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Brine is a salt solutionusually a saturated salt solution.
And we have all seen a shrimp or two, even if only in cocktail
sauce. Brine shrimp might therefore sound like some kind of pickled
seafood delicacy, but that's not the case. Brine shrimp, also
called fairy shrimp and sea monkeys in some contexts, are tiny
but important organisms found in salt ponds and saline lakes.
Artemia salina is the scientific name for brine shrimp.
Like their distant cousins the lobster and crab, brine shrimp
are aquatic crustaceans. Unlike their marine relatives, brine
shrimp live only in bodies of salt water that are isolated from
the ocean. They are found reliably in the Great Salt Lake in Utah
and Mono Lake in California, but they can appear in unlikely temporary
salt ponds after a torrential rain in the desert.
Brine shrimp are small unsubstantial-looking creatures of 1 cm
(1/2") or so in length. They glide smoothly through the water,
propelled by what appear to be two wings along their sides. Viewed
under a microscope, the "wings" are revealed to be 11
pairs of appendages that undulate and act as paddles. As brine
shrimp glide along, they feed on microscopic organisms suspended
in the water: algae, yeast, and bacteria.
There are both male and female brine shrimp. Following mating,
the female will develop either live young or eggs in her egg sac.
A female's first batch of young are born alive. After that, eggs
form and are released into the water. Eggs may hatch soon thereafter,
or they may lapse into a dormant state. The eggs are amazing in
their ability to completely dry out and maintain their viability.
Brine shrimp eggs can lie in the desert for 10 years or more,
waiting for the right environment, and then spring into life to
start their life cycle again.
Just after hatching, the larval brine shrimp, called a nauplius,
is no bigger than the period at the end of this sentence. This
is the stage that students will look for as evidence of hatching.
They will suddenly see that the tiny dark points in the water
are making jerky little movements. The nauplius grows fairly rapidly
when conditions are favorable (food, oxygen, and the right concentration
of salt), molting its outer shell frequently. It takes 3 to 6
weeks for the shrimp to reach maturity.
A key factor in the environment of brine shrimp is salt. They
are adapted for life in a wide range of salt concentrations (as
low as 25 parts of salt per 1000 parts of water to as high as
300 parts per 1000), but their optimum salt environment is around
80 parts per 1000. This is more than twice as salty as the ocean,
which is about 35 parts of salt per 1000. Brine shrimp are one
of the most salt-tolerant animals in the world. Conditions as
salty as this result when a body of water has streams running
into it, but not out. Salts carried in by natural erosion over
countless years raise the salt concentration to the levels preferred
by brine shrimp.
What to do when they arrive. We strongly recommend that you test
the suitability of your local tap water and the viability of
your brine shrimp eggs a week or so before you plan to do the
investigation. Put 150 ml of aged tap water in two cups. Add one
5-ml spoon of salt to one cup and label it "1 spoon," and two
5-ml spoons of salt to the other cup and label it "2 spoons."
Transfer 1 level minispoon of brine shrimp eggs to each cup. Put
the lids on and gently swirl the cups to wet the eggs.
If al goes well, in 24 to 48 hours, at room temperature, you
should see the tiny brine shrimp swimming about. You must look
closely: Any movement of the water will interfere with your ability
to see hatched shrimp, so leave the cup on the table and look
into it from the side and down from the top (take the lid off).
Eggs float, but larvae swim about.
If no eggs have hatched after 72 hours, purchase bottled spring
water and try again. If you still have no success, the viability
of the eggs is suspect. Viability is certain for a year or two,
so if your eggs are old, replace them. Egss can be purchased from
Education (go to Environments) or from tropical
Hatching brine shrimp. Brine shrimp are easy
to hatch, and with luck you can raise them to maturity and keep
a stable population going in your classroom for months. They start
life fueled by the energy stored in the eggs, but soon they must
feed or perish. After the first week of life, they must move to
a large container (plastic or glass—no metal) with a new
water supply prepared using this formula:
4 liters of water
250 ml of rock salt
30 ml of Epsom salts
15 ml of baking soda
Food: For food, a pinch of baker's or brewer's
yeast once a week should be fine. Mark the water level on the
container. As water evaporates, add more tap waternot salt
waterto keep the salt concentration the same. Put the container
near a window or under a light during the day and watch the brine
shrimp grow. Adult brine shrimp can be purchased from a tropical
fish store. They are sold as fish food.
In addition to environmental investigations involving salinity,
brine shrimp are useful for light investigations; they are light
seekers. Brine shrimp can be studied as part of a food chain and
can be used to demonstrate life cycle.
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