Triops: The Living Fossils
June 16, 2013

Triops: The Living Fossils

A few days ago I went to visit my fossil and prehistoric animal obsessed little niece. As soon as I got to her house she came bounding out the door holding what I thought at the time was a small, metallic demon fetus. When I asked her what it was, she told me it was a living fossil.

When I got home I decided to look up what in the world these unearthly creatures were. Turns out they are called Triops longicaudatus, or as most people know them, Triops. They are found in most ponds around the world, but mostly swamps near deserts. They were pretty unknown up until the 2000s. These small little creatures have changed very little since the Jurassic era and are believed to have been around 50 million years before that during the Devonian period.

Triops are completely adapted to their lifestyle, since they usually live in swamps, which have been caused because of flooding, that only last a couple of weeks, their lifespan has shortened to where they only live for 20-40 days. With such a short lifespan, and dependency on water where there is usually nothing around but desert, one would think that a creature like this would quickly become extinct. Yet, Mother Nature has figured out a way to give Triops a fighting edge. If a Triops egg gets dried up because the small pond gets evaporated, it can stay dehydrated for years and decades on end until it is soaked in water again. These eggs, or “cysts,” once they are released, can withstand extremely hot or cold temperatures, making it nearly impossible to kill them. They are either pink or white colored little eggs that are carried in the legs of a hermaphrodite Triop until it is released and it rests at to the bottom of the pond.

Once the cysts have hatched, the embryos will quickly go into their short larva stage or “nauplius” stage in which they molt several times until they reach the shape that they will have for the rest of their lives. Triops are interesting creatures as they break most social rules we have made. For one, there is no such thing as a female gender in their species. All of them are either male or hermaphrodite. Also, Triops are situational-based cannibals. If there is not enough food for all the Triops in a pond or a tank, they will attack and eat each other until there is a lower population level in which all receive a sufficient amount of food, or everyone is dead.

These incredible little metallic creatures can now be used as pets for children in love with strange looking creatures. They add more variety to the traditional cat, dog, hamster, bird or fish most people have grown up. Besides just being useful as pets, maybe one day after studying enough we can understand why some of the greatest creatures have become extinct and how we can help to prevent any further extinctions.

Image Credit: Dirk Ercken / Shutterstock

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