A non-sentient mammal. The moonbeast is noted for its loud braying, as well as its metamorphosis capability. Originating on the Valtese colony world Targhest IV, Targhee moonbeasts are believed to be an artificial creation. Exobiologists speculate the creatures are the result of genetic experimentation intended to remake beasts from legend. Although the true origins of the moonbeast are uncertain, they play a vital role in the modern Targhest ecosystem.
Moonbeasts prefer to live in tropical environments, though a subspecies is known to exist in temperate climes. Whether the variants were designed by whatever unknown intelligence supposedly created the animals, or whether they evolved afterward, is unknown. Moonbeasts are equally at home on the ground or in trees, and their tail is semi-prehensile to aid in climbing. They migrate in small packs, searching for food items; in particular nuts and roots. They’re not especially territorial, but nor are they truly social; the packs are loose bands gathered together for safety, not familial troops. When threatened, the beasts take flight for a tall tree. Other than this, they have no natural defenses. Moonbeasts make common prey for some of the larger predators in Targhest IV’s jungles, notably the so-called “Targhest cheetah”.
The Targhee moonbeast’s behaviour is tied closely with the cycle of the planet’s moons, so earning the creature its name. When the three moons start moving into alignment (which occurs twice a year), the behaviour of the moonbeast changes significantly. First, their sleeping habits shift gradually from diurnal to nocturnal. Next, their feeding habits change from herbivorous to carnivorous and they become much more aggressive. Finally, during the three day alignment of the moons, the moonbeast actually changes form and becomes truly dangerous. This unnatural shift results in larger claws, fangs, and ears, as well as a more pronounced snout. In full “moon form”, the small pack becomes much more tightly knit, working together to bring down prey. They develop the ability to see into the ultraviolet spectrum, allowing them to hunt effectively at night. Because they consume more energy-rich sources of protein, their stamina improves, giving them the capacity to chase down their prey - and they rarely give up easily. Packs of “moon form” moonbeasts hunt anything that strays into their path, including (ironically) the Targhest cheetah.
Perhaps even more famous than the transformation is the braying. During the “moon form” period, the moonbeasts co-ordinate their activities with a sophisticated range of vocal communications, most infamous of which is a bray, which can be heard for miles. Most Humanoids find the noise unerving and eerie, although the Valtese which claim Targhest IV find it soothing. Several Valtese horn instruments are used to emulate the sound.
The Targhee moonbeast is most often encountered in the jungles of Targhest IV. Safaris to the region are a popular tourist attraction (and near-vital to the Valtese economy). Occasionally, a pack of moonbeasts descends upon a settlement while in moon form, requiring hunters to put them down. The worst incident involving these creatures took place when an escape pod crashed into the jungle during a lunar alignment; there were no survivors. Because of the fascination with the moonbeast’s polymorphic form, several have been shipped off to zoos, on planets where such entertainments are enjoyed. Invariably the creatures prove disappointing. Outside of their natural habitat, moonbeasts exhibit none of their shape-chaging tendencies, and end up living a greatly abbreviated lifestyle. There are occasional exceptions; under certain gravitic conditions, the moonbeast’s unusual physical condition may assert itself. Such an occurance can’t be predicted, though.
As for the beings responsible for their creation, this remains a mystery. The Valtese homeworld of Valt Minor borders the Kriosian Empire, which once spanned many systems before its gradual decline. Targhest IV may well have been a Kriosian outpost, and Kriosian legend does provide the model on which the moonbeasts may be based. Unfortunately, Kriosian technology was nowhere near advanced enough to have created the beasts alone - some other culture or organization must have been commissioned for the task, or taken upon itself to make legend reality. Any motivation for the project is equally uncertain, though it wouldn’t be the first time a Kriosian monarch funded an elaborate and unlikely pet project.