Remember Sea-Monkeys? When I was a kid every comic book featured an ad on the back cover selling kits that promised to get you growing these prehistoric krill-like creatures from the comfort of your home. I never asked my parents to buy me sea-monkeys — like magic sand, I figured the product would only disappoint. Look at the drawings of them: as if you’ll grow a weird amphibious family that lives in a castle.
So when Avery came home from school clutching a Scholastic book order form, with a picture of the Sea Creatures kit circled, I rolled my eyes. I mean, kudos to the Sea-Monkeys marketing team for successfully rebranding the critters by calling them by their scientific name, “triops,” and packaging them in a box that sells them as Sea Creatures (the monkeys moniker always seemed a bit creepy). But still, I felt it would be $12.99 of Avery’s allowance money down the drain. Would they even hatch? What was their lifespan (translation: how long would they clutter up our kitchen island)? I knew it wouldn’t end well. (But at least she wasn’t asking for a pair of x-ray glasses, a gimmick coveted by her daddy back in his comic book-reading days.)
In the name of science we relented and, two weeks later, Avery brought home her kit. A couple days after we released eggs to water, there it was — almost invisible to the naked eye — our first baby triops. A few days on we counted four. Then, sadly, we experienced a die-off and our numbers dropped to two (we think the larger ones cannibalized the babies). The remaining sea creatures seemed to flourish in the tropical environment we created, thanks to an incubator-like lightbulb set up by the little dish. At first Avery doted on them, mixing up food and suctioning dirty water out of their bowl. She also watched them zip around the dish and even drew pictures of triops. It was love for about a day.
Then guess who took over triops duty? Yes. The parents. We watched in dismay as the dish became ever-cloudier and its occupants harder to see. Triops are not cute. Their name comes from the Greek word meaning “three eyes” (which would totally have made a scarier Greek monster than a cyclops) and if you look closely you will see two black eyes plus a black spot above the eyes on a large head that sits atop a shrimp-like body. They are fascinating partly because they look so weird.
Despite our best efforts the oldest triops died last week. Avery didn’t take it well and pretty much cried all morning after I shared the news. I Googled “triops lifespan” (on average two weeks) and realized the second triops had maybe three or four good days left. Cue sad music.
Monday night our last Sea-Monkey was swimming frenetically around the dish, living it up amongst the triops food and accumulated debris. By Tuesday morning it was floating lifeless at the bottom of the container. Avery just kind of shrugged in acceptance (now that she’s a circle-of-life veteran) and then asked, “When can we hatch the rest of the eggs?”
A true scientist is born. (And yes, those kits are well worth $12.99.)