Ah, the joyous miracle of life. I’m referring, of course, to the miracle of Sea Monkey life. For millions of children, the first experience with playing god began with an advertisement in the back of a comic book, and ended with a slurry of dead Sea Monkeys dried into a hard paste on the front of a dresser. Or was that just me?
The original mail-order pets, Sea Monkeys are a fascinating biological anomaly: a variant species of brine shrimp that evolved in salt lakes and areas that saw alternating periods of moisture and evaporation. Their unusual heritage meant that they could be easily induced to enter cryptobiosis, a state of suspended animation that allowed the shrimp to be dried and packaged along with a packet of food and salt, which when combined with water, would re-animate the dormant creatures.
(Another creature capable of cryptobiosis, the Tardigrade, or ‘Water Bear,’ a microscopic eight-legged organism, is perhaps the hardiest organism on earth, a polyextremophile that has been shown to survive temperatures close to absolute zero, minutes in boiling water, decades without water, exposure to 1000 times the radiation that would kill a human, and even the vaccuum of outer space.)
Sea Monkeys were notable for their outlandish advertisements which illustrated anthropomorphic Sea Monkey creatures which bore no resemblance to actual brine shrimp. Nowadays, the Sea Monkey franchise isn’t just limited to aquariums: runaway merchandising means you can now get Sea Monkey habitats in wristwatch form, or even on a necklace.
Behind all the hype and biological wizardry was Harold von Braunhut, one of the pioneers of the garish advertisements that filled the back pages of early comic books. He was also the inventor of the X-Ray Specs novelty, and many other novelties like ‘crazy crabs,’ and ‘invisible goldfish.’ Unfortunately, von Braunhut was also a white supremacist and ardent neo-Nazi supporter.
This blog post is a reprint from a long time ago.