Monster of the Week: Fluffy the Crate Dweller

"The thing in the crate began to snarl and gobble..." Warner Bros

My colleague Dr. Anton Jessup knows a thing or two about dangerous artifacts in university basements. He can tell you that crates from doomed Arctic exhibitions are probably best left alone. Who knows what monstrosities they contain?

Why, monstrosities such as this toothsome terror...

(art by Bruan Baugh)

You may know him as Fluffy the Crate Dweller, or simply "the thing in the crate." As detailed in the 1982 documentary "Creepshow," this curious six-legged primate makes its home in an old wooden crate, occasionally emerging to gobble human victims whole. If that's not strange enough, the creature seems capable of extended metabolic depression, lasting whole centuries without food, water or even air.

But it's the crate itself that makes this creature so fascinating. At first it seems nothing more than the beast's prison -- and indeed it remains shackled inside for 140 years. But even upon its release, the creature continues to seek shelter within its foul confines.

Now you might suppose the creature is merely warped by its long-term isolation or that it clings to the familiarity of the box in a strange new environment. But I believe the the use of the crate constitutes a form of tool use not unlike that of the hermit crab.

Hermit crabs are of course decapod crustaceans of the superfamily Paguroidea. Their soft, curved abdomens are uncalcified, so most have to house their delicate backsides in found objects and holes. Some species make use of discarded shells, but others seek refuge in hollowed cylinders of wood, hollowed-out stone fragments or stationary holes in sponges or coral [source: Williams and McDermott].

Our predatory primate her seems to follow a similar survival strategy, and its extra pair of limbs may serve to anchor itself in borrowed shelters in the same way the tip of the hermit crab's abdomen is specialized to clasp the central structure of a snail shell.

Our crate dweller is quite a rare creature, however, so we can't know for sure what other shelters it prefers. Mail boxes? Garbage cans? Rain barrels? All I'm saying is be careful opening strange lids.

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.