Tag Archives: The Shadow Over Innsmouth

Lovecraft’s Use of Evolution, Part 2 The Shadow Over Innsmouth

 

charles-darwin-biography_amillionlives.net

Charles Darwin (from http://www.amillionlives.net)

In the pervious article we discussed how evolution was integrated into HPL’s early stories.  This article focuses on the use of evolution in his later tales.  Evolutionary-based themes can be detected in HPL’s earlier tales and two were particularly common.  First, since the Earth, and in fact the solar system, will not be in existence for all of eternity and will eventually be swept away, means the process and outcome of evolution is a relatively minor component of the “cosmic machine.”  Second, and more obvious, is the internal horror’s of one’s past or ancestry.  While HPL probably knew very little about the science of genetics and the role of DNA in the transfer of traits from parent to offspring, the fear of how such hidden genotypic traits may arise and manifest themselves in one’s phenotype was apparent in many of his early stories.

In contrast, HPL’s later stories moved from the horror’s of one’s past to larger themes of cosmic and evolutionary horror.  Examples of this are provided through brief discussions on three of HPL’s later stories:  “The Shadow Out of Innsmouth”, “The Mountains of Madness” and “The Shadow Out of Time.”  Since I have covered these stories to varying degrees in previous articles I will focus primarily on how HPL used evolution in these stories.  While “The Shadow Out of Time” was covered in detail over a series of past articles, the other two stories were not.  “The Shadow Out of Innsmouth” and “The Mountains of Madness” were only covered in past articles relative to the biology of the entities featured in those stories, so I will return to them sometime in the future.  Thus, for this article the specific focus is on the use of evolution on one of these later stories – “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.”  However, before we do this, I would like to briefly review what was known about genetics and its role in evolution in HPL’s time.  A forthcoming  article will discuss  “The Mountains of Madness” and “The Shadow Out of Time.”

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“Shadow Over Innsmouth” by the great artist Allen Koszowski

While Darwin’s idea of natural selection was presented as the driving force of evolution, in his day very little was known of the mechanisms behind the transfer of the traits or characteristics from parent to offspring. It was casually thought that offspring were a “blending” of traits from each parent but there was little empirical data that supported this idea. In his heart Darwin knew this was not the case, particularly due to his work on artificial selection; that is, the breeding of domesticated plants and animals. However, around the same time Darwin was developing his notes and ideas to publish The Origins of Species, an Augustinian monk was performing hybridization experiments on the garden pea that would represent the birth of modern genetics and provide a plausible hypothesis in the transfer of an organism’s traits to its offspring.

Gregor Johann Mendel was born in 1822 in Czechoslovakia. He was a monk but was also a teacher and scientist with interests in both physics and botany. From 1854 to 1868 Mendel preformed a series of detailed and meticulous experiments that developed into the concept of units of inheritance. Offspring were not a blending of the parents. Instead, discreet units were transmitted to offspring, some dominant and some recessive, which dictated the traits the offspring received. These units are called genes (Concepts of Genetics by William S. Klug and Michael R. Cummings; 1983).

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Gregor Mendel with a display of one of this genetic experiments with garden peas (www.undsci.berkeley.edu)

In spite of his incredible findings, Mendel’s work was largely forgotten until the early 20th century.  However, an integration of Mendelian genetics with Darwinian natural selection was to come to fruition in HPL’s day thanks to a talented mathematian / biologist named Ronald Aylmer Fisher (1890-1962).

Fisher was one of the first individuals to suggest that statistics can be used to reduce / analyze data and published a book in 1925, Statistical Methods for Research Workers, that outlined and discussed methods in the design and evaluation of experiments (Evolution: The First Four Billion Years, edited by Michael Fuse & Joseph Travis, 2009).  In addition, he published a seminal paper in 1922 on the mathematical synthesis of Darwinian natural selection with the recently rediscovered laws of Mendelian heredity.  Subsequent to this, his book The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection (1930) was published.  This book along with the work of others in the field reconciled Darwinian natural selection with Mendelian heredity (Michael Fuse & Joseph Travis, 2009), which contributed toward the birth of quantitative genetics.  While much of this work was being developed and published in the 1920 – 1930’s there is no indication in HPL’s stories or in S.T. Joshi’s biography (I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft, 2013), that HPL was familiar with, or even exposed to, the emerging science of genetics.  With that said, it is impressive how HPL used concepts that mirrored many of the ideas that were being developed through quantitative generics.  This was particularly the case with “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.”

