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A Moment of Science

Amazing Sea Monkeys

If you ever read comic books, you were probably entranced by advertisements for “Amazing Sea Monkeys!” The ads show cute aquatic creatures with arms and legs and little outfits. Although they actually look nothing like that, the cool part is that Sea Monkeys begin as a packet of white powder. Just empty the packet into a jar of salt water, wait twelve hours, and presto! You’re got live Sea Monkeys.

Although the Sea Monkey phenomenon owes much to marketing voodoo, the science behind the hype is truly amazing. In real life, Sea Monkeys are known less fancifully as brine shrimp. Tiny members of the crustacea family that includes crab, and lobster, brine shrimp live in lakes with high salt content, such as Utah’s Great Salt Lake.

What makes the brine shrimp an ideal candidate for pop-culture stardom as a Sea Monkey is its peculiar origin. Brine shrimp begin life as embryos in a suspended state of development, surrounded by a protective shell, or cyst. If kept dry, these cysts will remain viable for many years. Placed in salt water, the cysts rehydrate and the shrimp resume development. Larvae emerge and within eight days grow to a mature length of about one-half inch. Although tiny, they have a distinct head, limbs, and a tail. With a little imagination, it’s not too difficult to look at brine shrimp and see fabulous Sea Monkeys. With proper care, brine shrimp can live up to three months and may even breed and produce new generations.

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