Sea-Monkeys is a brand name for brine shrimp – a group of crustaceans that undergo cryptobiosis – often sold in hatching kits as novelty aquarium pets. Invented in 1957 by Harold von Braunhut, the product was heavily marketed, especially in comic books, and remains a presence in popular culture.
Harold von Braunhut invented the product based on brine shrimp in 1957. Ant farms had been popularised the year before by Milton Levine. Initially called "Instant Life", von Braunhut changed the name to "Sea-Monkeys" in 1962. This was based on the supposed resemblance of the animals' tails to those of monkeys, and their salt-water habitat. The product was intensively marketed in comic books using illustrations of humanoid animals drawn by the comic-book illustrator Joe Orlando, which bear no resemblance to the crustaceans. Many purchasers were disappointed by the dissimilarity, and by the short lifespan of the animals. Von Braunhut is quoted as stating: "I think I bought something like 3.2 million pages of comic book advertising a year. It worked beautifully."
The colony is started by adding the contents of a packet labelled "Water Purifier" to a tank of water. This packet contains salt and some brine shrimp eggs. After 24 hours, this is augmented with the contents of a packet labelled "Instant Life Eggs", containing eggs, yeast, borax, soda, salt, and sometimes a dye. The animals which hatched from the eggs over the previous day seem to appear instantly. "Growth Food", containing yeast and spirulina is then added every few days.
The animals sold as Sea-Monkeys are an artificial breed known as "Artemia NYOS" (NYOS being short for New York Ocean Science), formed by hybridising different species of Artemia. They undergo cryptobiosis or anhydrobiosis, a condition of apparent lifelessness which allows them to survive the desiccation of the temporary pools they live in.
In popular culture
Sea-Monkeys remain a popular product, and have gained a cult following. References to Sea-Monkeys have been made in films and television series, including Spin City, Roseanne, Night Court, South Park, The Simpsons, It's Garry Shandling's Show and Desperate Housewives. A spin-off television series was broadcast on Saturday mornings on CBS, The Amazing Live Sea Monkeys, which ran from September 1992 to August 1993, and was based on Joe Orlando's cartoons.
The astronaut John Glenn took Sea-Monkeys into space on October 29, 1998 aboard Space Shuttle Discovery during mission STS-95. After nine days in space, they were returned to Earth, and hatched eight weeks later apparently unaffected by their travels.
- May Berenbaum (2000). "Sea monkey see, sea monkey do". Buzzwords: a Scientist Muses on Sex, Bugs, and Rock 'n' Roll. Joseph Henry Press. pp. 45–49. ISBN 978-0-309-06835-2.
- Tim Walsh (2005). "Ant Farm and Sea-Monkeys". Timeless Toys: Classic Toys and the Playmakers who Created Them. Andrews McMeel Publishing. pp. 124–129. ISBN 978-0-7407-5571-2.
- Sharon M. Scott (2010). "Sea-Monkeys". Toys and American Culture: an Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. pp. 282–284. ISBN 978-0-313-34798-6.