Tropical merfolk are the smallest of the merfolk species; their small stature and bright coloring makes them unique amongst their larger and less vivid relatives.
Due to their small size, tropical merfolk are less known than their larger relatives, and few stories are told of them. Many are mistaken for seahorses or tropical fish, and unlike larger merfolk they do not sing at a register audible to human ears.
Traits and Behavior
Tropical merfolk range in size from 3-8 inches in length. Their upper torso resembles that of a human, and their lower body is a single tail that compromises 1/2-2/3 of their body length. Most of their body will have the same coloration, with scales on their lower half and thick skin on the upper body. Their colors can be a myriad of options, mostly bright vivid colors resembling the tropical fish of their region. Most have fish-like tails, but some will have a more curled tail resembling a seahorse.
Merfolk are an aquatic species that can breathe underwater, through the use of two sets of gills; a large set on the waist and a smaller set underneath the ears on either side of their head. They rarely come to the surface, preferring to stay hidden in the coral reef.
Instead of hair, merfolk have filaments that grow at a variety of lengths. These operate as a sensory organ, giving the mermaid or merman in question some indication of water currents and changes in temperature. They often decorate these filaments with small shells or stones.
Tropical merfolk build their communities in coral reefs, taking advantage of the rocky outcroppings and anemone to defend their homes. Individual homes may be small spaces within rock or coral, or build from large abandoned shells. Some will create homes inside abandoned human garbage, such as plastic tubs or metal cans. They live in large schools of several family groups, and usually contain a number of different colored members. Coloration varies dramatically, but baby merfolk usually resemble their mothers more so than their fathers.
Merfolk are hatched from small, soft eggs laid in large clutches by the mother before being fertilized. Once hatched, they are dependent on their parents for a few months before being capable of hunting and hiding from predators on their own. Some will venture out and join other communities, but most will remain in the area they were born in. They live 50-80 years on average.
Merfolk are omnivorous, growing seaweed and other vegetation, and catching small fish and crustaceans for meat. They also use some types of seaweed to weave clothing and decorations for their homes and hair filaments. They are fascinated by trash found in the ocean, and many will use plastics for décor or jewelry.
Tropical merfolk are incredibly shy, and are rarely observed directly. More often, their jewelry or clothing washes ashore or is found by scuba divers, though most are mistaken for natural occurrences. If threatened, they will attempt to hide, but will attack if given no other options. Their hair filaments can be venomous based on died, and can temporarily paralyze an enemy while they escape. While not territorial, they prefer not to move away from established communities and will return to an area over and over even if a predator has been spotted.
Due to their shy nature, tropical merfolk social habits are difficult to determine. Some observers believe they are a matriarchy, with the eldest female member of the community taking charge, but this is undetermined. One older female will usually have an elaborate headdress, but it is unclear if this indicates ranking, age or some other feature.
All merfolk can communicate with each other (regional accents notwithstanding), but tropical merfolk are significantly higher pitched than their larger brethren, and are rarely audible to human ears. They do not have a writing system, but do occasionally create carvings to tell stories and record history. These carvings resemble hieroglyphics but do not seem to have the full complexity of a written language. Most of their carvings have to do with the movements of the fish in their reef.
While their movements are primarily during the day, merfolk do have decent night vision and can see limited colors on the UV spectrum.
Tropical merfolk are shy, and very small. They are difficult to lure out into the open and are rarely observed. You are more likely to find temporarily abandoned dwellings than to see one directly, as their homes are usually carved or created with a large number of escape tunnels. Nests with living eggs are at the far back of the tunnels and impossible for a human to reach without destroying the rock the nest was carved into.
Their venom is not strong enough to be lethal for a fully grown human, but it will temporarily cause paralysis or numbness depending on strength. If hit, the effects will be immediate, so do not dive alone in areas believed to house tropical merfolk. They will generally paralyze an enemy, and use the opportunity to flee or hide further in the coral. They are immune to the effects of most anemone and may choose to hide within their strands if they cannot get back to their tunnels. If there is a large enough threat, several members of the community may attack at once, and several hits of their venom can be lethal. As the effects are too fast to counter, the best way to stay safe from them is to leave them alone.
Merfolk breathe water, and will suffocate or dry out if brought out of the water for long enough.