Vernal Pool Fairy Shrimp

These aquatic shrimp fairies are aptly named, for they are tiny, gossamer creatures.

May 5, 2015 | | Notes from the Wild

At this time of year fairy shrimp swim in teeming millions in spring ponds throughout the Niagara Escarpment. They are especially apparent after dark, when they gravitate to flashlight beams shone into their watery realms.

These aquatic fairies are aptly named, for they are tiny, gossamer creatures. A fleeting existence, lasting only as long as the ponds hold water, lends them an air of mystery.

Often tinted bright orange they are lovely, but to truly appreciate their beauty a magnifying glass or the macro function on your camera is helpful. If you do take a close look, my guess is you’ll be enchanted.

Fairy shrimp swim on their backs, swept along by pulsing upward facing appendages. The females can be identified by eggs arrayed along the undersides of their tails.

Fairy shrimp are crustaceans and their shape and locomotion speaks to their relationship with the familiar shrimp of appetizer plates everywhere. And, as supermarket shrimp are eminently edible, so too are fairy shrimp. That is why fairy shrimp flourish in vernal or temporary ponds where hungry fish are absent.

Before their brief lives end, female fairy shrimp release their remarkably tough eggs. These eggs can remain viable for many years and readily survive freezing and scorching heat. Breezes pick them up and carry them to other ponds – a fitting way for fairies to get around.

Fairy shrimp are closely related to the brine shrimp that were marketed as “sea monkeys” in millions of comic books in the ’60s and ’70s. Most adults will remember these shameless advertisements picturing happy families of “sea monkeys” sporting broad smiles and webbed feet. Sexy sea monkey females even wore fishnet stockings in these ads!

Fairy shrimp couldn’t be more removed from that crass commercialism. Their allure needs no hype, for they are creatures of wonder and captivating beauty.

fairy shrimp and daphnia fairy shrimp female with eggs fairy shrimp female fairy shrimp male and mosquito larva fairy shrimp top view fairy shrimp with mosquito larvae in background
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Fairy shrimp with mosquito larvae in background

About the Author More by Don Scallen

Don Scallen enjoys sharing his love of nature through his writing and presentations. Check out his blog "Notes from the Wild".

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