People of a certain age will remember a popular fad in the 1970s that brought an ordinary, but little-known aquatic creature into millions of homes across the globe: the Amazing Live Sea-Monkeys. They were hugely successful between their inception in 1957 through the end of the 20th century, enough so that someone created National Sea-Monkey Day!
The Amazing Live Sea-Monkeys are the invention of Harold von Braunhut, who came up with the concept after seeing the species of brine shrimp involved in his invention, Artemia salina, sold as food in a pet store.
These shrimp reside in salt flats and salt lakes, entering a state of cryptobiosis when the water of the lake evaporates. This means that all metabolic functions cease until conditions return to normal, and it can occur with some species in the case of freezing, oxygen deficiency, and extreme dehydration.
The salt forms a casing around the shrimp, which can only be released by the addition of water. If the shrimp is expected to reanimate and live for any period of time, this water must be nutrient-rich.
Each Sea-Monkeys kit comes with packets of water additives containing salt, water conditioner, eggs, yeast, borax, soda, shrimp eggs, and sometimes a dye to make them more visible. These packets are added at separate times within 24-36 hours, shortly after which the brine shrimp begin to reanimate. Because von Brauhaut wanted kids’ wonder of marine science to extend past the Sea-Monekys’ initial birth, he and D’Angostino crossbred species within the Artemia genus to create a longer-lived species, dubbed Artemia NYOS after the New York Ocean Science lab where they were created.
Advertisements and packaging for the Amazing Live Sea-Monkeys portrayed the shrimp as strange, nude humanoid creatures with webbed hands and feet, pot bellies, and three appendages protruding from their heads to resemble a crown. Artemis salina bears none of these characteristics; rather looking much more like other members of the shrimp family.
But that didn’t stop kids from wanting a Sea-Monkey tribe of their very own, and the concept was a hit. Sea-Monkeys even took several trips into space to test their hardiness, which bore mixed results: some were affected in early tests, but a 1998 flight with astronaut John Glenn yielded no ill effects at all.
Although the hype surrounding the Amazing Live Sea-Monkeys died down significantly in the early 21st century, you can still purchase the kits online, and likely in specialty toy and curio shops. Check out this video of how an Amazing Live Sea-Monkey kit works, and pick up your own to celebrate National Sea-Monkey Day!
Images via rogerajohnson, Hans Hillewaert, CC BY-SA 4.0