Microscopic Shoggoths?


Terrestrial Shoggoth by the very talented King Ov Rats (www.devaintart.org)

I am attending the North American Lake Management Society’s meeting here in Tampa, FL and listened to a great talk by Edna Graneli of Linnaeus University, Kalmar, Sweden and Everglades Wetland Research Park, Naples, FL about Prymnesium parvum, which is a “golden” algae and reminds me of a very tiny shoggoth.  It is a tiny flagellated algae that is extremely adaptable.


Individual cells of the golden alga Prymnesium parvum (www.phys.org)

Since Prymnesium parvum is an alga, it has chloroplasts and can photosynthesis like other algae and plants.  However, it has some pretty impressive adaptive mechanisms to out-compete (or even prey upon) other organisms.  For example, under nutrient deficiency (low nitrogen or phosphorus concentrations) it begins to generate a nasty toxin that negatively impacts other algae.  For non-mobile algae this toxin can make holes in the prey’s cell walls so they leak their contents into the environment.  In turn, this leaky material may be a source of nutrients for Prymnesium parvum.  However, what also occurs is this leaked material has a lot of organic carbon used by bacteria, so not surprisingly bacterial densities increase.  But what is so insidious about Prymnesium parvum is that it cultivates these bacteria with the “remains” of the other algae and then feeds off the bacteria.  Thus, the Prymnesium parvum can obtain food / energy like a plant, a fungus and an animal.

Even more insidious is that the toxins released by Prymnesium parvum can immobilize flagellated algae that are normally very mobile.  These immobilized “prey” algae can be 2 to 10 times larger in size relative to Prymnesium parvum.  Once paralyzed, the larger alga cell is descended on by a pack of 2 to 10 Prymnesium parvum that begin to feed on it.


Top photomicrograph is of a pack of Prymnesium parvum  feeding off a larger algal cell – I think its Rhodomonas (www.lnu.se)

It’s not just bacteria and algae that Prymnesium parvum will feed on; the presentation included some slides of this alga feeding on horse blood cells, gorging on the cells but still keeping its chloroplasts in tact for photosynthesis once light is again available.

This alga really makes me think of the shoggoth – an organism that is highly adaptive to almost any situation.  When there is light – photosynthesize.  No light? – any prey around we can feed on?  No prey? – any corpses we can take advantage of?

In any event, I wanted to share this little adaptive horror with everyone.  Thank you – Fred.


Terrestrial Shoggoth II, again by the great artist King Ov Rats (www.devaintart.org)



6 thoughts on “Microscopic Shoggoths?

  1. In this world there are natural wonders that surpass every author’s visionary creativity. No wonder some of the best sci-fi writers were actual scientists.

  2. What’s that? Have you met Pfiesteria piscicida as yet? This organism is to me the penultimate predator and clearly resembles the Shoggoth in many ways. It transforms from a plant, to bacteria, to animal and so much more. It kills fish and can also be deadly to humans. “Pfiesteria piscicida in its nontoxic forms is quite harmless; it may masquerade as a plant and appear to photosynthesize, or it may feed on bacteria and algae. In the presence of fish excreta and secretions, however, it is stimulated to metamorphose into a killer. Once triggered, Pfiesteria piscicida emits a neurotoxin into the water which subdues the fish and eats through their skin. Pfiesteria piscicida then feeds on the weak and exposed skin, blood, and tissue. The fish eventually die not by the invasion of Pfiesteria piscicida, but by suffocation (the toxins cause paralyzation of muscles) or by infection (bacteria and foreign objects can enter the fish through the lesions). After the fish die, the dinoflagellates may continue to feed on the fish or change forms and disappear, leaving as the only evidence of its presence open, quarter-sized lesions on the fish carcasses ”
    Source -http://www.mtholyoke.edu/~akpeters/whatis.html

    1. Hey Pema – thank you for the comments. Yes, I a familiar with Pfiesteria piscicida; read a book on that dinoflagellate about 15 years ago. You are correct another “microscopic shoggoth” – real nasty aglae. I am particularly interested in Prymnesium parvum since I live in Pennsylvania and this alga was responsible for a large fish kill in a PA stream. Fracking for shale gas is very big in this State and a large fish kill in Dunkard Creek a few years ago was possibly attributed to the wastewater generated through fracking operations. The wastewater increased the conductivity / salinity of the water, which allowed this alga to bloom and generate toxins that killed the fish. Thanks again for your comments! Fred

  3. Wow, this was really interesting. I wonder if Prymnesium Parvum (and Pema’s Pfiesteria Piscicida) are actually shoggoths, descended from (or being the more primitive ancestors of) the larger shoggoths we are familiar with…

    Clearly, that’s not actually the case, but could this idea be elaborated on in a story? Is there anything that glaringly contradicts this idea?

    I’m also greatly looking forward to your article where you’ll discuss the limitations our universe has on beings like Cthulhu and the Mi-Go, and why they are seemingly so easily defeated.

    My boy Cthulhu can’t take a boat to the head without going down for the count? C’mon.

    1. Thank you for the comments Jack – yes, I think linking some of these strange protists to shoggoths could be the seed for a creepy story. While shoggoths can not reproduce without the artificial assistance of the Elder Things, what if these microorganisms “taught” the shoggoths how to breed through horizontal gene transfer? After all, the Elder Things are responsible for all eukaryotic life and thus, by unintentional default, are responsible for the evolution of sex as well.
      Thank you for the comments!

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