27. apr. 2008

Explication of the Great Muddigger

“I object!” Bata Leviki was restless. He dug his elbows into the desk as if the gesture could emphasize his protest.

It certainly didn’t stop Mr. Lajić from talking. Right then Bata Leviki’s animal hit my thigh and I deeply regretted my position. I had been seated to Leviki’s right, next to his muddigger. The animal had been resting at Leviki’s feet until the zoologist’s protest woke it up. When it moved, it slapped its heavy tail against me. I had to grab the desk with both hands to keep myself from falling, and then I pushed back. The animal ignored me; it was Leviki who gave me an angry look.

I peeked under the desk and saw that his muddigger was quite calm in spite of the general commotion. It was lying on its back, stretched out, its plump head and “haircut” thrown back, its lung ventricles exposed, each chest fang sticking in its own direction. Meanwhile, the tip of its tail was climbing, spiralling up Leviki’s bony legs like it was trying to coax him or perhaps comfort him. With every turn, it inevitably skimmed my leg and even though I found it extremely unpleasant I was not surprised to see that Leviki, on the other hand, was not bothered at all. Wasn't he most disturbed by Mr. Lajić's remark that great muddigger's endangerment is secondary to the danger its species presents to humans? Leviki was definitely angry when Mr. Lajić continued saying that the great muddigger doesn’t belong to the conference, especially not to the respectable Congress Center of Cankarjev Dom.

By then, Mr. Lajić was finished. He ignored a researcher who was obviously ready to add his remarks, turned to Leviki and said: “Mr. Leviki, can you explain how you intend to counter the results of this research project when you were personally involved in it and, let me refresh your memory, never questioned its conclusions. Also, allow me to ask you why have you decided to object my explication’s thesis today, at the closing meeting even though you had more than a year's time to do so?”

I was wondering the same thing even though I already knew that Leviki was not going to be able to answer. The rumour was that Leviki had been living with the great muddigger since the beginning of his field research in the swamps of Ljubljansko Barje. I also heard they share a flat which isn’t much bigger than my own. Impossible! The constant presence of the great muddigger (who certainly did not get its name without a reason) was unimaginable for me. Did Leviki really learn to love the animal so much that he eventually decided to adopt it? From a professional point of view, his act clearly discredited all his research efforts. I flinched, looked at Leviki and saw that he was going to give it a try anyway.

“Dear Sirs,” he began and remained seated. Everybody knew that he was tied to his seat by muddigger’s heavy embrace. Then, as if the humiliation wasn't complete, the animal’s tail peeked over the desk and slowly curved down its full length. I don't think Leviki was aware of the moment's cruelty. He was rubbing the muddigger's tail and looking at us from such a distance that I prepared myself for a very long and most certainly partial answer.

Below, you will find my transcript of Leviki's speech. Although his findings about the great muddigger are probably valid only for his domesticated specimen, I shall leave it to the expert community to decide whether Leviki's studies are of any general value as well.

Sikhth Sense, Ph.D.
Calcutta, October 18th 2009

Desiccation of Swamp Habitats and Survival Strategies of Endangered Amphibians
October 5th – 11th 2009, Congress Center of Cankarjev Dom (Ljubljana, Slovenia)

October 10th 2009: Case Study: The Great Muddigger (Caenulentus major)


Dear Sirs,
Mr. Lajić's ridicule demands an answer. The following arguments are going to object to the same thesis I have indeed supported until one year ago. I will refute the prejudiced opinion that the great muddigger is an amphibian hostile to humans; in fact, I will refute even the idea that the muddigger is an amphibian at all. I insist that his exceptional sensitivity and intelligence demand further study: they demand that we rethink his – and our own – place in the genealogical tree of life. I am going to conclude my deduction with arguments that support the most important and most frightening realisation of my studies: I believe that the great muddigger’s species is on the verge of extinction. In spite of his intelligence the muddigger failed to develop effective survival strategies. Are we going to apologize for our so-called professional mistakes only when it is too late? When Ljubljansko Barje is inhabited by the last eight specimens? Well, the last nine. (He looked at his domesticated specimen. – Note by S. Sense.)

