Fairy Shrimp & other Branchiopod Practice Anhydrobiosis-survival to Beat the Heat

Just a little rain transforms the desert floor into an entirely different atmosphere. Branchiopod cysts that mingle with the fine desert sand, survive inconspicuously for up to 200 years. Not only that, but these tiny eggs are unaffected by temperatures ranging from below freezing to 150 degrees Fahrenheit. A curious scientist even went so far as to glue the eggs of brine shrimp (a species of branchiopod) to a space shuttle in a 1980 launch where they survived the tremendous roundtrip completely unscathed to produce healthy animals!

It seems like these prehistoric organisms, capable of enduring ridiculous varieties in temperature and even the vacuum of space, found the secret to survival millions of centuries ago. Branchiopods include tiny crustaceans such as fairy shrimp, clam shrimp, and tadpole shrimp that have learned to live in the most extreme environments.

This practice of Anhydrobiosis-survival without water-occurs in areas with unpredictable rainfall. Anhydrobiotic desert potholes that collect water from chance rains are the perfect area to find algae, nematodes and prehistoric looking tadpole shrimp (a.k.a dinosaur shrimp) that hatch out of tiny eggs. A spot that may have been bone dry only 2 days ago can bubble with life after the accumulation of a few draindrops.

Branchiopods evolved in waters before insects or fish even existed. These crustaceans survived once other animals appeared by migrating to environments where fish and insects wouldn’t follow-evaporating water sources-and have changed little since then.

These little shrimp have adapted to cover all risks. Not every egg will hatch as soon as it rains, for example. This is an important adaptation, since the batch would go to waste if the rain didn’t last long enough for the eggs to hatch and the shrimp to mature into adulthood (around 10 days total). The eggs require very specific conditions to hatch; not only that, but one individual’s eggs will have different hatching cues than others: One tadpole shrimp may produce eggs that hatch as soon as they are exposed to water, while another’s eggs won’t hatch until they have dried out and frozen multiple times. With this much variety, at least some of the offspring will make it.

Branchiopoda are just another example of awesome life on earth, delivered in the smallest of packages.

Categorized | Animals, Fish, Other
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