Hundreds of bizarre three-eyed ‘dinosaur shrimp’ emerge after heavy rains

The front view of a long-tailed tadpole shrimp, or triops longicaudatus, shows its third eye. The species is called a living fossil because it has had the same morphology for 70 million years.

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Tourists walking through Wupatki National Monument, an ancestral Puebloan site in Arizona, recently came across unlikely visitors – hundreds of three-eyed shrimp from the pre-dinosaur era. The little creatures likely infested a ballpark in the park after a monsoon filled it to the brim.

Formally named triops, the gentle beasts that roamed the Earth hundreds of millions of years ago literally have a third eye. It’s right in the middle of their two compound buggies looking straight ahead. The creatures, also known as tadpole shrimp, are an inch or two long, and their peach-pink bodies have a crest-shaped torso that tapers into a hanging tail.

They are the epitome of goosebumps, yet somehow adorable. They basically look like Pokémon.

It’s not uncommon to find a few of these guys in the wild, and some pet stores even sell them, claiming that triops are low maintenance friends – they only live for around 90 days. But for tourists, finding hundreds of alien-like creatures at the site of a national monument is definitely … new.

Puebloan farmers fled from present-day Flagstaff to the Wupatki National Monument area following the eruption of Sunset Crater volcano 900 years ago. In the area, now protected by the state and open to tourism, is a circular ball field that was once the place for the exchange of cultural ideas. The yard is approximately 105 feet (32 meters) in diameter.

At the end of July, however, these whimsical shrimp filled the old intellectual hangout. Lauren Carter, chief interpretive ranger at Wupatki National Monument “just picked it up with [her] hand and looked at her and said to herself “What the hell is this?” “she said in a statement.

Presumably, the three-eyed seashells abruptly emerged in triple digits due to the late July monsoon in Arizona. These shrimp can lay eggs which remain dormant until there is enough water. A monsoon downpour could easily have activated a bunch of their already laid eggs to hatch.

Carter said she first learned of the creatures’ presence in the rainwater pond from a tourist wandering the park. Eventually, she and the rest of the staff concluded that these odd-looking shrimp could be freshwater versions of triops called triops longicaudatus. They note that more scientific analysis is needed to confirm this hypothesis.

The exceptionally astute organisms – visually, that is – were apparently spotted by birds in the area and quickly turned into an avian diner. But who can say that they haven’t laid a few more eggs in their chosen breeding grounds in Wuptaki?

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