Halloween Triops

October 29, 2012 — I’m cheating a little on this post since it’s not Halloween-related, but I can’t help the timing. My triops are big enough to photograph now.

And while that statement sounds like something that should be posted on a WebMD forum, I’m actually talking about tiny crustaceans that I hatched in my bathroom.

And since that stills sound like something I shouldn’t be boasting about, I’ll start over.

Triops are tiny shrimp that look like miniature horseshoe crabs and range in size from an inch to three, with some species growing even larger. They get their name from the three black dots on the front end of their carapace, only two of which are actual eyes. They also closely resemble fossil species from 200 million years ago, so the word “prehistoric” is often included everywhere in their marketing.

Yes, these animals are marketed. Usually in toy stores and science shops. That’s because in egg form, these creatures can be dried out and suspended close to indefinitely, and only take a little water to hatch.

There are a bunch of different shrimp species like this: fairy shrimp, brine shrimp, tadpole shrimp, dinosaur shrimp. Actually, I’m not sure which are actual species names, which are product spin, and which are just different names for the same thing. Back in the day, many of them were sold as sea monkeys, although these days companies have gotten a little more sophisticated in their marketing.

In fact, we got ours under the auspicious Smithsonian brand in a three-pack of kits. In the other two, you can create a volcano with glowing lava and excavate a plastic T-Rex skeleton out of a pressed gray block of some sediment-like substance.

The triops kit came with a small, thin plastic tank, a picture of a Tyranosaurus Rex as a tank backing to emphasize how prehistoric this little swimmers are (and becaue it’s a cool effect to have tiny shrimp swimming around the head of a T-Rex), and the invisible-to-the-eyes eggs in a packet of moss.

It took about 60 seconds to set everything up, which mostly just meant dumping everything in the tank with some room-temperature, filtered water. We took pictures of the set-up, but lost them somewhere on a hard drive or memory card. I’ll probably find them decades from now when I’m very old and very nostalgic for the days when we obsessed over still-frame digital information. But even though Id on’t have the photographic proof, we followed the directions exactly, except for the dino backing. I had some other ideas:

Now is it a Halloween post?

Next, we tried our hardest to kill the triops.

The first thing we did was lose their food. So two days later when we were surprised to see tiny white specs swimming purposefully around the tank, we ended up throwing some boiled vegetable matter in there, because they apparently eat everything, and they seemed to do okay. I assumed they were just eating each other, because water-logged broccoli looks disgusting. We did eventually get them some bottom feeder food from the pet store.

All told, we ended up with about a dozen of them that, over the course of the past couple of weeks, grew fast to various sizes, with the largest being about half an inch or so. In fact, they’re big enough that I’m realizing that they aren’t triops at all, but some other species. They look like brine shrimp, but since they’re living in fresh water, they're probably whatever the fresh water equivalent it. Anyway, the point is that this article is now neither about Halloween nor triops. Need to change the title.

Anyway, they mostly swim on their backs like tiny alien otters, their multiple appendages combing the water for food. And they’re just the devils to take pictures of at my camera skill and equipment level. So my apologies for the bad pics and the fact that Darwin made them tiny, transparent, and fast. I should have called in my wife for this project, but trying to get them turned into still-frame digital information was the closest I was able to get to playing with my pets. They suck at fetching.

We threw the tank on a shelf in the bathroom for some reason, and the only upkeep I do is to stick some food in the tank every other day and then top off the water level when it evaporates. It’s literally the least I can do until they die. Which shouldn’t be too much longer since they have a lifespan of about one to three months.

They’ve been alive for about four weeks now. Of course, I’m not claiming that these guys are living a very high standard of life, just that at least they have their health. And, strangely, we’ve lately seen tiny white specs swimming purposefully among the adults. So maybe they have their health and sex.

If so, that is a high standard of life.

Whatever, though. I’m assuming we killed them all weeks ago through incompetence, and that these are just their ghosts.

It is Halloween, after all.