The Mulefa are strange looking creatures, at least to our perceptions.
They are not vertbrates. Their body is triangular in shape with legs on each point. The front and back legs, at least, have a arched claw connected at a right angle to the leg.
|"What she saw made her head spin. At first it looked like a motorcycle gang. Then she thought it was a herd of wheeled animals. But that was impossible. No animal could have wheels. She wasn't seeing it. But she was. There were a dozen or so. They were roughly the same size as the grazing creatures [the size of deer or antelope], but leaner and gray-colored, with horned heads and short trunks like elephants'. They had the same diamond-shaped structure as the grazers, but somehow they had evolved, on their front and rear single legs, a wheel. Then, as they came to a halt not fifty yards away, and the dust settled, she suddenly made the connection, and she couldn't help laughing out loud with a little cough of delight. The wheels were seedpods. Perfectly round, immensely hard and light-- they couldn't have been designed better. The creatures hooked a claw through the center of the pods with their front and rear legs, and used their two lateral legs to push against the ground and move along. While she marveled at this, she was also a little anxious, for their horns looked formidably sharp, and even at this distance she could see intelligence and curiosity in their gaze."|
|The Amber Spyglass|
They have a sweet, horselike smell.
Claws are very important for Mulefa transportation.
|"Mary ran her hands over the astonishingly smoothness of Atal's claws, that surface smoother and slicker than Teflon that rested on the lower rim of the central hole and served as a bearing when the wheel turned. The contours matched exactly, of course, and as Mary ran her hands around the inside of the wheel, she could feel no difference in texture: it was as if the mulefa and the seedpod really were one creature, which by a miracle could disassemble itself and put itself together again."|
|The Amber Spyglass, (Knopf 229)|
The Mulefa appear to be very peaceful, happy creatures, who laugh often. Their only enemies are the Tualapi, large birds that swim in from the sea on occasion to ravage their town. However, the Mulefa are not known to fight and usually ride away to hide during the attacks, returning after the birds have left to rebuild their communities.
There are two sexes, and they live together monogamously, as couples. When they marry, they exchange bright copper strips that the bend around the base of one of their horns, similar to a wedding ring. Their children grow very slowly at their childhood lasts approximately 10 years. The children walk on all fours and are unable to manage the seedpods.
The Mulefa hunt the grazers by selecting a separating chosen animals from the herd. They kill the grazers by breaking their necks with their strong trunks, and then they skin and gut the grazer by holding razor-sharp stones in their trunks -- nothing is wasted.
|"Soon strips of meat were hanging to dry in the sun, and others were packed in salt and warpped in leaves; the skins were scraped clear of fat, which was by for later use, and then laid to soak in pits of water filled with oak bark to tan; and the oldest child was playing with a set of horns"|
|The Amber Spyglass|
They are also very successful fisherman and work in pairs to tie the knots in the fighing nets. They are fascinated by the way Mary can manipulate her hands, but she works with her friend Atal to help repair the nets so she doesn't feel so separate from the others.
They may be agrarian in nature as they have grains that they make into a flatbread similar to tortillas. They milk the grazers and make cheese. They eat roasting corn at one of their evening meals; so, they probably grow vegetables. They love mollusk which are numerous in the river sand, but they have a hard time going onto the sand and harvesting them. They never swim or go in the water, nor do they climb.
Pullman's inspiration for the Mulefa was revealed in the Independent in 2003:
|[Philip Pullman got the idea] "from strolling round Lake Bled in Slovenia, where the constant rumble of overtaking skateboarders gave him the notion of 'mulefa', elephant-like animals that use giant oiled seed pods as their means of locomotion"|
|Nicholas Tucker, Philip Pullman: the Daemon King, The Independent, 30 November 2003|
Mulefa use their trunks as well as their mouths to communicate. During her stay in the Mulefa village, Mary uses her arms and hands as a trunk-substitute.
|Anku||thank you||Mulefa imitation of Mary's thankyou|
|Chuh||water||trunk sweep left-to-right|
|Chuh||rain||trunk curled at top|
|Chuh||sadness||trunk curled under|
|Chuh||young shoots of grass||trunk quick flick to left|
|Sraf||Dust||with leftward flick of trunk|