Fairy Shrimp

Eubranchipus vernalis

Quick Facts

  • Species

    Native

  • Size

    0.5 to two inches

  • Habitat

    Fairy shrimp live in freshwater vernal pools, spending most of their time on the bottom. Vernal pools are small, shallow forest ponds, fed by melting snow, rain or groundwater, but dry up during certain times of the year. 

  • Range

    Can be found in vernal pools throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. 

  • Diet

    Primarily algae. Also eats flatworm eggs and amoebae.

  • Lifespan

    Depends on how long the vernal pool remains wet; generally, half a month to six months
  • Status

    Stable

Fairy shrimp are relatively large and slow-moving crustaceans that live in vernal pools throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Appearance

Fairy shrimp are between 0.5 and two inches in length and have 10 pairs of leg-like appendages called phyllopods that are used for swimming. They swim slowly and belly-side up. Their diet affects their color—they are most often orange, but may also be white, blue or green. Females have smaller heads than the males.

Feeding

Fairy shrimp are filter-feeders that scrape food off the bottom of their vernal pools. Their diet includes algae, flatworm eggs and Arcella—a genus of amoeba that have holes through their centers.

Predators

Vernal pools don’t host predatory fish, which make them a safe habitat for fairy shrimp. Waterfowl, frogs, salamanders and insect larvae eat other species of fairy shrimp and may be predators for Eubranchipus vernalis as well.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Fairy shrimp generally mate between April and May. Males die shortly after mating, while the females live until the pool dries up. The eggs are released into the water and remain dormant throughout the dry season. Once the pool fills with water again—often October or November—the eggs hatch. The larvae go through a variety of molts and gain body segments with each stage, reaching 20 segments as adults. 

Did You Know?

  • The Eubranchipus vernalis species is sometimes called the eastern, springtime or vernal fairy shrimp.
  • Fairy shrimp are a relative of brine shrimp—commonly sold as Sea Monkeys.
  • Dormant eggs in dried-out vernal pools may be moved by the wind or animals, but once hatched, fairy shrimp remain in the same pool for their entire life.

Sources and Additional Information

Quick Facts

  • Species

    Native

  • Size

    0.5 to two inches

  • Habitat

    Fairy shrimp live in freshwater vernal pools, spending most of their time on the bottom. Vernal pools are small, shallow forest ponds, fed by melting snow, rain or groundwater, but dry up during certain times of the year. 

  • Range

    Can be found in vernal pools throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. 

  • Diet

    Primarily algae. Also eats flatworm eggs and amoebae.

  • Lifespan

    Depends on how long the vernal pool remains wet; generally, half a month to six months
  • Status

    Stable