Monster of the Week: The Crites (AKA 'Critters')


Crites are a menace on any planet. New Line Cinema

The universe is home to numerous alien monsters, but few are as mischievous as the deadly Crite or "Critter."

Don't let their monstrous appearance fool you; Crites are a technically-advanced species with their own language and culture. Unfortunately, their vile temperament and insatiable appetite puts them at odds with pretty much every other space-faring species in the galaxy.

But just because they're total dicks doesn't mean the Crites aren't worthy of our study. Let's examine the natural-world counterparts to their unnatural biology.

Organics Projectiles

The Crites earned a reputation for their fearsome jaws of razor-sharp teeth, but they also boast the ability to shoot venomous quills when threatened. Natural-world porcupines are often erroneously attributed quail-launching powers, but some species of new world tarantula actually do launch barbed abdominal hairs called urticating bristles. They simply flick their back legs to detach and fling the tiny irritants at would-be predators and threats.

Crite ball.
New Line Cinema

Rolling with the Crites

The most notable Crite characteristic is its ability to curl up into a ball and roll across the ground. While this form of locomotion tends to bring to mind video game hedgehogs, it's actually not unheard of in the natural world.

When threatened, the Mount Lyell salamander curls its head under its back legs, wraps its tail along its body and tucks its legs up into a wheel shape. Then it rolls down the slopes to safety. Similarly, the mother-of-pearl caterpillar anchors its rear legs, recoils and rolls away backward from danger. This wheel method allows the caterpillar to travel 40 times its walking speed. Let's watch some video footage:

Ah, but the Crites can also bunch together into a giant, rolling mass of fur. This instantly brings to mind the undulating bait ball formations of swarming fish, though it remains a mystery why a predator like the Crite would need such a defense. Perhaps its apex predator status does not apply on its own home world?

Such clustering behavior also brings to mind larval cercaria stage of the parasitic trematodes discussed in our Rat King episode.

Thankfully Earth hasn't suffered a full-blown Crite infestation since 1992, but let's not forget the trials and tribulations. Or Leonardo DiCaprio's film debut. Now let's review the file footage...

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.


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.