A Natural History
of the Wug
The Wug, or Papuan White Quail (Coturnix neologistica), is a small, white or pale blue, ground-dwelling bird from the Old World Quail (Coturnix) family. It is found only in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. Being of a timid disposition, and living in dense undergrowth, it has rarely been seen by outsiders and almost never photographed. Its appearance is known to the outside world mainly by the simple line drawings made of it by the Nappaholi people, for whom it is a totemic animal.
Wugs mate for life, and pairs are inseparable, so much so that on sighting a wug, the next thing you are likely to say is “Now there are two wugs.” Wug mates commence their relationships by building a common nest, which—if undisturbed by predators—they maintain for the entirety of their relationship, an oölogical rarity among the Old World Quails. The wug prefers to build a scrape-type nest among dense vegetation. The wug’s preferred bedding material are the needles of the Lun tree, but in areas where Lun is not abundant, wugs have been known to also use the fur of the Quirky Niz or a mixture of both materials.
The wug lays eggs in clutches of up to six, which it protects by disguising them behind a thin layer of additional nest-bedding material. Egg incubation is shared equally between both wug parents, with rotation occurring approximately every two hours. The incubation period is 15–18 days. After the offspring hatch, it is the male who guards the young wuglets, which stay in their nest for the first two weeks after hatching. During this time, the female wug gathers food for both the male and the wuglets. It continues to feed its wuglets by cropping for about the first three weeks after hatching.
Offspring who are no longer fed from their mother’s crop are usually known as wuglings, and they remain affiliated with their parents for approximately another 3–6 weeks from the day cropping ends. During this time wuglings learn what seeds to eat and how to gather Lun tree needles and Quirky Niz fur by imitating their parents as they gather food and maintain their nest. At the end of this period, the parents will encourage their wuglings to separate from them by gradually excluding them from the central area of the nest.
While the flesh of the wug is reputedly delicious, it is rarely eaten, because certain seeds in its diet contain alkaloids which, while harmless to the wug, cause severe internal haemorrhages in humans. Amongst the Nappaholi, those accused of serious crimes are sometimes induced to eat wug meat as a form of ordeal, known as “feeding and bleeding”.
Though wugs interact with humans only rarely, they have become endangered as the result of many linguists’ desire to collect and sometimes even to eat them, despite it being illegal, unfelicitous, and ungrammatical to do so. The LSA has officially discouraged these practices, but they continue to this day.