But let me first thank You for Your kind attention. I also want to use this special occasion to express my respect and admiration for the deceased Mr. Torn’s work.

/Indignant exclamations./

(The deceased Črtomir Torn was one of the earliest self-taught researchers of amphibians in Slovenia. He was also the first to notice this unusual animal in the swamps of Ljubljansko Barje, a creature that could barely be categorized as an amphibian. In 1910, Torn described the great muddigger as a “snake-like animal measuring up to two meters in length, its body shape similar to that of an olm (Proteus anguinus); it is legless and uses serpentine bending of the body and its laterally flattened tail to move through the swamps. Its entrails are protected by an intriguing white coating. The head is plump and round, its compound eyes surprisingly large and similar to those of a wasp. Three dark short feelers (external gills?) grow from its head. How the animal breathes is a mystery; but since it can stay underwater for long hours without surfacing to breathe, I assume it is an amphibian that alternately breathes through gills and lungs.”In: Č. Torn: Knjiga mojih ur na Ljubljanskem barju preživetih, Delavska knjižica, Ljubljana, 1911; p. 304 – Note and quote translation by S. Sense.)

We were all aggrieved by Črtomir Torn’s tragic death. I am well aware that it was him, admirer of nature and pioneer researcher, who first raised our attention to the great muddigger's existence, who sacrificed countless hours of work for research and eventually gave his life for the muddigger. I am also aware of the fact that Mr. Torn’s unfortunate death gave birth to the idea that the great muddigger is an amphibian harmful to humans.

/Mr. Lajić: Mr. Leviki! You know very well that the muddigger literally tore Mr. Torn apart! We have reason to believe that there is a chance of repetition!/

That is true, Mr. Lajić. Unfortunately, we will never know what Mr. Torn did to the muddigger before the creature began defending itself. Let me propose another example that promises repetition. You will have to take my word for it though.

 Great muddigger's natural habitat

Two year ago, when I began intensely studying the great muddigger and his life habits, I moved into a house by the Southern by-pass, close to Ljubljansko Barje, in order to avoid commuting and to be involved in my studies more directly. On one of my walks home, I carelessly stepped into a muddy landslip. It swallowed me up to my waist immediately. My own weight was pushing me deeper and I hurried and fumbled for grass, bushes, anything solid, but the plants were too weak for my weight. They uprooted and stayed in my fists. I fumbled madly, quite certain that my end was nearing – the thick mud had already reached my chest .

It was then that I felt a sharp stone under my fingers. I took a hold of it with all my strength and tried to pull myself out of the mud. I managed to stop the sinking, but then had to rest since I was too weak to continue. But even as I remained still and held the stone, I felt like I was being pulled out of the landslip. Eventually, I noticed that it wasn’t me who was pulling the stone; the stone was in fact pulling me – and pulled me – out of the mud! Of course you already know that I wasn’t holding a stone. I was holding a fang, a muddigger’s fang!

I was terrified but in that strangely sober moment, my fear and weakness were defeated by my immense curiosity. This was an extremely rare occasion to see his fangs and mysterious lungs from close range! My saviour, however, refused to be examined. He turned onto his stomach, aimed his fangs for the ground and began making towards the larger pools. I struggled to my feet and touched his back. It was covered in mud, yet soft and warm like the skin of warm-blooded animals. I retreated in surprise. Was it possible that the great muddigger was a mammal?! While I feverishly ruminated on this sudden, even iconoclastic thought, the muddigger slowly meandered towards the puddles, half buried in the waterlogged ground.

My belief that the great muddigger is not harmful to humans was born there and then. However, today I believe that the truth is quite to the contrary! As many of you probably know, I and Bata (He pointed to his specimen. – Note by S. Sense) have been living in exemplary cohabitation for the last year. I can therefore confirm that the muddigger is a peace-loving being, who, unlike other amphibia, wants to communicate – and does it!