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Ronald Aylmer Fisher (www.blackwellpublishing.com)

By the time he was working on the “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” HPL had a fairly decent understanding that evolution works on the level of the population and not the individual.  In stories such as “The Beast in the Cave” and “Pickman’s Model” evolution appeared to be working on the level of the individual.  By “The Lurking Fear” HPL identified that the population was the level at which natural selection operates even though most of the changes were completely internal – an isolated community where inbreeding is high.  However, by “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” HPL expanded on this by integrating external forces and environmental factors in the operation of natural selection.

From a genetics and evolutionary standpoint “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” is about the hybridization of two closely related species.  Given the fact that Deep Ones can breed with humans and produce viable offspring indicates that they are closely related species, which is why I suggested that Deep Ones and humans should be placed in the genus, Homo aquatium and Homo sapiens, respectively.  Of all of the hypotheses I have suggested on Lovecraftianscience.wordpress.com, the origin of the Deep Ones generated the highest level of debate.  In fact, I suggested four hypotheses:

1.  The Deep Ones are part of the “spawn of Cthulhu” and thus are truly alien.

2.  The Deep Ones were bioengineered by the Elder Things – like humans – but as a separate line of speciation.

3.  The Deep Ones and humans share a common ancestor the way humans and the Great Apes do.

4.  Humans are simply the part of the Deep Ones Life Cycle, the way tadpoles are the larval stage for frogs.

Deep One Hybrid Skull Evolution (by Vonmeer-d5vnle3 from deviantart.net)

Of these hypotheses, I suggest that most of the existing evidence points to hypothesis #3, we share a common ancestor.  While many people feel the Deep Ones are truly alien and are part of the spawn of Cthulhu, I disagree.  The fact that Deep Ones and humans can breed and produce “viable” offspring means that from a genetic and evolutionary perspective, they must be closely related.  To support that hypothesis it would need to be determined if indeed the hybridized Deep Ones (the ones that are born human and become Deep Ones) can reproduce.  Also, it is also not known if the Deep Ones that do breed with humans are “pure” Deep Ones or originating from being hybrids themselves.  If these breeding Deep Ones are “pure” then that would support hypothesis #3; however, if the breeding Deep Ones start out as hybrids themselves, then that would support hypothesis #4.

In any event, to lend support to any of the four hypotheses listed above, genetic studies(e.g. gene sequencing and phylogenetic comparisons) of some Deep Ones would be required.  Preferably such screening would include both fully developed Deep Ones as well as hybrids that have yet to go through Deep One metamorphosis.  Also, it needs to be confirmed if there is genetic difference between “pure” Deep Ones and the hybrids and, if so, can the hybrids breed?  Such studies would have been extremely intriguing to both Gregor Mendel and R.A. Fisher, although the actual implementation and “on the ground” research itself would have indeed horrified them.

Day of the Deep Ones (by Cryptcrawler on deviantart.com)

Next time we will discuss the role of evolution in “At the Mountains of Madness” and “The Shadow Out of Time.”  Thank you – Fred.

Innsmouth Shoggoths

Innsmouth by the very talented artist John Dunn (johndunnartist.blogspot.com)

As identified in At the Mountains of Madness (ATMOM), the Elder Ones created the Shoggoths.  I explored this relationship of the “creators” and the “created” in a number of earlier articles, as well as discussed the biology of both entities.  While the Elder Ones are alien, originating from evolutionary processes on another world, they are made of the same matter as us.  This is in sharp contrast to the Mi-Go and the Spawn of Cthulhu which HPL has cited a number of times, and in a number of stories, are composed of different matter and are from “outside” of our known universe (or dimension or reality).

