Imagine walking along outside, enjoying the serene beauty of nature, when hordes of strange animals begin clawing their way out of the ground around you like a scene from a George A. Romero movie. That’s exactly what some Australians experienced recently when series of unusually heavy rains across Central Australia produced a population explosion of bizarre creatures which seemingly spontaneously appeared right out of the ground itself. While that would freak most of us right out, residents of the upside-down continent are luckily well-adjusted to hordes of bizarre animals.
The creatures were spotted by a wildlife enthusiast who sent pictures of the strange, shrimp-like animals to the Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Commission, who posted them to their Facebook page and identified them as Triops australiensis.
Triops are sometimes called shield shrimp due to the thick carapace on their backs. These prehistoric-looking crustaceans can grow up to seven centimeters (three inches) in length and feed on tiny particles of organic matter found in shallow pools of water. Their most interesting feature, and the one that enables them to seemingly appear spontaneously out of the ground, is the fact that triops’ eggs can lay dormant for up to seven years buried in sand or soil. This unique aspect also enables desiccated Triops eggs to be sold pre-packaged where they can be taken home and “re-animated” with water. Thrill the kids with creepy pre-historic shrimp creatures! Don’t expect them to do tricks, though.
Because their eggs can be carried by the wind, Triops can be found even in remote locations such as atop Australia’s famous Uluru sandstone formation. Triops belong to a group of animals commonly referred to as “living fossils” due to the fact that they have been unchanged by evolution for upwards of 300 million years. Most living fossils’ only known relatives exist in the form of fossil records. Must be lonely.