After a rare downpour generated tiny pools of water that prompted decades-old eggs to hatch, hundreds of three-eyed “dinosaur shrimp” sprouted from the Arizona desert this summer.
At Arizona’s Wupatki National Monument, officials with the National Parks Service discovered hundreds of hatchlings of longtail tadpole shrimp, or triops longicaudatus, swimming in pools at a preserved Pueblo ball court.
The triops, which resemble tiny miniature horseshoe crabs with three eyes, were discovered in the monument’s 105-foot-wide walled structure over the summer. When a rare rain falls, the eggs of the triops can stay dormant for decades until a unique storm creates water pockets where they may hatch.
The tadpoles develop and mature quickly before mating and laying more eggs before the pools evaporate. The triops are so uncommon that visitors and even park staff were unsure what they were when they initially appeared in the 105-foot-wide enclosed structure in July.
“We knew that there was water in the ball court, but we weren’t expecting anything living in it,” said Carter. “Then a visitor came up and said, ‘Hey, you have tadpoles down in your ballcourt.'”
Dr. Jana Rognetta, a specialist in the petrified forest of Arizona, confirmed that the tadpoles were triops after viewing their morphology and identifying them as such.
Triops, which are Greek for “three eyes,” are also known as dinosaur shrimp owing to their physical resemblance to prehistoric creatures with three eyes.
Even at their most recent possible emergence, the triops ancestors lived more than 100 million years before the first dinosaurs emerged during the Triassic period 252 million years ago.
However, the triops of today aren’t genuine ” sedimentary fossils,” according to Carter.
“I don’t like the term ‘living fossil’ because it causes a misunderstanding with the public that they haven’t changed at all,” said Carter.
“But they have changed, they have evolved. It’s just that the outward appearance of them is very similar to what they were millions of years ago.”
When it wants to, evolution has a long memory.
Despite the fact that modern triops have undoubtedly evolved over time from its Jurassic-era forebears, the fact that they remained morphologically similar is remarkable given the timescale involved.
Humans live for a short period of time; therefore, geological periods are difficult to comprehend. Human civilization is only at its infancy, standing at just 12,000 years old, which seems impossible.
However, compared to the triops’ 70-million-year-old morphological ancestor, which is about 6,000 times as old as humanity’s oldest temple, this pales insignificance.
In a fraction of the time, the reign of the dinosaurs came to an end, and just a few remaining mammals inherited the earth and developed into everything from whales to people and everything in between.
The daring little triops accomplished something remarkable by surviving this long period without changing very much.
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