Tag Archives: Prymnesium parvum

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)