One of my favorite parts about writing A CONSPIRACY OF STARS was researching defensive adaptations. I think anyone who has survived middle school understands what it means to take on a sort of social camouflage, and anyone who has experienced any kind of trauma knows how easily we can take on defensive mechanisms. As a person who has been somewhat of a nature freak since childhood, I was fascinated by the connections between what characteristics animals adapt to survive in nature and the characteristics humans adapt to survive in society.
Eurasian roller birds, for example. I relate to these birds so much, but not in the way that you think once you learn what their defense mechanism is. When attacked, Eurasian roller birds spit a nasty orange liquid that deters the predator. As a teenager, I found that one of the easiest ways to protect myself was to always be ready with sharp words. Whether someone meant me actual harm or whether it was just someone trying to pick at me, I learned to defend myself by spitting nasty words. Not going to lie – I still do this sometimes! That’s how an adaptation works: we do what we have to do to survive, and eventually it becomes part of who we are. I had to work really hard to unlearn that adaptation, because as time went on and I grew into environments where I didn’t have to be on guard all the time, that adaptation no longer served me. In fact, it held me back in a lot of ways, because the sharp tongue I had developed as a defense eventually became second nature. Not too many people want to be friends with someone who spits the verbal equivalent of nasty orange liquid.
The same goes for another interesting animal adaptation is that of the viceroy butterfly. It’s an orange and black insect that looks almost exactly like the monarch butterfly. The monarch butterfly’s body contains disgusting chemicals that makes birds of prey very sick if consumed. So to protect themselves, birds don’t eat them. The viceroy butterfly, on the other hand, does not have these chemicals to protect themselves, so instead they adapted to look exactly like the monarchs. Birds, mistaking them for monarchs, don’t eat them either! Brilliant. But I’ve experienced this as a human as well: taking on characteristics of others—mimicking them—rather than developing my own identity. It can be a safer way to walk through the world.
We all have camouflage and defensive mechanisms that help us survive – for some, these mechanisms are critical to survival, particularly in a world that remains dangerous for women and people of color. On the planet Faloiv in A CONSPIRACY OF STARS, both the humans and the animals needed a wide range of defense mechanisms, to protect from each other and in the humans’ case, themselves. I guess in that way, Faloiv is a lot like Earth!