/General laughter./

/Mr. Lajić: Your conclusions demand additional explanation. Please continue, Mr. Leviki./

I am going to tell you why the great muddigger really is dangerous: not because of his physical strength and not because of his bellicose reactions to his few enemies – I suppose there is no need to explain who I mean by that. The muddigger is harmful because of his intelligence, his sensuousness and ability to feel. His psychic structure is far more complex than mans'. I am not referring to logic but rather compassion, his ability to sympathize. Tell me: have any of you ever tried to talk to a muddigger? Perhaps listened to him? You didn’t, you prefer to invest in “domestification” of rebellious hairiries, and you prefer to lock edgebeens and globigherines into aquariums. You do not live with them – you own them! Are you really capable of living only with humans? In that case, my experience is beyond your reach and simply incomparable. I can assure you that the great muddigger really is a threat – because he has more sense than all of us zoologists together!

/Loud objections. (Unfortunately, low quality of my recordings does not allow me to detect individual objections. The end of transcript. – Note by S. Sense.)/

In the past week, I doubted the authenticity of my recordings several times; I also doubt the credibility of my own memory even though I know I will never forget the events that followed Leviki's explication. I feel it is my duty to transcribe and publish these recordings for the world's zoological community, since I can no longer wait for the hypothetical letter which would inform the congress participants that what we have witnessed in Ljubljana was merely a mass hallucination or perhaps a science-fiction performance. I therefore entrust you the notes of an eyewitness whose essence defies his perception.

Leviki crouched to his muddigger amid general laughter and shouts. He somehow managed to load it onto his back. When he arose, they looked like a two-headed monster. The muddigger's head darted to and fro above Leviki’s; the animal took hold of Leviki's shoulders with its upper fangs and used its lower fangs to grasp at his waist. Its tail was still encircling Leviki’s feet and his legs were now visibly trembling under the muddigger's weight; the animal must have weighted at least a hundred kilos! We were silenced by this fantastic image. We could hear Leviki absently repeating: »We, Bata, we are living proof, we …«

Poor Leviki could no longer stand the burden. He staggered, collapsed on the muddigger and closed his eyes. The animal slowly spread its fangs. It laid the feeble, unconscious zoologist on the desk with great caution. It drew its fangs towards its chest and rested, also leaning against the desk, balancing its body so that it could, as I noticed, free Leviki's legs. It then accidentally grazed the surrounding chairs with the tip of its tail and they flew into the corner where most of the scared zoologists were hiding. I retreated to the closest wall. From there, I could see the delicacy of the muddigger’s moves as it lifted its long thick tail onto the desk and curled it into a spiral. In this position, the animal could stand erect, and while it was making itself comfortable on the desk, I swear I heard it say: “Just a second”.

We were dumbfounded. The great muddigger has no mouth, he does not talk! I stared at his head and kept looking for a crevice that would indicate lips or a mouth, but only later, when the animal spoke again – and there are witnesses who can confirm it – did I notice that the sound was coming from the area of his lung ventricles. These were words, incredibly articulated speech in fact, of the great muddigger who sat on the desk like a Turk!!

Let me add before I continue my transcript that the creature sat and stared at the listeners until the very end while our eyes kept wandering towards the unconscious Leviki in disbelief; as if we were still hoping that it was him who was really doing the talking.


Dear Sirs,
Let me conclude Leviki's explication with arguments that, as mentioned earlier, support his tragic and most important realisation about my species: our intelligence indeed failed to prevent our near-extinction. While the language of experts does not hesitate to incorporate individual death into the so-called extinction of species, I am forced to resent this objectification, even though I understand it is used for scientific purposes only; after all, I am talking about my own death. My intention is not to avoid the language of zoology but to use it in order to present my personal discoveries. Let me therefore recite my own estranged necrology.

The great muddigger inhabits areas that have been irreversibly changed by global warming effects. The fatal strike was delivered by human “management”; intense farming and urbanisation have dried out the swamps, and those located in continental climate zones are disappearing both because of “artificial” and “natural” desiccation. In the past, Ljubljansko Barje was no exception. Nowadays, it is commonly recognised as a very unique habitat since it is the great muddiggers’ and many other species last resort. It is also quite hot and dry.

