For nature lovers, this season has brought the appearance of a special species, homo studentus universitatus, a.k.a. the college student on break.
This highly social creature, which travels in packs and leaves a trail of unwashed dishes, is apparently drawn to return every winter to its parental nest. Researchers speculate that it is attracted to large-screen TVs, down comforters and a ready supply of food.
The initial arrival of homo studentus in late December is heralded by the appearance of a large pile of dirty laundry. This is followed by other piles of shoes and clothes, as the denim-rumped primate marks its territory by covering all flat surfaces with its possessions. Within days, the floor of its den is nearly impassable, though interestingly, the creature itself seems not to notice.
It generally remains in its winter habitat through mid-January, displaying the characteristics that make it a particularly intriguing form of wildlife.
A nocturnal animal, homo studentus is rarely glimpsed before mid-afternoon. Observers are warned: Do not attempt to disturb it before it awakens, as it can become hostile.
Once it begins to stir, it generally moves slowly to the vicinity of a television and a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios. Again, do not approach it; at this point the creature appears to be unable to engage in conversation or even to hear sounds such as requests to walk the dog.
By late afternoon, however, homo studentus becomes fully conscious and begins to interact with other members of its species.
Homo studentus communicates largely by using its opposable thumbs for texting. The species' social structure is complex and communal. Individuals gather in collectives, similar to hives, with different individuals fulfilling specific roles. One may buy the beer; another may surf YouTube for funny videos of animals.
They will often congregate on sofas in family rooms, burrowing underneath fleece throws and blankets. The pack can grow so large and dense that it may be difficult to discern which feet belong to which body. Observers trying to track the populations are advised to count heads.
Homo studentus is an extremely intelligent species, judging by the creatures' GPAs, their verbal interactions and their speed with answers to "Jeopardy!" However, scientists are puzzled by their inability to fold blankets or put dishes into a dishwasher. It may be that their brains have evolved to specialize in such tasks as remembering lines from movies and applying to graduate school, to the detriment of those parts of the brain that are involved in such tasks as hanging clothes in a closet.
They appear to be cold-blooded, judging by the levels at which they set the thermostat. On the other hand, their preference for indoor heat may be a function of not paying for utilities.
Those who hope to observe this species closely can attract them by providing the right environment. Set out feeders, e.g. pizzas. Scatter indoor areas with pillows. Provide premium cable channels and potato chips. Stay out of sight and don't touch the remote.
You may not always see the creatures themselves, particularly if you sleep at night. Some people have gone days without seeing the examples of homo studentus that have taken up residence in their homes. Be patient, and look for signs: A profusion of hair-care products in your bathroom, perhaps, or tire tracks in the snow on your front lawn. Eventually, even the most elusive of the creatures will show themselves, if only to ask you to buy more Honey Nut Cheerios.
The rewards of the species' visit are substantial -- a window into a complex society, happy noise in a quiet house, an impressive library of funny animal videos and the way your credit card feels so vibrantly alive. Indeed, many wildlife watchers are reluctant to see the creatures depart, and abandon their roles as observers to hug and kiss the creatures.
But the homo studentus season is brief. No matter how much the creatures have enjoyed the family nest and the use of their own bathrooms, they will soon return to college. Nature lovers must put away their binoculars, turn down the thermostat and bide their time until spring migration.
By: Barbara Brotman
I wish it had been me!