Every generation grew up with their alternative pets – ant farms, Sea Monkeys, pet rocks, Tamagochi’s, Furbies – but there are still others out there that are just waiting to lure in the next generation. One of my favorites of these is one that, in my opinion, doesn’t get nearly the attention it deserves; they are MUCH cooler than the brine shrimp known as Sea Monkeys, at the very least! So what are these new little pets you can put under the Christmas tree instead of a pony or a puppy? Try Triops, aka “Sea Monsters”!
Triops are true “living fossils”. They have been around almost unchanged for hundreds of millions of years and are often marketed as “Sea Monsters”. In reality, they are crustaceans and look like a cross between a shrimp and a horseshoe crab, with a little silverfish insect influence thrown in for good measure. They are also called “tadpole shrimp” and the five species can be found in North America, South America, Asia, Australia, and Europe. The name “Triops” means “three eyes” (tri- meaning three, -ops referring to eyes) and if you look closely, you can see all three. Two are “compound eyes” like that on a fly and the third is right between the larger two, like an upside-down Mickey Mouse silhouette. The eyes are at the front of the round disk-like body of the Triops. At its rear, the segmented abdomen extends and some species may have two long “tails” from the end of the abdomen.
The feature and adaptation that makes animals like Triops, brine shrimp (“Sea Monkeys”) and even some fish popular as “instant pets” is a mechanism known as “diapause”. Diapause is essentially the ability of an organisms (be it crustacean like Triops or brine shrimp, fish like some seasonal killifish, insect like the Monarch Butterfly or others) to put its life and development on hold, usually in response to an environmental condition. In the aquatic world, this is usually a seasonal response to the dry season. The animals may live in an area that has a dry season where the puddles, ponds or rivers where they live dry up completely for weeks, months or even years. Diapause allows them to lay their eggs in the mud or sediment where they suspend their growth and development when they dry up for the season. When they get wet again or reach the other “trigger” they are waiting for (a temperature or even lighting change), the eggs hatch and go on growing into adulthood. For aquarists, this means that brine shrimp eggs can be packages up until the aquarists hatches them to raise as food – or until the colorful little Sea Monkey or Sea Monsters kit on the store shelf gets purchased and set up! A few species of killifish are also sold in a similar way as “Instant Fish”, “Fish in a Jiff” and other trade names.
Whether you get your Triops in a Sea Monsters kit or get the eggs and set up your own, they are fairly easy to raise. The eggs can be hatched in small, unfiltered containers of distilled or RO (reverse osmosis) filtered water; don’t use tap water or any other water source containing chlorine or other chemicals. The temperature is fairly important and should be in the upper 70′s to low 80′s. If the room temperature changes or is lower than this, you can use a small heater or even a regular desk lamp to keep the water warm, but be careful not to raise the temperature too high (most references recommend 86-88 degrees as the upper limit for hatching the Triops). The light is also important to initiate the hatching; an increase of lighting as well as water is a sign to the eggs that not only is their environment wet again but that the egg is not deeply buried in the sediment. The eggs hatch within about 18-48 hours, depending on factors like the species of the eggs and temperature. The newly hatched Triops are very small and will look like little white spots hopping around the water. About two days after they hatch, the Triops will start swimming more than hopping and you can start feeding them with crushed up flakes or pellets (most kits will come with food). As they grow, you can move them into a larger aquarium and feed them bigger foods but they are fairly undemanding; regular water changes will keep them happy and they can live a month or more depending on their growth rate. They may even breed and give you a new generation of eggs that you can dry out and hatch again after a few weeks of diapause.
Triops are very cool little animals that aquarists of all skill levels can grow, with a little patience. We are starting our own Triops tank here and will be sure to update you on their progress soon! Keep an eye open for Triops “Sea Monster” kits near you!
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