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Monday 27 February 2012

Triops has Three Eyes

Until quite recently I only knew the word "Triops" from the They Might Be Giants song "Triops has Three Eyes". This song appears on the fantastic kids' album "Here come the 123s". If you're not familiar with They Might Be Giants kids' music I urge you to go out and buy a few albums - even if you don't have kids!

But back to the point I was making...

When I first heard this song I jumped straight onto Wikipedia to find out just what a Triops is. Turns out that a Triops is a prehistoric creature that has survived for millennia in almost exactly the same form. This weird creature looks kind of like a cross between a trilobite, a prawn and a swimming cockroach. With three eyes, of course!

Satisfied with this answer I never gave Triops a second thought. That was until the girls and I were in Mr Mopps, a fantastic toy store and Berkeley institution, and discovered that Triops is alive and well and available to purchase in egg form! Intrigued by this strange creature, and spurred on by They Might be Giants singing in my head, I found myself purchasing a Triops hatchery kit to try out.

Now the reason the Triops has lasted in pretty much the same form for such a long time is diapause. Triops naturally inhabit small ponds which are prone to drying out. During times of drought adult Triops die out, however their eggs go into a state of diapause until the rain returns fill their ponds. Once their ponds are filled again the Triops eggs hatch. Similarly Triops eggs are grown in a lab, sent into a state of diapause and shipped to toy stores around the world ready to be hatched by eager kids and a container of water.

So it sounds like hatching a Triops is as simple as "just add water". Not so. The Triops appears to be a fickle creature and is quite fussy about his living conditions. Pure spring water is an essential starting point. No tap water, no distilled water, no bottled water that has gone through reverse osmosis... And this water must maintain a temperature of at least 74F (22.5C). That's right, I'm dealing in farenheit now. Bright light for the majority of the day is also required. Triops also likes grated carrot. This last one seems a little odd considering carrots don't tend to grow in small ponds. I'm guessing there must be nutrients in the carrot that helps the Triops to hatch. It also gives them something tasty to eat when they do hatch!

Once the water conditions are perfect the Triops eggs can be added. Fifteen to twenty of these poppy seed sized eggs can be added with the aim of hatching about three at a time. The pack contains enough eggs for about three or four hatching cycles.

Ava eagerly await the hatching of the first Triops.

Ava inspecting the Triops eggs.
I love her drawing of an adult Triops.

 Our first attempt at hatching a Triops was not successful. After about a week of waiting patiently, monitoring the water temperature and keeping an incandescent bulb burning above the hatchery I admitted defeat. The little Triops eggs were flushed down the sink. I later found out that "someone" decided that the Triops might also like to eat a piece of mandarin peel. Needless to say, the addition of citrus made the water too acidic.

Our second attempt at hatching a Triops was a success. Hooray! Within three days one little Triops had appeared from his egg. A tiny, white creature barely visible without the use of the magnifying glass that came in the kit swimming speedily around the hatchery. Little Mr Triops (we decided he was a boy) grew quite rapidly and within a few days he was joined by a little brother and sister. Unfortunately for the little siblings, Triops are cannibals. A day later one of the little ones had disappeared. Another day later we were left with just Mr Triops who had tripled in size, no doubt from eating his kin. No further eggs hatched after this. Maybe they knew their fate.

By the time Mr Triops was a week old he was ready to be transferred to a larger tank. Once in this larger tank Mr Triops growth sped up substantially. By the time he was two weeks old he was over an inch long. From a poppy seed to over an inch long in just two weeks. That's some speedy growing.

As you can probably guess from my earlier description (trilobite/prawn/swimming cockroach), Triops aren't the most attractive of little pets. However, they do have some cute mannerisms. From about 10 days old, Triops eat while swimming on their backs. Just like a little sea otter. They have what look like hundreds of little legs that move constantly in a wave motion as they devour their food. Triops swim around exploring their environment in a way that looks quite playful - although I'm sure they're just looking for siblings to devour!

Mr Triops at 12 days old with Lola's chubby little hand for scale.
Here Mr Triops looks a little like a trilobite...

... and here Mr Triops looks like a prawn!

Unfortunately our little Mr Triops met his maker tonight at only seventeen days old. The life expectancy for a Triops is between twenty and ninety days so his life was cut short a little early. I changed his water today and cleaned out all his mess (Triops poo, old food and discarded exoskeletons) however within 6 hours his water was looking incredibly murky. Hmm... must have done something wrong there.

Here's a video of Mr Triops that we filmed last night.


Good bye little guy.


  1. Wow! Decent size! Our attempts did not yield any results:( We gave it a go three times:( Milla is really impressed by your Triops!

    1. Those triops are so fussy about their water conditions etc. We've had about 4 goes and this one (our second go) was the most successful. We managed to hatch a few on our later attempts but they all died within a week maybe. We might try again today :)


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