Lovecraft mentions several times in At the Mountains of Madness that the Elder Ones reproduce through the use of spores, similar to what is found on pteridophytes (ferns and their allies). Lovecraft even mentions that the Elder Ones have spore-cases at the tips of their wings that develop into a prothallus. Thus, to understanding the reproductive life cycle of the Elder Ones, we need to understand the life cycle of ferns:
Like many plants, ferns have an alternation of generations, which essentially means they have two multicellular phases in their life cycle. This is in sharp contrast to most animals where the is one multicellular phase, the male produces sperm, the female produces the egg, which is fertilized by the sperm, making a zygote that in turn develops into offspring.
In the case of ferns, the sporophyte (see above) is the “main body” of the species. The sporophyte produces spores which give rise to the gametophytes (also known for ferns as the prothallus), which in turn produce eggs and sperm(known as gametes). The gametes fuse and thus create a new sporophyte. The sporophyte is what we typically think of as a fern; a small to moderately sized plant, creating fiddleheads and growing in moist, shaded areas. In contrast, the gametophyte is a small, low-lying multicellular plant (or properly called a prothallus), whose sole purpose is to produce eggs and sperm that fuse and give rise to the sporophyte. This sporophyte / gametophyte cycling is why it is called an alternation of generations.
To put this into perspective, the Elder Ones themselves would be considered the sporophyte phase. They produce spores from organs at the tips of their wings, which give rise to the gametophyte or prothallus. So this begs the question, what does the gametophyte phase of an Elder One look like?
Is the gametophyte for the Elder Ones microscopic or a small parasite that grows on the sporophyte? Or is it an entirely different, multicellular organism?
While the life cycle of the Elder Ones is similar to a fern’s, they are not exactly alike.
Given their toughness, resiliency and longevity, the Elder Ones did not “encourage” the large-scale development of new protallia (Lovecraft’s use of the word here). Thus, given their extremely long life span, the Elder Ones exerted an effective means of population control and held onto their spores unless needed. In fact, it appears that the only time they would promote such reproduction was when they had new regions, worlds or habitats to colonize.
What was even more convenient for the Elder Ones was that the young sporophytes matured quickly. Thus, if numbers needed to be increased quickly for colonization or re-population as a result of a war, this could be easily achieved. However, I do still wonder – what does an Elder One gametophyte look like?
Next time, I will be taking about the Elder Ones history on Earth with textual assistance from both Lovecraft and the great Robert M. Price. Thank you – Fred