Water brings the desert alive. For some ancient life forms, all it takes is a puddle. One such life form is Triops longicaudatus, or tadpole shrimp, a living fossil that has been taking refuge in puddles of water for the last 300 million years all over the western hemisphere.
Its short life-span is an average of 40 to 70 days, and it reaches sexual maturity within seven days.
This year’s summer rain brought the tadpole shrimp back to life in a puddle in Stanley. Anthony Thompson and his nephew were out walking around, enjoying the weather and looking for tadpoles when they came across what looks like a tiny horseshoe crab, only about an inch long. “There are big puddles all over and they have been able to stay [not evaporate] for a couple of weeks,” Thompson said.
“I was showing my nephew tadpoles,” he said. “That is what we thought it was until we got a closer look,” describing the tadpole shrimp as about the same size as a regular tadpole, with a segmented body and lots of legs.
Tadpole shrimp have some impressive evolutionary adaptations, including being a hermaphroditic species and having a very short breeding season from spring to summer—but only if the water conditions are right. The creature can keep its eggs in a state of dormancy until the perfect conditions occur.
Despite being an ephemeral creature, the main reason their species has survived since the time of the first appearance of amphibians and the time period in which the supercontinent Pangea formed (Carboniferous Period), is the ability to lie dormant for long periods of time, years if necessary.
Tadpole shrimp can be found in vernal pools all over North America, South America and even as far as Japan and the Pacific Islands. The are omnivorous and opportunistic eaters; eating both plant matter, insect larvae (including mosquitoes), and even each other in extreme food scarcity conditions.