Monster of the Week: Ghoulies

Up from the toilet they came. Vestron Pictures/Getty

Children of the VHS era suffer a common fear of toilets, and we have the ghouies to blame.

These third-rate gremlins traumatized an entire generation, all thanks to a toilet-emergent goblinoid on a video box.

"In the end," they say.

Oh, you might have wandered into the store with your parents to rent "Dumbo" or "Mary Poppins," but one glimpse of "Ghoulies" on the shelf was enough to undo years of potty training.

Pooping Perils

Defecation is a risky scenario for a number of reasons, especially for humans.

Obviously, the very act of "popping a squat" places homo sapiens in a rather vulnerable state, especially when you factor in variable levels of mental focus required to "seal the deal."

And then there's the smell. Run a human fecal sample (modern or ancient) through complex gas chromatographic/mass spectrometric analysis and you'll discover that "human feces are rich in volatile compounds, likely to be (identified) by potential predators."

That little nugget comes to us from the 2013 paper "The control of defecation in humans: an evolutionary advantage?" by Italian bowel experts G. Bassotti and V. Villanacci. The duo go on to argue that the high-predation risk for ancient hominids by large carnivores suggests something rather amazing about our pooping powers:

"We hypothesize that the voluntary control of defecation by our ancestors, together with greater brain volume, erect stature, opposable thumbs, and other changes, may have contributed to the successful march of hominids along the road of evolution. In fact, by deciding when, how, and where to defecate may have several advantages in the complex prey-predator relationship, because spoors are left in places undetectable by predators or there are no fecal tracks whose scent may be easily individuated by prey."

Naturally, humans retained an innate fear of mid-defecation attacks by predators -- and the ghoulie serves as a potent reminder of this primal terror. For just as homo sapiens evolved to avoid poop-sniffing carnivores, these nasty goblinoids clearly evolved to prey exclusively on the rumps of toilet-seated humans.

Now let's observe these magnificent creatures in the wild.

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.