The Shoggoths can be considered a form of artificial life or “biological robots” since they were created to function as slave labor and cannot reproduce unless they are aided in some manner by the Elder Ones.  However, the Shoggoths are a form of Terran life since they were created on Earth; the success of biological experiments run by the Elder Ones.  This is sharp contrast to the rest of complex life (eukaryotic) on Earth, including humans, which are considered by the Elder Ones as being a “joke or mistake.”ATMOM_1964Cover of the 1964 edition of At the Mountains of Madness & Other Novels by H.P. Lovecraft

While Shoggoths are usually associated with ATMOM, they were mentioned in several other stories and poems written by HPL.  Specifically, Shoggoths were mentioned in The Shadow Over Innsmouth.  When old Zadok is in a drunken stupor, talking to Robert Olmstead, who is never mentioned by name in the story but whose name HPL supplied in subsequent notes (see An H.P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia by S.T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, 2001 by Greenwood Press), he makes reference to Shoggoths….

“Them haouses north o’ the river be-twixt Water an’ Main Streets is full of em’-them devils an’ what they brung-an’ when they git ready…I say, what they git….ever hear tell of a Shoggoth?” – The Shadow Over Innsmouth.

Also, as the Innsmouth “change” was altering Olmstead he begins to have strange dreams which includes this…

“This was the dream in which I saw a Shoggoth for the first time and the sight set me awake in a frenzy of screaming.  That morning the mirror definitely told me I had acquired the Innsmouth look.” – The Shadow Over Innsmouth.

Shoggoth by Pahko (disenium@gmail.com).  To me, this particular Shoggoth looks like it is trying to imitate a Deep One

So were the Deep Ones were in possession of Shoggoths?  Did they serve as beasts of burden for the Deep Ones?  Or were the Shoggoths fellow citizens in Y’ha Nthlei?  Did the Deep Ones or the ones they worship (Cthulhu and his spawn) acquire the ability to create Shoggoths or was they some type of “exchange of technology” between the Elder Ones and the Spawn of Cthulhu after their cosmic war had ended?

This is a very tantalizing piece of information,  which is open to a number of new story lines.  One I recently read where Shoggoths come to play in Innsmouth is a story called “Once More, from the Top…” by A. Scott Glancy in The Book of Cthulhu II (edited by Ross E. Lockhart).  I would recommend that story and entire books as well to anyone who is a fan of Lovecraftian horror.  In my mind (my hypothesis) is that the Innsmouth Shoggoths are smaller and there is a bit of bonding between particular Deep Ones and their Shoggoths – Steve Maschuck and I explore this idea in some of our stories.

Tekekli-Li!  by Darth Ivann

To conclude, HPL frequently “cross-pollenated” his stories with ideas from other stories.  For example a small sculpture of an Elder One shows up in The Dreams in the Witch House.  Speaking of which, the next article will focus on Lovecraft and some of his ideas on mathematics and non-Euclidean geometry.  Thank you.  Fred.

Hypotheses on the Origin of the Deep Ones

Cover art from Shadows Over Innsmouth (edited by Stephen Jones) – artwork by Dave Carson, Martin McKenna and Jim Pitts

Through the development of the pervious articles on the Deep Ones, as well as some conservations I have had with a number of individuals, I have come up with a series of hypotheses on the origin of these entities.  Before the hypotheses are described, I want to outline some assumptions I have used for their development.  First, the hypotheses assume that the Elder Ones are the creators of complex life on Earth (At the Mountains of Madness).  Second, we are only considering HPL’s story The Shadow Over Innsmouth in exploring the origins of the Deep Ones.

1.  The Deep Ones are members of the Spawn of Cthulhu – Under this hypothesis the Deep Ones came down to Earth along with the Spawn of Cthulhu.  While the Spawn can be considered to be members of Cthulhu’s “aristocratic court of R’lyeh”, the Deep Ones can be thought of as the “minions” to Cthulhu.  Under this hypothesis, the Deep Ones are just as alien as the Spawn and Cthulhu himself.  I do not support this hypothesis since the Deep Ones can freely breed with humans.  Again, this is why humans and Deep Ones are in the same genus because they can breed.  Even if their offspring are sterile, they must be very similar on a genetic level for offspring to be produced in the first place.  In addition, this breeding is very conventional for Terran life.

Compare this to when Lavinia Whateley gave birth to Wilbur and his “twin” in The Dunwich Horror.  The sexual act, birth and offspring in that tale are very different and not at all similar to the Terran biological mechanisms employed in The Shadow Over Innsmouth.  Thus, while Yog-Sothoth had “hybrid” offspring with a human this was an extremely rare event, which was an inter-dimensional mating, not following the rules of Terran biology.  Thus, I feel the Deep Ones are of Terran origin and not aliens from other planets or dimensions like the entites they worship. 

