Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Triops: Living dinosaur, Exciting pet

Some time ago, about a year past, I bought a Triops kit from Hobby Lobby. To describe them, think of three eyed freshwater shrimp. This is actually where they get their name as "Triops" means "three eyes." Triops are a form of crustacean that have survived virtually unchanged for millions of years, outlasting the dinosaurs. Their habitat is in ephemeral ponds. These are short lived pools of water so the life cycle of the Triops is very short - 20 to 90 days, in fact. They bury their eggs in the mud and when the pools dry up, the adults die, leaving eggs that enter a form of suspended animation known as diapause. In diapause, virtually all cellular activity stops, which allows the eggs to survive until it rains or they are blown by the wind into a pool of water and the cycle starts again. Sales of Triops from support the Diapause Foundation, an organization that studies this unique ability. After my own Triops died a year ago from Martin-itis (curious toddler likes to catch them) I saved the sand from the aquarium in a tin, after drying it out. It's been a year, and I wondered if there were any eggs. Yes, I save everything. ::sigh::
I poured a portion of sand into a cup and added bottled water. (Tap water doesn't work, even after letting it sit. The reason for this is of a technical nature I found interesting, but then, I am a geek so I'll spare you the details, yes?) Some tiny bits floated. I decanted the floating bits off into an improvised aquarium - any shallow container ought to do.
I checked the container in the morning. Much to my surprise, not only were those floating bits viable eggs, but they had hatched already! I added one pellet of Triops food.
They're bigger. And there are many of them. I would say their parents had lots of fun, but many species of Triops reproduce asexually - no males required. We have a fish tank that has a lone plecostemus in it so I transferred several juvenile Triops into that tank, just to see what would happen. One more food pellet.
Triops can double in size every day after hatching, and these seem to be doing just that. I added more bottled water to give them more room to swim around. They seem to be finishing off their pellets in short order so I gave them another pellet to eat. Triops are omnivorous and cannibalistic when resources are scarce.
At least two Triops in the fish tank have survived and seem to be happy noshing on whatever they find in the water. My main concern is them being sucked up into the filter, but so far they are OK. My originals are also growing nicely and I am considering separating a few to keep at my desk at work. They are fascinating to watch swimming around and eating.
What are they good for?
Someone asked me what they are good for. From what I have researched, Triops: are a good food supply for certain birds (not for humans: lots of chitin 'shell' and not much protein 'meat'), make an excellent lesson source to teach children about life cycles since they complete theirs in less three months, they supposedly eat mosquito larvae, can be used to test water quality, and are under study to see if the Triops' ability of diapause can be used to treat cancer, slow aging, or many other things.
Also, I think they are a cool pet to amaze your friends. "Three eyed shrimp, yeah!"