Since I believe that my physical construction and inability to adjust to a new environment are largely responsible for my near-extinction, I am first going to focus on the muddigger’s physiognomy; especially his ability – or rather, my inability – to move. As you can see, the body of an adult muddigger can reach up to three meters in length, including the tail. Because of his weight – I weigh a hundred and fifteen kilos – my body is most supple in thick and relatively shallow water. When I move through the swamps and pools my paired fangs are of great help. I use them to push myself against the ground, to crawl on drenched banks and as of late, also to walk on concrete stairs where my tail, for example, is absolutely useless.

In the past, before I was classified as an amphibian, many researchers were intrigued by my breathing techniques. They noticed I use several; I can breathe under water and I can breathe with lungs which are, like humans’, positioned in the upper part of my body. Later, researchers correctly concluded that my second breathing organ are my three head gills, also known as ‘haircut’ in zoologists’ jargon, and my skin pores, the latter enabling me to breathe, feel and also to regulate temperature, secrete bodily fluids, supply humidity and microorganisms. If my skin pores cannot provide sufficient humidity, I am threatened by dehydration. In dry conditions my velvet skin becomes harder, darker, and a new leathery layer with limited capacity of exchange forms: it disables the humidity flow in order to lessen evaporation. Partial dehydration is accompanied by symptoms which are normally observed in hibernation.

In short, all this meant that it was getting more and more difficult to move through the desiccated swamps. The times when I could swim on my stomach and relax were gone; I had to get used to swimming on my back in order to expose to the ground as much of my skin as possible. Since my fangs became redundant, I had to adopt a snake-like technique of movement. Since my field of view was radically lessened I was stranded and stuck in a muddy landslip more than once. When I swam on my back, I simply didn’t notice those small and tricky pools. My weight and my serpentine moves only pushed me deeper into the landslip.

Two years ago, I was saved from a landslip by your colleague Leviki. Our second and third encounter was similar to the first; either Bata or I were stuck in the mud. We were aware of the danger we faced each time - maybe that is why we became such good friends. I especially enjoyed the period when we were trying out new, safer ways to move. For instance, since serpentine movement, especially on my back, was not really effective, we came up with the idea that I should try contracting my muscles like a caterpillar. It worked but unfortunately I had to give up on that technique because of the terrible back pain it caused. Then, one day, Leviki suggested that I move to his place. I thought the idea was absurd. He spoke about the flat before and I knew that the house he rented by the highway ring was really small and entirely dry. The only appropriate place for soaking would be the bathtub and since it was really too small for me, I had to refuse his offer.

On the move ...  

The following summer was hot and dry, and seemed endless. I was constantly thirsty, dizzy and tired. The buckets of water Leviki brought from his house could not satisfy my skin's thirst. I could hardly recognise my darkened and heavy body. I started to compare my fate with the dinosaurs' who, as you know, died out because their bodies became impractical. I realised I was dying. In the mean time, Leviki kept visiting me and convincing me that his house would protect me from the merciless sun. So I went with him. His home was really small and uncomfortable but I started feeling better there. I could not have dreamt then that one day – today – I would finish Leviki's speech at the XII. International Congress of Zoology!

I do not fancy myself; my intellectual activities and my example cannot save my species. After all, I have made a move which is impossible for muddiggers who are not encouraged and supported by their friends. All I know is that I and poor Leviki are living proof of interspecies symbiosis. Even of love.

Needless to say, I do miss the swamps, their spaciousness, vegetation and the taste of microorganisms. Sometimes, I find myself crawling on the carpeted floor, thinking that this is how I can taste the precious food again. But I have made a decision and I intend to stick to it. So even though I may be turning into a human being, I will live, whether you believe it or not, until I die!

Thank You for Your time and attention. I am ready for Your questions.

(End of the transcript. – Note by S. Sense.)

No questions were asked. Zoologists were leaving the room in complete silence. The great muddigger turned towards me and nodded. I asked him if I could help him carry the unconscious Leviki out of the building. He thanked me, but said there was no need.

Written and translated by Tea Hvala. Sculpted and photographed by Damijan Kracina.