A Member of the Spawn Worshipping Mighty Cthulhu (by the great Steve Maschuck)

2.  The Deep Ones were bioengineered by Others (possibly by the Spawn of Cthulhu) – The Elder Ones created complex (eukaryotic cells) life on Earth.  Their “failed experiments” crawled away and evolved on their own (most of life on Earth).  The “pinnacle” of Terran evolution, at least from the perspective of the Elder Ones, are the Shoggoths, which can be thought of as super-eukaryotic organisms.  Were the Deep Ones another experiment conducted by the Elder Ones, or perhaps even by the Spawn of Cthulhu?

Again, I do not subscribe to this hypothesis due to the fact that humans and Deep Ones can breed.  If the Elder Ones made the Deep Ones in an entirely different experiment, they could not breed with humans.   Shoggoths and humans do not breed (at least there is no known case of such breeding).  If the Spawn of Cthulhu bioengineered the Deep Ones, possibly with technology borrowed or stolen from the Elder Things, their creations would probably have been at least partially made of the same alien matter as themselves.  In any event, I find this hypothesis unlikely.

Old One (also known as an Elder One or Elder Thing).  Were they the creators of the Deep Ones?  (artwork by Jeff Remmer; www.templeofdagon.com)

3.  The Deep Ones and humans share a common ancestor they way that humans and the Great Apes do – I find this hypothesis more plausible since (and I know I sound like a broken record but this is a REALLY big deal in terms of species, evolution and taxonomic relationships), humans and Deep Ones can inter-breed.  It only takes a few changes in the millions of genetic code to “convert” one species into another.  For example, below is a figure showing that two simple substitutions in a critical gene used for speaking and language separates us from most of the Great Apes.  Now this figure is for only one gene (FOXP2) but the taxonomic relations are fairly close.  Are the Deep Ones an off-shoot of humans or is the separation further back, below the separation between the Great Apes and the monkeys?  Probably not since breeding can occur between humans and Deep Ones.  In other words, Deep Ones are more closely related to humans than the Great Apes are.

Relationship among various organisms for the FOXP2 gene (from http://www.bio.miami.edu)

4.  Humans are part of the Deep One Life Cycle – While this hypothesis may seem very strange, it would explain the ease with which reproduction occurred between Deep Ones and humans.  It would also explain the general absence of breeding among the Deep Ones (at least none has been documented).  Perhaps this is a bizarre form of neoteny and metamorphosis, where the Deep Ones must go to land to breed and then go back into the sea (sort of a reverse, saltwater amphibian?).  Is humanity nothing more than the tadpole stage of the Deep Ones life cycle?  If this hypothesis is true then we are Deep Ones and they are us.  There are no hybrids – humanity returns to the sea to truly complete its life cycle.

Innsmouth by the talented artist Tom Jenkins

To test any of these hypotheses, some DNA and RNA samples need tp be collected from Deep Ones.  Some additional tissues / protein analyses would help as well but some gene sequencing and subsequent phylogenetic comparisons should be made.  Maybe such a comparison between humans and Deep Ones would end up like that scene in Prometheus where they are comparing the “engineer” DNA to human DNA – “My God – it’s us – it’s everything!”

Deep Ones by Dave Studzinski (from HPL, 2nd printing)

Scene from Prometheus, 2012 by Ridley Scott (on the Blu-Ray; extra / modified scene)

Next time I will be talking about the Shoggoths of Innsmouth.  Thank you – Fred

Genetic Variability in Humans and Deep Ones, Part 2

Lovecraft identifies a number of times in The Shadow Over Innsmouth that there is a certain amount of variability associated with the metamorphosis from human to hybrid Deep One.  In general, the metamorphosis is a slow process, starting sometime in the late teens / early 20’s.  As the hybrids age, the “Innsmouth” traits become more pronounced:

“…deep creases in the sides of his neck made him seem older when one did not study his dull, expressionless face.  He had a narrow head, bulging, watery-blue eyes that seemed never to wink, a flat nose, a receding forehead and chin, and singularly undeveloped ears.  His long thick lip and coarse-pored, greyish cheeks seemed almost beardless except for some sparse yellow hairs that straggled and curled in irregular patches…” HPL The Shadow Over Innsmouth.

