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Grow Triops with your kids! April 13, 2009

Posted by dorigo in personal, science.
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Just a short, advertising post to mention a very entertaining “scientific toy” for children. Filippo was given a box for his birthday, “Triassic Triops”, a toy made in USA by Triops Inc., three weeks ago. The box rested untouched for a while, until Filippo asked me to try it. The figure on the cover shows a mean-looking crustacean, and it took me a while to decide to try and grow those creatures in our home.

The box contains a small plastic tank, an envelope with gravel and tiny wood bits to create a reasonable habitat in the tank, a tiny box containing about 20 eggs, a tape-on thermometer, and a parcel of food pellets, plus instructions and a plastic pipette. Instructions are quite precise and easy to follow, but the hard part is to find a place in your home where you can stabilize the temperature: these creatures will hatch and grow only if the temperature is in the 22-29°C range.

We followed instructions carefully by using bottled water and waiting until the temperature had stabilized, but once eggs had to be dropped in the tank I was rather amazed: the little box did not seem to contain anything! Only by looking very carefully could I spot tiny grains smaller than half a millimeter across.

Nothing happened for a couple of days, but then we started to see two or three teeny-tiny little beings swimming around. We started feeding them, and they grew quite fast. I have no idea why only few of the eggs hatched, but I am really not sure whether there were twenty originally in the box, nor whether I managed to drop all of them in the tank…

In ten days, two triops have grown to about two-thirds of an inch in length (see right), probably killing the third one in the process (its carcass is still floating around). They are happily swimming day and night, and they eat all the pellets I put in the tank in the matter of a couple of hours… According to instructions, the life cycle of these amazing creatures is of about one to three months. They should grow to about two inches length -roughly the size of a small shrimp. Then they will die, and -by totally drying the tank, and pouring warm water in again- it should be possible to revive their eggs, if they have produced any.

The interesting thing about these creatures is that they have remained biologically identical to the original beings that populated our earth in the Triassic age. Quoting from the leaflet:

“Millions of years before Tyrannosaurus Rex ruled the earth, Tripos Longicaudatus was evolving a method of reproduction that allowed the developing embryos (developing eggs) to survive the drying up of the temporary ponds. This amazing process is known as suspended animation, or diapause. Scientists have found that Triops eggs can remain dormant for more than 25 years. In other words, the little Tripos slept while the dinosaurs disappeared”.

Regardless of the accuracy of the above reconstruction, I think it is really amazing to drop dried eggs into water and see creatures growing up in it. Try it with your kids: fun is assured!