|The Beast Beneath the Modeling Table||by Doug Chaltry|
|10 November 2003||email: doug(at)ontheway.us|
|There has been much
speculation lately about the "creature" who
lives beneath the model table eating dropped model parts.
Being a professional wildlife biologist, I took it upon
myself to study this elusive animal in order to better
understand it and its habits. After several months of
intensive life history research, I will now share with
everybody what I learned about this fascinating and most
First of all, its name: it is known among scientific circles as Styrenus consumptiverus, which literally translates to "eater of plastic." It is commonly known by several local names, including "that %*&$!@ thing," and "#!%&*@!" In Asia it is called "#*&@$=!" and in Europe: "%$#*!&" In this study, I will simply refer to it as Styrenus.
Physically unimposing, some people would consider Styrenus to be downright tiny. They average approximately 5 cm long (almost half of which is mouth), and weigh between 30 and 35 grams (females are slightly smaller). They are hairless, with short, stubby tails, small ears, and large snouts. Their active lifestyle and the high-petroleum content of their food supply (qv) keep their metabolisms high enough to maintain homeothermy even in the coldest climates.
Contrary to common assumption, Styrenus is not a solitary animal, and it is likely that if you have one beneath your table, you have several. They have short lifespans (on the order of one to two years) and are prolific breeders. Those unusual bumps that you hear in the middle of the night are probably the romantic encounters between a couple of them.
Styrenus has a very small home range, with usually two or three territories per modeling room. Competition between them, males in particular, can be fierce. The males compete not only for food, but also for the female, who is impressed with the male that can swallow the largest piece of plastic (an entire aircraft canopy is usually guaranteed breeding rights). You can probably find a den buried in the debris behind your airbrush compressor, or in the closet behind your stack of unbuilt kits.
Gestation is about one week, after which the female gives birth to two to four young. After reaching full size in 18 to 20 days, the young disperse. Preferred dispersal routes include hiding within old, collecters kits with the hope of being traded to someone at the local model club. Regional model shows in particular, are necessary for the required genetic mixing to maintain a viable species. Without national model conventions, the range of this creature would probably be much more restricted. Nobody knows from where exactly Styrenus is native, but the best guess is the little known Styrolomon Islands in the South Pacific. How they spread from there is open to conjecture.
Styrenus in neither a carnivore, nor an herbivore, but rather a styrenivore, due to their most common food source. Fecal analysis has revealed that styrene plastic is the most abundant food in their diet. Chi-square analyses have shown, however, that their preferred food is actually brass. Brass is higher in nutrient value, which is why any dropped photoetch brass piece is almost immediately consumed. They tend to avoid cast resin, and cast metal, unless the pieces are small, in which case they are sometimes eaten by mistake. They usually hide behind boxes, spray cans, and other visual barriers, only to dart out to snatch up fallen pieces, sometimes before they even hit the floor. Nightime allows them to prowl at their leisure, picking up missed pieces. If you can't find a dropped piece within a couple of hours of losing it, then you should probably forget about ever seeing it again. Some pieces are not eaten immediately, but rather carried off for use in the little-understood mating ritual. This explains why you can find pieces you lost weeks ago, sometimes even in a different room.
Management recommendations are few. I have heard a great suggestion of feeding them some pieces from a cheap model on a regular basis. Keep in mind though, that the higher nutrient value in expensive plastics and brass will always lure Styrenus away from the cheap feeding stations. Try not to be over-zealous in the cleaning of your modeling area. It is beneficial to keep debris piled in all corners of the room, and especially along the base of the walls, so as to provide hidden movement pathways of which Styrenus can take advantage. Leaving open model boxes stacked in large piles throughout the room maximizes intrinsic habitat value, and allows for more than one breeding pair per houshold. Water is unnecessary, and in fact, open water containers can prove a danger to Styrenus, who is not capable of sustained swimming.
In conclusion, I hope that the results of my study have helped to enlighten everyone about this remarkable, and in my opinion, quite charming, little member of the animal kingdom. Though not an endangered species, it is still a wonderfully adaptive and intriguing animal, and deserves our respect and care, and yes, even a little affection as well.