Joe Sargent, “Innsmouth Bus Driver” by Casey Love (from www.creaturespot.com)

However, while the Innsmouth traits become more pronounced with age, even the hybrid children can look a little strange; Lovecraft described them as “dirty, simian-visage children.”

As mentioned, in addition to the general metamorphosis, a considerable amount of individual variability was described among the Innsmouth population.  Some, such as the Marsh daughters were described more reptilian-looking, while others were more frog-like or batchacian in appearance.   A number of times HPL referred to “other” things or creatures populating the town.  Were these “others” genetic variants of human – Deep One hybrids?  Examples of such variations were beautifully shown, in a somewhat understated fashion, in Stuart Gordon’s movie Dagon (please see subsequent set of photos).

Scene from Stuart Gordon’s Dagon – an Innsmouth resident showing the pronounced bulging eyes.

Scene from Stuart Gordon’s Dagon – another Innsmouth resident; note the absence of the bulging eyes but the lack of ears and large rows of teeth.  Is this a varying stage of the metamorphosis or is this genetic variation within the hybrid population?

Scene from Stuart Gordon’s Dagon – manager of the Gilman House; while the eyes are not markedly bulging, this individual did not blink in the scene.  Also, while the hybrids can look older than they actually are, this individual appears to be one who exhibits a partial change but does not go through the complete metamorphosis.  Again, such variation in the population was noted in HPL’s story. 

Scene from Stuart Gordon’s Dagon – this individual shows a minimal amount of the Innsmouth traits, however…..

…in this case, the Deep One genes are phenotypically manifested in an octopod trait and not reptilian or batrachian.  (Again, from Stuart Gordon’s great movie Dagon).  Thus, is this individual one of the “other” residents referred to in The Shadow Over Innsmouth?

In addition to the phenotypic variability shown in the hybrids, is there a degree of variability in the hybridization relative to mating with humans?  Why do many individuals go through the complete metamorphosis while others do not?  Are some groups or populations of humans more easily hybridized with Deep Ones than others?  For example, Polynesian and New England populations appear to easily hybridize with Deep Ones.  Would the relative success of hybridization be the same with other groups such as populations of humans from Africa, central Asia and South America?  It is an intriguing question and at this point in time very open to debate and investigation.

Deep One by Steve Maschuck

Next time, a series of hypotheses on the actual origin of the Deep Ones will be presented and I explain why I favor some over others.  Thank you – Fred

Genetic Variability in Humans and Deep Ones, Part 1

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Sketch of a Deep One by John Cebollero

As stated earlier, I recommend placing humans (Homo sapiens) and Deep Ones (Homo aquatium) in the same genus (Homo) since they can inter-breed. This is not unprecedented in the science of taxonomy.  For example, studies in 2010 suggest that humans and Neanderthals  (Homo neanderthalensis) may have inter-bred sometime between 80,000 and 50,000 years ago.  Based on some DNA analyses, Eurasian humans and Neanderthals may share between 1 to 4% of the same genes in their separate genomes.  If this Neanderthal / Eurasian human interbreeding hypothesis (published in Nature in 2012) is correct, then in a sense, “true” or “pure” humans may be those of direct African decent.

Comparison between Neanderthals and humans (from cdn_zmescience.com)

However, the Neanderthal / Eurasian human interbreeding hypothesis is by no means well established.  There are questions over potential contamination of samples and the alterative hypothesis that the genetic differences / similarities among non-African humans, African humans  and Neanderthals were already developed in Africa and thus no inter-breeding was involved.  However, the fact that human and Neanderthal  genomes are at least 99.5% identical and that they coexisted for thousands of years, indicates that inter-breeding may have been a possibility.

