Monster of the Week: The Blob

Blob needs women.
Blob needs women.
Image by Mike Walton/False Positive

Count your lucky stars, America, because this great nation hasn't suffered an attack from caustic, ravenous space jelly since 1988.

The first recorded blob incident occurred back in 1958, when a small meteorite crash landed just outside Phoenixville, Pa. Much like the encounter thirty years later in Arborville, Calif., the first victim was a hobo, who -- like many of America's rail-riding rag sages -- was the self-appointed guardian of a local teenage make-out point. It's a tradition that no-doubt dates back to ancient times, when hoary, pagan fertility priests presided over local epicenters of underage sex.

In both incidents, the glob of star jelly quickly enveloped and digested the noble hobo. With each subsequent victim, the blob accrued more and more mass, seeping through sewers and under doors till emergency responders figured out how to freeze the creature solid and ship it to the North Pole (sorry, Santa).

Other blob encounters harken back to tales of gelatinous red, black, green and grey horrors within the Earth's honeycombed depths. But the question remains: What real evidence do we have that such things exist outside of redacted government reports, mad eldritch ramblings and the words of teenagers?

As an organism, the blob most resembles a giant amoeba, the shapeless single-cell protozoa from your elementary science text book that eats its prey by enveloping it with its cell membrane -- a process known as phagocytosis. But exactly how big can a single human cell get?

In 2008, marine biologists in the Bahamas discovered giant sea-floor amoebas the size of grapes. The creatures rolled through the sand, leaving behind visible trails that match up with 530-million-year-old fossils. And just 300 million years ago, you would have found 10-centemeter long armored amoebas living it up in an oxygen-rich world. Though, according to researchers, these specimens grew long, not fat, and were limited in size by how far oxygen could penetrate the cell.

But what happens when a whole bunch of single-cell amorphous creatures Voltron-up into a single monstrosity? Well, you might just get a full-blown blob -- or a 40-foot colony of genetically-identical social amoeba like those observed in a Texan cow pasture, and earlier beneath a New York Park. Don't worry, though, these billion-strong slime conventions eat neither cattle nor hipster. But still, Harvard University evolutionary biologist Kevin Foster believes the amoebas raise "the possibility that cells might evolve to organize on much larger spatial scales."

Remember, Earth's largest organism isn't a whale or an elephant -- it's a humongous subterranean fungus the size of 1,665 football fields. So it's a blob's world after all.

Monster of the Week is a -- you guessed it -- weekly look at the denizens of our monster-haunted world. In some of these, we'll look at the possible science behind a creature of myth, movie or legend. Other times, we''ll just wax philosophic about the monster's underlying meaning. After all, the word "monstrosity" originates from the Latin monstrare, which meant to show or illustrate a point.

About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.