Your Aquarium Sea Monkeys
When it comes to finding unusual pets for the small aquarium, there are few which rival Sea Monkeys for easy maintenance and interest. Active and engaging little creatures, they are actually a type of brine shrimp – Artemia salina, the name “Sea Monkey” being coined to make them more appealing to potential purchasers, supposedly to indicate their playful antics in the aquarium.
Marketing ploys aside, biologically speaking, the name is a poor one. Despite some of the fanciful cartoon monkeys to be found drawn on some of the kits’ packaging, brine shrimps look very little like their tree-dwelling namesakes and while they are found in salt water, they only inhabit salty lakes – not the sea!
However, none of this takes anything away from the fact that they are great fun to keep.
Suspended AnimationTheir remarkable ability to produce eggs which can stand being dried out and left for years before hatching into a whole new generation is the key to their survival as a species – and ensures their popularity as a pet, especially with children. Simply add their eggs to water to produce almost instant life.
It also means that they can happily tolerate being packaged, stored and transported in a state of suspended animation, making them ideal for selling by mail order – and you’re more likely to come across Sea Monkey kits in a toy shop than an aquarium store!
A range of kits are available, with a number of different designs of little tanks being supplied – shaped like galleons, spacecraft and other “themed” ideas, as well as the original straightforward aquarium type. Although this feature undoubtedly has an attraction for junior keepers, from a practical standpoint the differences are principally cosmetic and don’t really have any effect on the lives of the inhabitants.
Getting StartedThe instructions in the kits themselves are very clear and easy to follow. The first step is to prepare the water – these shrimps live in salty water – by filling your aquarium or tank with the appropriate amount and then adding the salt, usually labelled “water purifier” in the kits. After letting the aquarium stand for a day, the eggs are added and within a few days, you should have your new pets.
General CareSea Monkeys are fairly undemanding in their needs. They do well at room temperatures, but they will grow and breed best at between 21 – 24C (70 – 75F) and although they like light, direct sunlight is best avoided.
They will benefit from well oxygenated water, and many kits come with hand pumps which help, although a standard aquarium pump and diffuser stone is probably a better bet since it will provide round the clock aeration. Adding this sort of arrangement will also generate a little water movement in the aquarium, which will allow you to see one of these shrimps’ interesting habits – they instinctively swim up-current, although precisely what purpose this would serve in the wild is not entirely clear.
Food And FeedingSpecially prepared Sea Monkeys food is available, while some keepers feed theirs mixtures containing yeast, wheat flour and soybean powder; in addition they will happily consume any algae growing in their tanks. Newly hatched shrimps will not need to be fed for the first four or five days and once you do start feeding them, it should be done sparingly to avoid problems, since adding too much food to the water will encourage bacterial growth and harm water quality.
A small amount added once a week will be more than enough to keep your pets in good condition – though obviously the amount and frequency will need to be adjusted if there’s too much food being left uneaten, or your animals seem permanently ravenous! As a general guide, if the water suddenly goes cloudy, you’re almost certainly overfeeding them, so cut back on the food until it settles down again.
Virtually unchanged since the Triassic period, for many years brine shrimp only featured in the pet trade as a convenient fish food to be offered to other aquarium inhabitants, until 1957 when Harold von Braunhut hit upon the idea of selling them as pets themselves and the “Sea Monkey” was born.
All things considered, that seems a much more fitting role for a fascinating little animal that predates – and has outlived – the dinosaurs!