Fairy Shrimp and Other Branchiopods


These invertebrate animals inhabit the temporary pools, ephemeral wetlands and playas found on our prairies in Kansas.  They are an arthropod group of small crustaceans that have flattened, leaf-like legs.   They are found in freshwater habitats.  At last count there were nearly 1200 species.  They are mostly herbivores eating algae and bacteria. They in turn serve as prey for fish and birds (mostly shorebirds,waders, and waterfowl), and probably other amphibious predators that they share their habitat with.  Fairy Shrimp are a favorite food of many dabbling ducks in the playa lakes region.  Branchiopods include fairy shrimp, clam shrimp, tadpole shrimp, and the water fleas.  These branchiopods are largely crustacean zooplankton for the most part.  They can be found in large numbers in ephemeral wetlands.  They inhabit vernal pools, seasonal wetlands, alkali lakes, and playas.  Interestingly, the eggs of most species require a period of drought to prevent fungal infection and to hatch.  They have what is referred to as "diapausing" eggs, meaning that these eggs have their own internal physiological condition.  Egg development is triggered by a combination of environmental factors such as temperature, light, and oxygen levels along with precipitation.  The process is not yet fully understood.