Modern reconstruction of a Neanderthal man from BBC news

Within the global human gene pool, the average genetic diversity among humans is about 0.1%, with differences among some portions of the genome (or specific genes) being as high as 1%.  When comparing humans to chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), older studies identified the genetic difference being only 2%, however, more recent studies have identified the genetic difference between these two species as being between 4 to 5%.  In contrast, the genetic difference between humans and the common bottle nosed dolphin (Tursiops truncates) is surprisingly smaller than previously thought, being less than 5%.  If the genetic difference between humans and chimps is similar to the difference between human and dolphins, then the simple appearance and habitat of an organism is not a good predictor of genetic relationships.  Given the fact that Deep Ones can breed with humans, the genetic difference between these two species must be low, being somewhere between 0.5 and 1.0%.

Innsmouth Folk from the talented artist Simon Dominic Brewer

Next time the discussion will focus more on the genetic diversity of the Deep Ones and their inter-breeding with humans.  Thank you – Fred.

Necronomcion Convention talk – Biology of the Old Ones, Part 25 – Hybridized Deep Ones, Part 2

In the previous article we discussed in detail the concept of hybridization.  This article will also cover hybridization but specifically relative to the Deep Ones.  In The Shadow of Innsmouth HPL was very clear that the Deep Ones could mate with humans to give rise to hybrids.  These hybrids were different than both humans and Deep Ones in that they started out looking human and eventually turned into Deep Ones (see below).

From S. Petersen’s Field Guide to Cthulhu Monsters: A Field Observer’s Handbook of Preternatural Entities (figure is called the Four Stages of Degeneration [for a Deep One]).

What is interesting about the hybridized Deep Ones is that they are not a mix or “blending” of the two species as most hybrids are (e.g. crossing the horse with the donkey, producing the mule).  Instead, the hybridization is a form of “metamorphosis”, where the “larval” stage is human and the mature “adult” stage is the Deep One.

A similar hybridized offspring transmutation was on display in David Cronenberg’s remake of The Fly (1986).  In that movie, Seth Brundle invents a transporter device and tries it on himself.  Unknown to him a fly gets into the same “telepod”.  While the transporter was successful, it integrated his genome (entire set of an organism’s genes) with that of the fly’s.  The net result was his transporter became a “gene-splicing machine”.  Initially, Seth looks fine but slowly begins to go through a metamorphosis to eventually become a human-fly hybrid (a Brundle-fly was the term used in the movie).  The stages of this metamorphosis are shown below.

Metamorphosis from human to human-fly hybrid from David Cronenberg’s remake of The Fly from 1986 (source: the BlogSpot Voz En Off-7)

Another example of the “integration” of  two sets of genomes from district species is seen in the Alien movies.  While the human / alien (xenomorph) interaction may first appear to be a simple host / parasitoid  or prey / predator relationship, the genetic relationships are far more complex.

Alien Xenomorph (from David Fincher’s Alien 3)

The facehugger implants an embryo into the human, which then hatches and kills the host.  However, it has been noted in all of the Alien and AVP movies (including Prometheus) that the xenomorph does inherit some of the genetic material of its host.  This is why the xenomorph in Alien 3 ran on all fours (since it’s host was an ox or dog depending on what version of the movie you watch) as opposed to the bipedal forms that arise from humans.  So are Deep Ones the product of true hybridization or is there some type of “parasitic” usage of the human genome like the xenomorph?

To achieve such dramatic but gradual metamorphosis, say from a tadpole to a frog, a complex array of genes must be switched “on and off” at keys times and in a specific sequence.  Any disruption (e.g. pollution) in this sequence can result in mutations.  This is one of the reasons why amphibians, frogs in particular, are such effective environmental indicators.  Similar genetic mechanisms must be in effect with hybridized Deep Ones.

With everything that is known about the Deep Ones, there are still a lot of unanswered questions from a biological perspective.  For example, can hybridized Deep Ones reproduce?  Can they reproduce in both their “larval” (human) and adult (Deep One) stages?  If they are fertile, can they only reproduce with other hybrids or can the hybrids also reproduce with humans as well as “pure” Deep Ones.  In addition, is there a distinction (either in phenotype or genotype) between hybrid Deep Ones and pure Deep Ones?  Next time, we will discuss genetic variability in both the human and Deep One genomes and how they interact.  Thank you – Fred

Innsmouth Troublemaker  by Matt Dixon (from The Art of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos; edited by Pat Harrigan and Brian Wood)

Necronomcion Convention talk – Biology of the Old Ones, Part 24 – Hybridized Deep Ones, Part 1

Hello and Happy New Year!  This is the first part of a discussion on hybridization and the Deep Ones.  This article will focus on the concept of hybridization while the subsequent article will focus more on the hybridization of Deep Ones and humans.

