In my presentation on the biology and evolution of Lovecraftian entities , I will being with a discussion of those organisms of Terran origin and then move to those of extra-terrestrial and then extra-dimensional origin. Thus, the first entity I covered in my presentation at the Necronomicon were the ever popular Shoggoths.
Using At the Mountains of Madness as the primary source of information, it is obvious that the Shoggoths were created by the Elder Ones (to use Price’s nomenclature as discussed in Part 2). Initially, they were used as a source of food and later as slave labor. The Shoggoths were “viscous masses” that were “capable of molding their tissues into all sorts of temporary organs” and while most people think of them as essentially large amoebas, I will provide evidence that they are a far more complex form of life compared to amoebas or even humans for that matter.
It appears that the Elder Ones not only created Shoggoths but all multi-cellular life on Earth (including us). Essentially, the Shoggoths were a successful result or product of the Elder Ones experimenting in the creation of complex multicellular life. In turn, Lovecraft says that, “…Great Old Ones who filtered down from the stars and concocted earth life as a joke or mistake.” Based on this sentence, most Earth life in general were failed experiments or attempts to perfect a desirable stock of life that could serve as both food and slave labor. Any of these biological “by-products” that were not a nuisance to the Elder Ones were ignored and not destroyed.
If you go back to the”shrub” of life ( Part 1) you will see that based on rRNA analyses (as well as other evidence not discussed here) more complex cells, called eukaryotic cells (animals, plants, fungi and protists – such as amoeba) are essentially a symbiotic relationship among various bacteria. This means that all life on Earth – worms, sunfish, pine trees, mushrooms and humans – are all composed of ancient lineages of bacteria. Thus, the ancient ancestors of the organelles in the eukaryotic cell (mitochondria, chloroplasts, complex flagella) were prokaryotic forms of life. Essentially, a merging of these simple bacteria-like cells gave rise to more complex microbial life (the eukaryotic cell).
It is interesting to note that prokaryotic cells were the only form of life on Earth for over a billion years; they first appears about 3.6 billion years ago. Eukaryotic cells first appeared in the fossil record approximately 2.6 billion years ago. It is thought the Elder Ones arrived on Earth approximately 1 billion years ago, after eukaryotic cells were already well established. Thus, my original hypothesis in the presentation that the Elder Ones created eukaryotic cells is more than likely incorrect. However, what did appear in the fossil record around the same time the Elder Ones arrived on Earth was multicellular life. That is, from 3.6 to 1.0 billion years ago, life on Earth was microbial; it was not until the Elder Ones arrived on Earth that multicellular life appears. The paraphrase Carl Sagan, microbial life may be fairly common throughout the Universe but large beasts and flowers may be rare. Do the Elder Ones tinker with the microbial life of the Universe, creating organisms that have the ability to mold their tissues into temporary organs to serve their will? The use of cellular tissue to create organs requires multicellular forms of life.
To conclude this article, I want to note that endosymbiosis is not just a biological union between various bacterial cells. Endosymbiotic unions can occur between eukaryotic cells or even multicellular forms of life (different species). As an example, I will briefly talk about lichens.
Lichens are the low lying, green / brown paper-like crust you see on trees or rocks.
Lichens were originally thought to be a low form of plant life. However, a closer, microscopic examination of lichens reveals that they are a symbiotic relationship between green or blue-green algae and fungi. The fungi get a source of food from the algae that photosynthesize and produce carbohydrates, while the algae get a source of nutrients from the fungi as they break down organic matter. As a lichen, both the algae and fungi get to take advantage of a habitat neither would not be able to tolerate separately. Algae are generally aquatic or semi-aquatic, while many fungi need to live in moist, organic soils. However, combined as a lichen, they can live in the dry, sunny, aerial habitat of tree bark.
I see the Shoggoth as a endosymbiotic organism as well, being far more complex than the lichen (or human for that matter). Given their extreme plasticity and adaptability, the Shoggoth is probably a conglomeration of eukaryotic and prokaryotic cells. This would explain how they can feed like animals, photosynthesize like plants and subsist on decaying organic matter like fungi. This also explains how the Shoggoth can easily adapt to life on the land or in the deep sea. Thus, if the Elder Ones made a tree or “shrub” of life on Earth, they would probably put the Shoggoth on the top as the pinnacle of Terran evolution and man would be a twig coming off of a minor branch representing apes and monkeys.
Next time I will be talking about Shoggoth reproduction. Thank you – Fred Lubnow