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What Are Sea Monkeys? A Parent's Guide To The World's Second Easiest Pet

Their backstory is pretty cool, TBH.

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Close-up of brine shrimp — what are Sea-Monkeys?
by MedioTuerto/Getty Images

When was the last time you thought about Sea-Monkeys? It’s been a while, right? We’d like to change that and offer up this thought: Sea-Monkeys might just be the easiest first pet a kid could have. And while it may surprise you to learn this, Sea-Monkeys have enjoyed steady popularity over the years. Bonus: Like many things that were popular in the ’90s, today’s kids seem to be gravitating toward these aquatic creatures.

Of course, kids always seem to want a pet. They can’t keep their rooms clean or remember to brush their teeth, but they think they can care for a rodent or a cat or dog. Why? So, the next time your kid begs you for a pet, you may be tempted to tell them they’ve lost their little mind. Then again, it might be easier just to say yes — at least it’ll give you a reprieve, albeit possibly short-lived, from the whining. The stipulation: You get to pick the pet. (Insert evil witch’s cackle here.) The best pets for busy parents are the ones that require the least amount of work and, you know, that might even survive if you forget about them for a day. Fish are a lot of people’s go-to first pet, but let’s not be hasty. There are other options. Like a pet rock. Or the aforementioned Sea-Monkeys. Seriously. Both require basically no work and hardly any set-up.

Have we started turning those brain wheels? Here’s what to know before you drop your 10 bucks.

What are Sea-Monkeys?

The follow-up question is always, “Aren’t Sea-Monkeys just brine shrimp?” The answer is, well, kinda? They’re actually an “artificial hybrid” of brine shrimp created to be able to go through a process called “cryptobiosis.” In essence, that powder you find in your Sea-Monkey packets is brine shrimp eggs in suspended animation. Once you dump the powder into your (purified) water, they begin to “hatch” and grow. Why? Because they’re in a more habitable environment. Before long, those little monkey-tailed creatures are eating, growing, staring at you with all three eyes, and even reproducing. All from just a single shake of a packet that’s roughly the same size as a packet of yeast.

This brings us to our next question.

What do Sea-Monkeys eat?

Sea-Monkeys don’t need much to survive. They feed on two very simple ingredients that should come in your Sea-Monkey kit but are also probably found in many kitchens — yeast and spirulina. In other words, you won’t need to make any special trips to a fancy pet store to keep them alive.

Are Sea-Monkeys dangerous?

There’s no need to worry about your Sea-Monkeys attacking you. They are harmless to people and the environment. Even if you accidentally drop a Sea-Monkey down the drain (or even in your drink), they won’t pose a threat to anyone or anything. So you can put all your horrible delusions of Sea-Monkeys burrowing into your skin to rest. They can’t survive outside of water or bite humans. Remember, they’re just tiny shrimp.

But what’s the Sea-Monkey life cycle like?

If you consider that your Sea-Monkeys started as dust, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that they only grow to be about a half-inch long. During their lifetime, Sea-Monkeys go from having only one eye to having three. And, yes, they can reproduce, both sexually and asexually. You honestly need to do very little to ensure your Sea-Monkey family keeps expanding. Even if a mama Sea-Monkey dies, her babes will continue to develop and, eventually, hatch. She can also drop her egg sack if she feels attacked, and they’ll survive on their own. Pretty badass, right? But, what else could we possibly expect from creatures that often start their life in a paper packet?

How long do they live, though?

The official Sea-Monkeys website says your Sea-Monkeys can live for up to a year. However, because of their unique life-sustaining abilities, it’s not uncommon for a tank population to continue to thrive for up to five years. Will you have any of the same Sea-Monkeys on Day 1825 that you had on Day One? Uh, no. But they’re all so nondescript that it’s nearly impossible to keep track of them and know who’s who. That means your kid will be far less likely to get attached or be heartbroken as a generation dies off.

Of course, they will still find dead Sea-Monkeys from time to time, and that’s always a bit sad. It’s worth noting that because of this, many people suggest heading to a pet store and picking up some regular, cheaper brine shrimp so you can sneakily replace them if/when it’s necessary.

Speaking of shrimp, are Sea-Monkeys edible?

Uhhh… yes. You weirdos. Brine shrimp are edible. However, there’s absolutely no nutritional value and, because they’re so small, you’re better off just drinking them. *gag* See also: Please don’t do this.

What if my kid thinks they’re boring?

Name a pet that isn’t boring sometimes. Your cat probably ignores you half the day. The family dog is old and doesn’t like going for walks or playing fetch anymore. Your fish are, well, literally just swimming around in their tank.

Sure, Sea-Monkeys also pretty much just swim in their tank. A distinction worth making, though? Sea-Monkeys are light reactive. You can use a small flashlight to get them to move, jump, or swim in circles. They may not react with quite the same ferocity as your cat with a laser pointer. But, still, it’s pretty fun. Oh, and you can tell your kid that these creatures breathe through their feet, which they’ll probably also think is cool.

Wait, why are they called Sea-Monkeys anyway?

They aren’t monkeys, and they don’t live in the sea. What’s with the name, then? To reveal the reason for this curious moniker, we have to start with their origin story. In 1957, a man named Harold von Braunhut walked into a pet store and noticed a tank of overlooked brine shrimp being used to feed the store’s fish. What he saw at that moment was an opportunity to teach kids about the wonders of nature. He began experimenting with the species (Artemia salina), ultimately figuring out how to preserve and reanimate them. When he first introduced them to the world in 1960, he called them “Instant Life.”

However, he soon stumbled upon a much more adorable and catchier name for the little critters. “I looked at these animals, and they’re the cutest things in the world, and I noticed they have little monkey-like tails,” von Braunhut explained in an interview. “‘Those are cute little Sea-Monkeys,’ [he said]. So, we checked the trademark register with my patent attorney, and he says, ‘Hey, there are no Sea-Monkeys.’ That was in 1964.”

So, where can I buy Sea-Monkeys?

Practically any place where you can buy toys and/or pets for kids. They also often turn up at places like Target or Walmart. And many online retailers, including the OG Sea-Monkeys site, sell them.

What’s the difference between a male and a female Sea-Monkey?

Now that you’ve activated your Sea-Monkeys, your little one may be wondering which ones are the girls or boys. Thankfully, there are several ways to tell these brine shrimps apart. Male Sea-Monkeys are usually smaller than female ones. Also, female Sea-Monkeys have an egg sack and have a rounder shape around their bellies.

Can Sea-Monkeys live in space?

If your little one is thinking about taking a trip into outer space, no worries, their Sea-Monkeys will be just fine. On Oct. 29, 1996, astronaut John Glenn brought 400 million sea monkey eggs on his space expedition. The eggs and Glenn were in space for about nine days, and when they hatched eight weeks later on earth, they were OK. (One small step for man, one giant leap for Sea-Monkeys, right?)

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