In addition to metamorphosis, hybridization is another important biological concept in discussions on the Deep Ones.   Hybridization is simply defined as the breeding of individuals from different species (Tijs Goldschmidt’s Darwin’s Dreampond).  However, the classical definition of a species is a population of individuals that can freely interbreed with each other but not with others from another population (thus another species).  Therefore, hybridization does not seem possible but it does occur both artificially and in nature and is a testament to the fact that the concept of “species” is not clear-cut and clearly defined.  Instead, species is more of a dynamic, fluid term used to aid in taxonomically classifying various groups of organisms.  As will be described later, this fact is an important concept to keep in mind when discussing the Deep Ones.

A resident of Innsmouth, The Deep One by the talented artist Greg P. Onychuk

An example of hybridization that most of us are familiar with is crossing a female horse (Equus caballus) and a male donkey (Equus asinus) resulting in a hybrid – the mule (Equus asinus x  Equus caballus).  Horse and donkeys are not in the same genus so it is not surprising that the mule is sterile.

A mule (from www.wikipedia.org)

In my line of work as an enviromnetal consultant / limnologist, we frequently conduct fish surveys to determine how best to manage the fish community of lakes and ponds.  An important component of this includes developing a fish stocking program.  We will commonly stock hybrid striped bass (Morone saxatilis x Morone chrysops), to improve recreational fishing and enhance the water quality of lakes and reservoirs.  Since the hybrid striped bass is a cross between striped bass (Morone saxatilis) and white bass (Morone chrysops), they are also sterile and thus their populations can be easily controlled.

Hybrid striped bass being stocked in a reservoir in northern New Jersey

Both the mule and the hybrid striped bass exemplify an important point relative to hybridization.  The closer two populations are, spatially, physiologically and genetically, the greater the chance they can produce offspring.  In addition, two closely related species can not only produce offspring but they may also produce offspring that can reproduce on their own.  An example of this are the cichlid fishes  in Lake Tangqanyika or Lake Victoria in Africa.  The high level of diverse aquatic habitat, coupled with the high rates of reproduction of cichlid fishes, has resulted in a proliferation of these species (a conversation on how the introduction of the Nile Perch has negatively impacts these species will not be covered here).

A variety of African Cichlids (from www.indianapublicmedia.org)

These cichlid species frequently undergo inter-species fertilization, resulting in a variety of hybrids.  If the hybrid offspring do not re-breed with their parental species and only breed among their fellow hybrids, a new species could potentially emerge (Tijs Goldschmidt’s Darwin’s Dreampond).

To summarize, hybridization has the potential to generate sterile or fertile individuals.  In turn, fertile individuals have the potential to produce an entirely new species.  Is this occurring when Deep Ones and humans breed?  This concept will be discussed in detail in the next article.  Thank you.

Amazing piece of art – “View of Innsmouth” by Alberto Vasquez

Necronomcion Convention talk – Biology of the Old Ones, Part 23 – Metamorphosis of the Deep Ones

The offspring between humans and Deep Ones go through a metamorphosis that is somewhat unique to these resulting hybrids.  From a purely biological perspective the term metamorphosis refers to a substantial and relatively quick change in morphology (general appearance) as an animal grows from a young or larval stage to an adult.  This process is fairly common in Terran animal life.  An example from the phylum Arthropoda is given below:

Life cycle of Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) showing metamorphosis (from www.shawnfischer.com)

In the case of the Monarch butterfly, a caterpillar hatches from an egg.  The caterpillar is very limited in mobility and typically uses camouflage and/or the accumulation of bad-tasting compounds in its tissues to avoid being eaten.  The sole purpose of the caterpillar is to eat (and eat…and eat).  It will continuously feed on vegetation until it begins to form a chrysalis, where its cells will breakdown, change and re-organize to finally hatch as a butterfly.  In contrast to the caterpillar, the butterfly is a highly mobile organism that will feed on nectar from flowers instead of leaves.  The chief purpose of the butterfly is to mate and  lay eggs for the next generation of butterflies.

A more appropriate example of metamorphosis, relative to this discussion, is the bullfrog.

