Hundreds of strange three-eyed ‘dinosaur shrimp’ spotted on the National Monument

tail toad

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

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Tourists roaming the Wupatki National Monument, an ancestral site in Puebloan, Arizona, recently stumbled upon some unlikely fellow visitors — hundreds of pre-dinosaur-era three-eyed shrimp. The small creeps presumably attacked a ball field in the park after a monsoon filled it to the brim.

Formally named triops, the gentle animals that roamed the earth hundreds of millions of years ago literally have a third eye. It’s smack in the middle of their two compound buggies looking straight ahead. The creatures, also called tadpole shrimp, are an inch or two long, and their peach-pink bodies have a comb-shaped torso that decreases in a hanging tail.

They are the epitome of spooky yet adorable. They basically look like Pokemon.

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

Puebloan farmers fled the modern Flagstaff to the Wupatki National Monument region after the eruption of Sunset Crater Volcano 900 years ago. Within the area, which is now protected by the state and open to tourism, there is a circular ball field that was formerly the place where cultural ideas were exchanged. The dish measures approximately 105 feet (32 meters) in diameter.

In late July, however, these whimsical shrimp filled the former intellectual venue. Lauren Carter, chief interpretation ranger at the Wupatki National Monument “has just rehearsed it up with [her] hand and looked at it and was like ‘What is it?’ she said in a statement.

Presumably, the triple shellfish suddenly appeared in the triple digits due to Arizona’s monsoon in late July. These shrimp can lay eggs that remain dormant until there is enough water. A monsoon rain could easily have activated a flock of their already laid eggs to hatch.

Carter said she was first told about the critters’ presence in the rainwater pond by a tourist walking in the park. Eventually, she and the rest of the staff concluded that these strange shrimp could be freshwater versions of triops called triops longicaudatus. They note that further scientific analysis is needed to confirm this hypothesis.

The unusually clever organisms – visually, that is – were apparently discovered by birds in the area and quickly turned into a bird dinner. But who says they did not lay a few more eggs on their chosen breeding grounds at Wuptaki?

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