but the leading theory is that the absence of land-dwelling snakes on the island left the ecological niche open. New Caledonia’s only snakes are the seafaring kraits, which the Furby has been known to eat.
The series of events that lead to Furby domestication started in 1864 when nickel was discovered on the island. The arrival of French nickel miners devastated the Furby’s natural habitat, destroying nesting sites used for thousands of years. The destruction of these nesting sites lead to a decreased quantity of potential mates for the Furbies, and they were soon forced to turn to inbreeding. This lead to widespread musculoskeletal deformities in the Furby population, and the short-spined “pom-pom” form that is now so iconic of the species.
Short spine disorder is a deformity that can affect many different mammalian species but is most often seen in canines such as the domestic dog. It occurs when the vertebrae of the spine fuse together with cartilage, resulting in an animal that is dramatically compressed and entirely lacks a neck. These new short-spined Furbies could not survive in the wild, as their condition prevents them from constricting their prey. It reduces them from an adult size of fourteen feet down to a mere six to eight inches.
It also renders them near-immobile, as wild Furbies move like snakes through rectilinear locomotion. A Furby's small "feet" are actually pelvic spurs, small skeletal structures free-floating from the pelvis evolved for fighting and attracting a mate.
While the exact story of how the Furby ended up in captivity has been lost to history, it is believed that a clutch of short-spined Furby hatchlings was found by a prospector, who smuggled them home to France to give as presents to his two daughters.
Soon, Furbymania overtook Europe as Furby Fancier societies began popping up to proliferate the species. By 1879 there were over eighteen hundred members of the British Furby Fancier’s Society alone, split across twenty regional chapters.
The Furby Fanciers began producing new breeds of Furby, selecting for traits such as coat colour and texture, eye colour and beak roundness. These early breeds include the “leopard” Furby, bred to have rosetted spots like a big cat, and the “mohair” Furby, bred for a thick, curly coat resembling the wool of an alpaca.
Queen Victoria was famously presented with a mated pair of Furbies by visiting French aristocrats in 1891. The male was a brindle coloured mohair named Barnabus, and the female was a rare salmon-breasted angora named Paris. They reportedly lived in a birdcage, and subsisted on a diet of chicken livers, whole quail eggs and kippers. The animals produced a clutch of four puggles, but none of them made it past infancy due to an inherited genetic condition present in the angora breed. The animals were amongst Victoria’s menagerie up until her death in 1901, but it is unknown if Edward VIII kept them after that.
Modern Furby Fanciers are more adventurous with selecting traits, creating an arms race of bizarre Furby breeds. First came the “stargazers”, Furbies bred for thickened tapetum lucidum, allowing their eyes to shine vividly even in daylight. Then came the
“crystal” breed, bred for ossiferous calcium deposits on their facial cartilage that resembles shiny crystals.
The latest craze in the Furby community is the “oddbody”, bred for a long constricting spine just like its wild ancestors. The first clutch hatched in 2016 received international media attention, being dubbed “freaks of nature.” The general public had grown so used to the pom-pom deformity present in most domestic breeds that a more natural Furby was seen as freakish.
The oddbody breed doesn’t quite resemble its wild ancestors. Their length tops out at around seven and a half feet, and they’re astoundingly docile for creatures of their strength and power. Still, they trigger something in almost everyone who witnesses them, a sort of deep primal discomfort striking into that peculiar part of the human imagination that doesn’t quite inspire words.
But when you look upon them with their sharp beaks and predatory gazes, keep one thing in mind; the Furby is not the only one with cruel and hungry eyes. The next time you find yourself staring into a mirror, you’ll see it for yourself. Humans also have predator vision.