When I was a kid, I spent a significant amount of time reading comic books: Superman, Batman, Spiderman — even Archie comics. My favorite part of any comic, however, was to be found at the back, where advertisements promised (in return for your pocket money) magic tricks that would fool even the sharpest-eyed observer, glow-in-the-dark ties for your Dad’s Christmas present, and best of all, Amazing Live Sea Monkeys®.
The Sea Monkeys appealed to me for a number of reasons. We had the usual pets when I was a child: a dachshund, who had only ever learned one trick (to beg, strangely — balanced precariously on her hind end) but who required twice-daily walks no matter the weather; and a disdainful tom cat, who periodically deigned to come in and be fed and petted. I had also had my share of hamsters and gerbils, who could not be trained at all, and who rarely seemed to make it through the tough Montreal winters — even in a centrally-heated house — without expiring due to what my physician father gravely diagnosed as chest infections.
So the Sea Monkeys’ qualities of low maintenance (“So easy, even a six-year-old can do it!”) and amenity to training (“Teach them to obey your commands like a pack of friendly trained seals!”) appealed to me. The fact that — at least in the illustration that accompanied every ad — they resembled nothing more than mer-people (I never seemed to catch the accompanying disclaimer that read: “Caricature shown not intended to depict Artemia Salina“) only added to my desire to obtain and nurture a fish-bowl full of new tiny aquatic friends.
Sea Monkeys are a species of brine shrimp that were first introduced to the consumer market in 1960, but have been hybridized over time so that the current generation (Artemia Nyos) has a better hatching rate, is larger, and lives longer than its forebears. Artemia eggs have the fascinating ability to dry out and remain metabolically inactive (a process known as “cryptobiosis”) but to “come to life” and hatch when placed in water. This trait has been the over-riding factor in their success: the Sea Monkey eggs can remain dormant in the package for years, until purchased and “reconstituted” by the consumer.
Sea Monkeys are available in a number of different packages, from the bare-bones refill package that contains only dehydrated eggs, water conditioner (salts) and a year’s supply of food — you supply the 10 ounce aquarium — to large and elaborate kits that feature plastic aquaria formed into replicas of the Space Shuttle (at left.) The only difference is to be found in the extras; all the kits contain the same basic items as are found in the refills.
And, you know, they do work as advertised. Measure out 10 ounces of distilled water, add the Water Purifier packet, stir well. Let it sit overnight. After 24 hours has elapsed, add the contents of the Instant Life packet. Voila! You are now the proud caretaker of what will become a thriving Sea Monkey colony.
And the best part? If you are planning that round-the-world trip that will take you away from home for months at a time, no need to arrange pet care. Simply allow the aquarium to dry back over time, and your Sea Monkeys will obligingly go into suspended animation until your return! Bon voyage!