Monster of the Week: The 'Feast' Creatures

A specimen of the creature in question. Image via Feast Wiki

What are we to make of the endlessly nasty creatures from the "Feast" trilogy?

You might easily assume these ravenous bipeds exist solely to disgust, or that their morphology is the work of a mean-spirited, sophomoric god. After all, their every bodily function seems designed for maximum on-screen grossness.

There's the time two of the beast rapidly copulated in order to immediately pop out a murderous newborn. In another instance, one of the beasts swallowed a victim's freshly-decapitated head and then defecated the bloody skull mere seconds later.

That last one's on YouTube. I trust you to find it on your own.

But enough about the disgusting mating and feeding habits of these creatures. Let's get to the science.

Metabolism of a Monster

Life is largely a matter of energy consumption and self-replication. That's true of both natural-world animals and extraordinary monsters such as these saw-toothed brutes. Clearly, the creatures of "Feast" possess an amazingly high metabolism, thus their constant, mad hunger and the speed with which they breed and pass food.

Let's put things in perspective. The monster in question consumes and passes a human head in roughly 4.5 seconds. For you and me, however, the journey from plate to potty takes anywhere between 24 and 72 hours.

Animal Digestion Speeds

Gut transit time (isn't that a lovely term?) varies greatly among the rest of the vertebrate world, but reptiles tend to have the slowest digestion time while birds boast the fastest. Among mammals, the small carnivores win the digestion race and large herbivores finish last.

For details on this, we turn to "Comparative Physiology of the Vertebrate Digestive System" by C. Edward Stevens, Ian D. Hume. Here's a quick, comparative reference guide of gut transit times in natural-world organisms:

Cedar waxwing: 0.7 hours Rufous hummingbird: 0.8 hours Elephant shrew: 3.4 hours Ring-necked pheasant: 5 hours Norwegian rat: 13 hours Ostrich: 48 hours Red-eared slider turtle: 58-64 hours Ringtail possum: 112 hours Ringneck snake: 15-35 hours Spectacled caiman: 162 hours Green iguana: 207-386 hours

© Nick Saunders/Corbis
© Nick Saunders/All Canada Photos/Corbis

For the most part, these numbers matched up with my estimations.

We see a hummingbird and a shrew, two species renowned for their speedy metabolisms, near the top of the list.

But the Cedar waxwing's ranking shocked me a bit. Granted, the berry-eating waxwing (pictured right) is a bird and powered flight comes with huge energy demands.

Here's a little insight into the waxwing's gut transit time from a 1991 study published in The American Naturalist:

"Waxwings separated pulp from seeds and defecated seeds well in advance of pulp, thereby allowing both an increase in consumption and, presumably, a greater assimilation of nutrients in the pulp. We propose that rapid seed processing has influenced pulp composition and seed-packaging traits."

The hummingbird certainly boasts the higher metabolism rate, but the waxwing boasts an excellent ability to expedite the gut transit of indigestible seeds.

Back to the Monster

So perhaps we observe a similar digestive trait in the "Feast" creatures. The 4.5-second gut transit rate may simply represent its ability to speedily pass an indigestible morsel. After all, the victim's head undergoes little or no digestion in its journey through the creature's bowels. We're left to assume that it's gut transit rate for digestible food is somewhat greater, though still exceedingly fast for a creature its size.

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.