Life cycle of American bullfrog(Lithobates catesbeianus) showing metamorphosis (from Sheri Amsel at www.exploringnature.org)

In this example, bullfrogs lay their eggs in freshwater, typically a pond or lake, and the young hatch as tadpoles.  The tadpoles are well adapted to an aquatic life; swimming, breathing with the use of gills and feeding on algae attached to rocks and other surfaces.  However, in a more gradual form of metamorphosis, the tadpoles eventually become adult frogs that are adapted to land.  That is, they live and breath (with lungs and through their skin) out of the water and feed on terrestrial insects and other invertebrates.  However the bullfrog, like all amphibians, must return to the water to reproduce and lay their eggs.

The evolutionary advantage to such a metamorphosis is that the bullfrog and tadpole take advantage of a number of ecological niches.   While the tadpoles are aquatic herbivores, the adult bullfrog is a terrestrial carnivore.  Thus, if one portion of the ecosystem is seriously damaged or altered (e.g. pond dries up during a particularly dry summer) and one part of the life cycle is negatively impacted, the other part still has a chance of re-establishing the population.

Directing this conversation toward the metamorphosis of humans to hybridized Deep Ones, this example of batrachian evolution raises the questions:  Is there an evolutionary advantage to being a hybrid Deep One?  If so, what is that advantage?

Old Innsmouth by the talented artist Greg P. Onychuk; drawing displays some of the common traits of the hybridizing Deep Ones

Simply based on HPL’s story The Shadow Over Innsmouth, there does appear to be both biological and, perhaps more significantly, cultural evolutionary advantages to being a hybrid Deep One.  Spending the first 20 to 30 years of their lives as humans allows them to study human society and gather intelligence on this species.  Knowing where humans reside and where they fish provides useful information on where the Deep Ones themselves should live and congregate.   The Deep Ones are known to interact with select groups or geographical populations of humans and the selection of these populations is probably based on detailed reconnaissance through the centuries.

Another evolutionary advantage may be in the case of colonization.  Having a “larval” stage (e.g. humans) that is terrestrial for a substantial amount of time, provides the opportunity for the movement and relatively rapid colonization of other areas of the planet that are not limited to movement along coastal waters.  The Shadow Over Innsmouth exemplifies this by Old Captain Marsh bring Polynesian Deep Ones back to New England from the Pacific.

Yet another possible evolutionary advantage is introducing more genetic variability into the Deep One gene pool to maximize adaptability to varying environmental conditions.  However, such an advantage is only transferred to offspring if the hybrids themselves can viably reproduce.  A discussion on hybrids and their ability to reproduce will be our next discussion.  Thank you – Fred

Necronomcion Convention talk – Biology of the Old Ones, Part 22 – Brief Introduction to the Deep Ones

We are now moving away from Lovecraft’s extra-dimensional entities and back to Terran life.  Specifically, over the next series of articles we will be discussing the Deep Ones.

A Deep One in the later stages of metamorphosis (artwork by Steve Maschuck)

The Deep Ones are a race of bipedal, marine creatures, found throughout the oceans of the world.  In addition to referring to this aquatic race, the name “Deep Ones” also refers to the entities that are the genetic “product” of the hybridization of humans (Homo sapiens) and Deep Ones (Homo aquatium).  It may be controversial to place the Deep Ones within the same genus as humans, however, the fact that these two population groups can have offspring is strong evidence to support this taxonomic decision.

A number of subjects will be discussed in the upcoming weeks to months regarding the Deep Ones such as a description of the metamorphorsis of the hybrids from human to Deep One, how the hybrids may differ and be similar to “pure” Deep Ones, and theories as to how and why such hybridization occurs (is it simply an outcome of natural selection or is it part of an experiment of artificial selection?).  Other issues such as general biology and religious practices will also be covered.

August Derleth’s The Mask of Cthulhu (cover art by R. Taylor)

Finally, it should be noted that while the name “Deep One” was first coined in HPL’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth, it was only used twice in that story and both only occur in the last three paragraphs.  This is really a testament to HPL’s powerful ability to capture one’s imagination with his storytelling.  Next time we will discuss in detail the metamorphosis of human to Deep One in the hybrids.  Thank you – Fred