New tiny octopus-like microorganisms named after science fiction monsters

Apr 03, 2013
This is the morphology of Cthulhu macrofasciculumque by differential interference contrast light microscopy and scanning electron microscopy. Credit: University of British Columbia

University of British Columbia researchers have discovered two new symbionts living in the gut of termites, and taken the unusual step of naming them after fictional monsters created by American horror author HP Lovecraft.

The single-cell protists, Cthulhu macrofasciculumque and Cthylla microfasciculumque, help termites digest wood. The researchers decided to name them after monstrous cosmic entities featured in Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos as an ode to the sometimes strange and fascinating world of the microbe.

"When we first saw them under the microscope they had this unique motion, it looked almost like an octopus swimming," says UBC researcher Erick James, lead author of the paper describing the new protists, published in the online journal PLoS ONE.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
Video of live Cthulhu macrofasciculumque showing overall body plan and the flagellar beat pattern with and without cytoplasmic undulation. Credit: University of British Columbia

The octopus-like movements and appearance of both protists reminded James of the horrid Cthulhu and Cthylla, and the little protists were baptized after the two monsters. Cthulhu is often depicted as a giant, octopus-like entity with wings. Cthylla is his daughter, and has a similar appearance.

Most of the larger protists living in termites have already been identified, but Cthulhu and Cthylla are very small – they are in the range of 10 to 20 microns, while the bigger protists are around 50 to 150 microns – and had passed unnoticed until now. But although tiny, the protists and their brethren have a big impact, much like their fictional namesakes.

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

Explore further: Aging white lion euthanized at Ohio zoo

More information: www.plosone.org/article/info%3… nal.pone.0058509#ack

Related Stories

Scientists reclassify eukaryotic microorganisms

Oct 08, 2012

One of the biggest scientific challenges is the classification of the natural world, especially the protists, which are eukaryotic microorganisms. While the classification proposed by Sina Adl et al. (2005) ...

Mitochondria and the great gender divide

Dec 09, 2011

(Medical Xpress) -- Why are there two sexes? It’s a question that has long perplexed generations of scientists, but researchers from UCL have come up with a radical new answer: mitochondria.

Termites get the vibe on what tastes good

Mar 20, 2007

Researchers from CSIRO and UNSW@ADFA have shown that termites can tell what sort of material their food is made of, without having to actually touch it. The findings may lead to improvements in the control of feeding termites. ...

Recommended for you

A vegetarian carnivorous plant

Dec 19, 2014

Carnivorous plants catch and digest tiny animals in order and derive benefits for their nutrition. Interestingly the trend towards vegetarianism seems to overcome carnivorous plants as well. The aquatic carnivorous bladderwort, ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Tektrix
5 / 5 (1) Apr 03, 2013
ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn (!)

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.