Triops are a unique family of crustaceans which has been present on the earth for around 350million years, making it one of the oldest in the fossil record. Indeed, the oldest species on the planet with currently living specimens belongs to the Triopsidae family. As well as being a very old form of life, Triops have another characteristic that makes them very special. They undergo a reproductive process known as Cryptobiosis. That means that their eggs lay dormant between rainy periods until better circumstances come along. It is this feature that has lead to them being marketed as form of instant life pets that require nothing more than an old glass jar and some pure water.
Once the Triops eggs have been added to water, they begin to develop rapidly into adult organisms. This is because of the very specific niche in the environment which the Triops have evolved to exploit perfectly. The natural habitats of these crustaceans are temporary pools formed by rain in regions where the water cannot collect permanently. In Australia, Africa and North America that means in semi-arid to desert regions. In Europe that means areas where the ponds are, during at least some part of the year, frozen. The only continent where members of Triopsidae are not found is Antarctica.
What's different about the Australian variety?
The Australian species of Triops, known in the scientific community as Triopsidae Australiensis, and colloquially as shield shrimp, differ slightly from their international counterparts. They take on a different colour, ranging from very faint to deep blue, making them very distinct. They also have some slight anatomical differences. Their lifecycle most closely reflects the North American species as opposed to the longer lived European Triops, growing very rapidly and dying after a short time. Although many people have the opportunity to rear the European and North American varieties, the Australian Triops are largely unknown to the instant pet community due to their isolation, and the expensive licenses required to export native Australian flora and fauna.