Cthulhu Lives! Inside of Termites!

By Nick Venable | 8 years ago

Who would have known that mankind’s demise could fit beneath a microscope? Well, anyone who ever believed that disease would be the thing to wipe out humanity. But this isn’t about a disease. This is about an otherworldly monster that will feast upon our souls and the very fabric of the universe itself! Or maybe just a little wood, if you’ve got some.

If you’ve ever wondered how termites were able to eat wood at such a steady rate, it’s because their stomachs contain gut microbes that assist in turning the wood into digestible sugars, and two of these little buggers now have the distinction of being named after the cosmic entity from sci-fi/horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. The University of British Columbia’s Erick James and his colleagues discovered the tiny, 10mm-long beings and noticed both of them to have heads covered with flagella; the larger of the two had a bundle of more than 20, while the smaller one only had five.

Cthulhu macrofasciculumque CREDIT: University of British Columbia
Cthulhu macrofasciculumque CREDIT: University of British Columbia

Cthulhu macrofasciculumque is what you can call that larger one now, and the smaller one has been named Cthylla microfasciculumque, though you might do better to call them Mr. and Mrs. if you see them in public. Let it be known that Cthylla wasn’t a Lovecraft creation, but was imagined up in the 1970s by Cthulhu Mythos writer Brian Lumley to be Cthulhu’s secret daughter. And while it’s great and all that such a unique homage was paid, it’s a very cool discovery in every other way as well.

“The huge diversity of microbial organisms is a completely untapped resource,” said James. “Studying protists can tell us about the evolution of organisms. Some protists cause diseases, but others live in symbiotic relationships, like these flagellates in the intestines of termites.”

There’s no word on how jealous all the other gut microbes are that they aren’t named after the most badass of mythical creatures, but they’d be wise not to say anything about it.