Giant monsters? Check.
Dog riding and cat petting? Double check.
Running around with a giant green recorder? SIGN ME UP! Hunting horn mains Rise UP!
In-jokes aside, I have been waiting for this game for a long time. One, because I have been playing this series since MHP2G (Monster Hunter Portable 2G) and number two, I get to write an article about a game I love. And of course, the taxonomist in me really wants to talk about the classification of monsters (or wyverns) in this game. More specifically, bird wyverns.
According to the Monster Hunter Fandom Wiki, “Bird wyverns are a class of monsters introduced in the first generation. They are a small to medium sized class with slender bodies that are bipedal, and in some cases either have wings or lack wings.” Now that last line strikes me as odd, what is a bird without wings? What is the moon without the stars? What is me without you? Looking at the list of bird wyverns in the game, we have the usual looking, feathered friends like Malfestio and Qurupeco. But we also have a long list of raptors like monsters like Jaggi, Baggi and Furogi (I know that’s the Japanese name, but I like it more and it is my article). Why are these lovely velociraptor-inspired monsters listed under bird wyverns? Oh boy, do I have a story to tell.
Let us get one thing out of the way, birds are dinosaurs. Not in the sense that some birds are big and scary, but that birds are direct descendents of dinosaurs. All existing birds nowadays come from a branch of the tree of life that housed dinosaurs like velociraptors. Some fossil samples also indicate that the velociraptors were feathered and maybe colourful. For all we know, the velociraptor might just look like the great Maccao or great Izuchi. No thanks to Jurassic Park for implanting the idea of scaly raptors into our collective minds.
Probably the most famous dinosaur-bird fossil would be the fossil of the archaeopteryx, whose names means “ancient feather” in Greek. Archaeopteryx has very dinosaurian features such as a long bony tail, claws on its forelimbs and most importantly, a mouth full of teeth. However, it was also covered in feathers that seemed to be capable of flight. So, it sits nicely in between big scary dinosaur and small fluffy chicken. Just look at Kulu-Ya-Ku for some form of reference – though I feel Kulu-Ya-Ku was based off the idea of the oviraptor.
So, where do birds perch on the tree of life? If we map out all the reptilian groups in a phylogenetic tree, we see the birds right next to the crocodiles – not where a bird would like to be honestly. But what makes a bird, a bird? A bird must have feathers, a toothless beak and lay eggs. But hidden in the bird’s physiology are clues and hints to their dinosaur past which we can explore.
Birds belong to this group of dinosaurs known as theropods, which are defined by their bipedal stance, the presence of 3 fingers on the forelimbs, as well as having a wishbone. A wishbone is a Y-shaped bone found between the wings of birds and where powerful wing muscles are attached to. Fossils of theropod dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus rex also have a wishbone structure, though the function is most surely not for flight. But having the same bone structures do pin the birds to be a descendant of this group of dinosaurs.
Fossil records trace the starting point of feathers as a body covering to the group of dinosaurs under the Coelurosauria clade. Everything in this clade has feathers, and this includes birds, velociraptors and the big boy himself: T. rex! Just because feathers do not preserve well as compared to bones, who is to say that T. rex was not a big yellow feathery dinosaur? Not unlike a certain large avian from a certain street.
The next part of the bird body to pay attention to are the hips, because we all know that the hips don’t lie. Where T.rex and birds part ways is at the hips – the hips of raptors and birds have all their bones pointing backwards while T.rex has its pointed downwards. But for a brief point in evolutionary history, they were in a clade together called Tyrannoraptora, which must be one of the coolest names a dinosaur can be called!
The final break from the raptors and the birds was when the birds lost their long bony tail in favour of lightweight tail feathers. Alas, the bird wyverns in game all have a bony tail, and monster hunters will recall the annoyance when Yian Kut-ku starts to tailspin our pathetic bone armour around. Notice that even though I mentioned that the tails went away, there’s nothing about those front claws. That is because in some modern-day birds, they still showcase those claws in some form. Hoatzin chicks are born with 2 claws on each wing which they use to claw around the nest before they learn how to fly. They lose those claws as they reach adulthood. So, the wing claws of monsters like Yian Garuga and Hypnocatrice are not too far fetched a concept. Remember hunters, break those for extra drops.
I must also tip my feathered hat to the developers of the game where they have a separate group of wyverns for the big, scary, non-flying, two-legged monsters in the game – cue: everyone’s favourite hangry pickle Deviljho. These bad boys are known as brute wyverns. These monsters have the same theropod-shaped body but are much bigger than the bird wyverns. We even have a feathered brute wyvern in the form of Anjanath. Also, the birds wyverns have come a long way from the first monster hunter game to now. We used to have generic velocidromes and now we have the more accurate fur-feather covered Great Izuchi. They are even grouped into a new subcategory known as theropod bird wyverns (yay for science, yay for progress!).
In conclusion, while one is busy rising to the challenge of hunting monsters, spare some time to admire the thought and effort the game developers and designers put in to come up with these. When you are hunting for that ruby that refuses to drop or that one horn that does not break, also look out for the some of the wonderful in game lore and science. I’m sure the designers that came up with this system would be glad you noticed. Also, RNG gods… I really need a Mizutsune water orb, please give me one!
Written by Lim Meng Hwee
Image grab from Monster Hunter Rise
Illustrations by Lim Daphne