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Thursday, 4 April 2013
Cthulhu Lives in the gut of a termite! (and more!)
Found this article in Popsci and had to re-post it! (with some better art) And as an added bonus I threw in some other goodies!
Scientists have been naming species after famous people for a long time. For example, Thomas Jefferson has an extinct giant ground sloth named after him. Mark Knopfler rates a dinosaur. Frank Zappa has multiple animals sharing his namesake, including a spider, a jellyfish and a mudskipper.
Now joining those hallowed ranks is one of the Great Old Ones. Scientists at the University of British Columbia and the University of Florida bequeathed two new genera of symbiotic protists their own dread names: Cthulhu and Cthylla.
The protists, not surprisingly, have a lot of tentacles. (Or, well, they have tentacle-like appendages. In fact, if they didn't have tentacle-like appendages, I would have been writing this column berating the researchers for their oversight). But, as the researchers say in the abstract to their paper, published in PLOS One: "Both genera have […] an anterior bundle flagella (and likely a single posterior flagellum) that emerge slightly subanteriorly and have a distinctive beat pattern. Cthulhu is relatively large and has a distinctive bundle of over 20 flagella whereas Cthyllais smaller, has only 5 anterior flagella."
The critters live inside termite guts and help the termites digest the cellulose in wood. I had no idea that R'lyeh was situated in the body cavity of an insect, rather than at the bottom of the South Pacific.
The Lovecraftian purists out there are probably looking at the second genus and muttering "bullsh*t" to themselves--Cthylla (apparently Cthulhu's youngest progeny) was not created by H.P. Lovecraft. She was invented in 1975 by writer Brian Lumley. I'm not going to get into a nerd-rage fueled throwdown over the nomenclature and rightness of using a latter-day addition to the mythos in the same paper as the hallowed original. I'm just going to use this as an excuse to bust out my copy of At The Mountains of Madness and call in sick tomorrow for work.
Miskatonic University has a long-whispered reputation of being strongly connected to all things occult and supernatural. From the faculty to the students, the fascination with other-worldly legends and objects runs rampant. So, when Carter Weston's professor Dr. Thayerson asks him to search a nearby village for a book that is believed to control the inhuman forces that rule the Earth, Incendium Maleficarum, The Inferno of the Witch, the student doesn't hesitate to begin the quest.
Weston's journey takes an unexpected turn, however, when he ventures into a tavern in the small town of Anchorhead. Rather than passing the evening as a solitary patron, Weston joins four men who regale him with stories of their personal experiences with forces both preternatural and damned. Two stories hit close to home as they tie the tellers directly to Weston's current mission.
His unanticipated role as passive listener proves fortuitous, and Weston fulfills his goal. Bringing the book back to Miskatonic, though, proves to be a grave mistake. Quickly, Weston realizes he has played a role in potentially opening the gate between the netherworld and the world of Man. Reversing the course of events means forgetting all he thought he knew about Miskatonic and his professor and embracing an unknown beyond his wildest imagination.