The Srik'Kr'Sril are a semi-intelligent race of horse-sized ants that live in the extreme heat of the deserts, and the cool darkness of the night. Their name derives from the Tremederik tongue, and their encounters with the giant ants between the Prizm Wars and the Shaping Wars. The 'Srik' as they're more commonly called, disappeared for millennia, only to reappear during the War of the Undead.
They can travel on four legs or six with equal speed, surveying their environment with sensitive scent detectors, motion-detecting antennae, tiny hairs that can sense vibration, and multifaceted eyes. Aggressively pursuing anything they see as nutritious food for their omnivorous fungi, they thoroughly enjoy pork – and the humanoids that taste like pork: men, elves, dwarves, and ograns in particular. Their sensitive equipment makes it very difficult to surprise them. Their desert coloration makes them difficult to detect, and their six legs spread their weight very well – coupled with their speed, they are formidable opponents, difficult to spot until it's too late.
Because the srik have such a keen sense of smell, they can tell a dead srik from some distance away – sometimes even miles. The ograns found to their dismay that killing one srik miles away from the others, would lure the entire nest to the site of the dead srik just to determine the cause of death. This effect has sometimes been used intentionally to lure the nest away from critical areas, but the offensive force of the nest is considerable and moves too quickly for most armies to deal with them in flanking maneuvers.
The Srik'Kr'Sril agressively hunt in small forces, seeking out whatever food stuffs the desert might hide. Active burrowers, their network of underground caverns can extend for many miles away from the main nest. Semi-sentient, an over-queen rules over all the other queens in a region. Like the tiny ants for which they are named in the Tremederick tongue, the Srik respond to force with force. A queen will preferentially lay warrior eggs in situations where several generations of force stress the colony. Drones do the majority of the work, from tunneling to caring for the larvae, to foraging for the fungi that feed the nest. The larvae are helpless until their first molt, and grow to full size within a year; their nature depends on the status of the nest. Queens are much more intelligent than the drones or the warriors, and can achieve human-like strategy and intuition. The other members of the Srik obey her scent and subaudible commands as though given by the gods, and cannot fathom disobeying.
The nests build up, as the tunnels are excavated. Usually the heart of the nest is built over an aquifer or underground river, so that it can provide water to both the fungi they live off of, and to the nest as a whole. The built-up nest is made of the same material as the desert, and is often indistinguishable from the hills or mountains nearby. During their growth seasons, the nest is relatively inactive, and few Srik might be seen about. One false step then can bring an entire swarm out to attack prey so close to the nest.
Srik nests have many tunnels, all of which can accomodate the warriors. There are also several large caverns within the nests where the males can fly. The caverns serve different purposes – farms, nursuries, cisterns, garbage pits, and the throne room. There are several smaller caverns in which the males rest. These smaller caverns have many tunnels leading in and out of them, and serve as the conditioning rooms for the air, letting the nest breath in and out in complex harmonies of scents and fresh oxygen.
Though omnivorous, they prefer to dine on certain fungi that they grow within their cool, damp nests. The fungi grow off of the decomposing remains of whatever scraps the ants bring – though the fungus grows best on specific plants and animals. The Srik can totally denude a region of all plants and animals, within a hundred miles of the nest. Once the local food sources for the fungus have been exhausted, the ants go into civil war. A new queen challenges the old with an army of hungry followers, and the winner feeds the loser to the funguses. In the interim, the desert rebounds, and the process starts all over again.
A nest's many tunnels are aerated, with the fungi that feeds it at the deep heart of the nest. Other tunnels may branch off for miles away from the nest, aerating the desert and making it more fertile than before. Coupled with the nitrous waste that the Srik exude as a slime along their legs, they can be of great benefit to the desert when held in check by such creatures as elder hatori or even packs of slicer beetles. In addition, most nests feed off of only those things that would best feed the fungi they live on.
Some few species have commensal or mutualistic relations with the srik, such as otyughs in the waste rooms or packs of rats that patrol the corridors for smaller prey. The only known parasite of the srik is a slime that rides on a srik until it digests through its joints and then consumes it from the inside. The mustard-colored slime seems invisible to the srik, though how it is controlled or contained is unknown.
The srik are composed of five castes – grubs, drones, males, warriors, and queens. All of the drones and warriors are female, as are the queens, though only queens can reproduce.
The grubs are eating machines about the size of a man, with a voracious appetite for their fungus and whatever bits of undigested fungal food are brought with it.
A single srik can move at a steady pace of 15 miles an hour – all day long. Though the srik only feed from their omnivorous fungi, they often 'bite off more than they can chew', and thus carry a food supply within their guts that lasts them all the day long.
The heavy salts and metals their fungi-food takes in makes their chitinous exoskeletons extraordinarily hard. The drones attack by rearing up on their four rear legs, and striking with their front two – then going in to bite with huge side-to-side crunching mandibles. The super-hard chitin of their exoskeletons lets their sword-like legs and mandibles do considerable slicing and puncturing damage. The muscle tissue underneath their exoskeleton gives them phenomenal strength and speed as well. When pressed or determined to bring down a particularly large prey, they can rear back on just two legs, and impale prey with four legs at once.
Though the female drones cannot, the males can fly. Though they sacrifice some weight in terms of armor, they often make use of all six sword-like legs to attack, in addition to their lethal bites. And where the drones forage during the heat of day, the males forage during the cool of night. Often a distant buzzing is all that prey hear, before the prey is swept up and into the air. The males can fly with close to five-hundred pounds of weight, crossing distances of nearly twenty miles.
The males have proven considerably difficult to deal with in combat. They fly by and scythe off the heads of armies, hover to fling debris and dust into opponents' eyes, and can even spit a stinging mist that burns the eyes and throat, further blinding prey.
Twice the size of the large drones are the warrior srik. These huge ants are the real work horses among the srik. They burrow through sand and softer rocks at a phenomenal rate, and can do the same to soft-tissued prey. Should anything prove too much for the drones, the alert goes out both sub-audibly and by scent. And then the warriors attack, defending the drones, and defending the nest. Like the males, the warriors have a breath weapon that can slow down or blind its prey.
The massive queens spend the majority of their time within their hives, laying eggs. On occasion, a younger queen will be forced out by an older queen, and can be found moving across the desert in search of a new nesting site. Such roving queens require a vast amount of food to survive, and are willing to risk everything for a meal. Otherwise, a queen within her nest is often torpid from the egg-laying process.
Unlike other srik, the queens can eat food directly, using the fungus within their gut. The other srik do not have the same symbiosis with the fungus as the queens do, and each new queen uses her own vomit to establish a new fungal heap. This vomit-like projection can also be used as an attack, and deals considerably more pain to the eyes and throat than either the males' or the warriors' attacks.