H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu In Real Life
© Anita Slotwinski, Tasmanian Aquaculture and Fisheries Institute
Habitat: most of the oceans and seas including the Arctic Ocean but excluding the Antarctic Ocean
Status: No Conservation Concerns
Drifting along the currents of oceans the world over are baby Cthulhus… were you aware?
© Michael Komarck
Well, that’s not entirely true. These aren’t really cosmic entities hibernating within an underwater city in the South Pacific… but they certainly do fit H.P. Lovecraft’s description of one: Described as resembling “…an octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature…. A pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque scaly body with rudimentary wings.” I don’t think you could find a better inspiration for this character if you tried!
By now you’re probably wondering what this otherworldly thing is. It’s actually a type of worm! A Phoronid worm, to be exact. Phoronids (scientific name Phoronida) are a phylum of marine animals that filter-feed with a lophophore (a “crown” of tentacles), and build upright tubes of chitin to support and protect their soft bodies. What you see below are the tentacles of a phoronid worm sticking out from the sand. Most adult phoronids are 2 cm long and about 1.5 mm wide, although the largest are 50 cm long.
© Tracy Clark
Here’s a sketch of what the rest of the creature looks like beneath the ocean floor. The bottom end of the body is called an ampulla (a flask-like swelling), which anchors the animal in the tube and enables it to retract its body very quickly when threatened. I think a better defense mechanism would be to really transform into a malevolent beast, but alas, this doesn’t seem to be an option. All the better for mankind, though!