Monster of the Week: Skinless Frank & Julia

Frank and Julie know you can lose far more than your skin...  New World Pictures
Frank and Julie know you can lose far more than your skin... New World Pictures

While the Cenobites of the Order of the Gash are the best-studied specimens from Clive Barker’s “Hellraiser” saga, let us not forget the other native creatures of this horrifying world.

Formally human, Frank and Julie Cotton both manage to escape Hell -- at least for a while -- and enjoy certain ghastly magical abilities. Namely, they displayed an amazing ability to cavort about without their skin and temporarily elude their inhuman hunters.

Where can we possibly find such skinless shenanigans in the natural world? More than one creature exhibits a similar tendency to shuck their skin to avoid a Hellish fate.

Flight of the Flayed

Autotomy is the amazing biological ability to shed part of one’s body to facilitate escape from a predator. A lizard shedding its own tail is the most common example of this practice, but two species of African spiny mouse (Acomys kempi and Acomys percivali) slouch off portions of their fury flesh when grabbed by a predator.

G. megalepis skinless.
G. megalepis skinless.
Scherz, Daza, et al/PeerJ

As explained in Nature, these self-flaying mice simply slip out of portions of their own hide and rapidly regrow complete suites of hair follicles, skin, sweat glands, fur and even cartilage to fill in the gaps. Julia showed off similar regenerative powers in “Hellraiser II,” but Frank never learned the trick, preferring instead to slip into stolen human flesh casings.

We find another adept skin-shucker in the form of the newly discovered gecko species Geckolepis megalepis. The creature belongs to Madagascar’s genus of Geckolepis “fish-scaled” geckos -- and, indeed, those scales are the largest you’ll find on any gecko.

As reported in a 2017 German study published in PeerJ, G. megalepis will “discard a large portion of their integument with extreme ease as a defense mechanism.” In other words, they pull out of their hides like Julia Cotton in a Hell-blown wind storm.

This survival mechanism works wonders for the geckos, but it also makes their capture and study somewhat challenging. Researchers have to collect specimens in special cotton-based traps -- and even these are not delicate enough to prevent injury.

As with all limb-and-tissue-ejecting organisms, there’s rich potential here for regenerative medical research. Yet aside from the esteemed Dr. Philip Channard, very few medical professionals look to the unnatural world of cenobites and skinless escapees from Hell.

Monster of the Week is a - you guessed it - regular look at the denizens is of our monster-haunted world. Sometimes we'll focus on the cultural aspects, but mostly we'll look at the possible science behind a creature of myth, movie or legend. Be sure to explore the Monster Gallery as well as the Monster Science video series.

About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.