These shrimp are known from only 18 populations and require deep vernal pools to complete their 45-day life cycle. Fully grown vernal pool tadpole shrimp have 30 to 35 pairs of legs and two long appendages, called cercopods, which extend beyond the abdomen and function as sensory organs. They swim along the muddy bottom by beating their legs from front to back. This action also stirs up food particles in the sediment and water and funnels them towards the mouth. They are aggressive omnivores and will eat algae, insects, immature frogs and fairy shrimp.
Tadpole shrimp are considered living fossils because their basic body characteristics are the same as those of ancestors’ that lived at least 300 million years ago. This basic design must be well-adapted to the vernal pool environment since it has remained unchanged for so long.
Issues Facing this Animal
The ephemeral wetlands that support vernal pool tadpole shrimp populations are only remnants of a much larger vernal pool ecosystem.
Much of it was converted for agricultural and urban use. What remains is highly fragmented, resulting in smaller populations much more vulnerable to extinction.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Visit Jepson Prairie Preserve to see a live vernal pool tadpole shrimp in its natural environment: Solano Land Trust: www.solanolandtrust.org.