Mon
Nov 12 2012 9:00am

Monster of the Week: C.H.U.D.s

Hurricane Sandy’s impact on New York City’s subterranean rat population made the news this week, but let us not forget the other denizens of the Big Apple’s dreary underworld. No, I’m not talking about the giant alligators, subway ghouls, Judas bugs or the hoary Fathers who dine on butchered commuters.

I’m of course talking about the C.H.U.D.s.

These Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers were a common sight during the early 1980s, frequently venturing out from their homes in the sewers and subway tunnels to chow down on transient tartare. By the end of the 90s,  Rudy Giuliani exterminated most of New York City’s C.H.U.D. population (their mounted heads still line his Manhattan office) and recent flooding no-doubt depleted their already reduced numbers.

Still, there’s no mistaking these troglophiles for other creatures of the urban underdark. The bipedal, green skinned C.H.U.D.s boast pointy ears, carnivorous teeth, sharp claws, a flattened nose and large, phosphorescent eyes. The eyes are particularly interesting. Normal nocturnal creatures often have a mirror-like membrane in their eyes called a tapetum, which helps the retina absorb more light and which makes their eyes appear to glow when your flashlight shines on them. But the eyes of the C.H.U.D. display clear ocular bioluminescence — a rarity among Earth’s natural animal species. The eyes themselves glow, raising questions as to whether the eyes are truly sight organs anymore or merely play a role in mating/defensive displays.

But of course the more intriguing question is, “Where did they come from?”

The 1984 documentary C.H.U.D. theorized the creatures are actually mole people mutated by exposure to radioactive toxic waste — and by “mole people” I mean populations of homeless living in underground spaces ala Dark Days, not the innhuman mole people who gnosh on glow worms in the hollow Earth. However, just consider the following tidbit from the Department of Energy’s Office of Human Radiation Experiments:

Genetic mutation due to radiation does not produce the visible monstrosities of science fiction; it simply produces a greater frequency of the same mutations that occur continuously and spontaneously in nature.

You can read the rest here.

But clearly organisms do steadily evolve into forms better suited for subterranean living. Is it at all possible that radiation might have fast-forwarded human evolution, allowing the mole people in question to rapidly take on their current form of man-eating troglophile cannibals? Maybe. Just consider the following quote from Evolution, by Ruth Moore, discussed in How Evolution Works.

So Muller put hundreds of fruit flies in gelatin capsules and bombarded them with X-rays. The irradiated flies were then bred to untreated ones. In 10 days thousands of their offspring were buzzing around their banana-mash feed, and Muller was looking upon an unprecedented outburst of man-made mutations. There were flies with bulging eyes, flat eyes, purple, yellow and brown eyes. Some had curly bristles, some no bristles...

Of course, this raises additional questions about the C.H.U.D.s of New York City. How many generations passed leading to such a mutated form? Are the creatures particularly short lived? Why do they continue to wear tattered rags and why do their eyes glow? Hopefully, monsterologists will have a chance to answer these questions, if not through the study of live specimens, then through the study of Giuliani’s extensive collection of trophies.

Let’s watch a trailer, shall we?

Monster of the Week is a — you guessed it — weekly look at the denizens of our monster-haunted world. In some of these, we’ll look at the possible science behind a creature of myth, movie or legend. Other times, we’ll just wax philosophic about the monster’s underlying meaning. After all, the word “monstrosity” originates from the Latin monstrare, which meant to show or illustrate a point.

Image courtesy Bryan Baugh

Originally Published at HSW: Monster of the Week: C.H.U.D.s


Robert Lamb is a senior staff writer at HowStuffWorks.com and co-host of the Stuff to Blow Your Mind podcast and blog. He is also a regular contributor to Discovery News. Follow him on Twitter @blowthemind.

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