Mission: Fairy Shrimp

Research Question

What can we find out about the distribution and habitat of fairy shrimp?

You're Invited

Fairy shrimp rely on vernal pools to breed because they are fish-free and have fewer predators than permanent bodies of water. Beyond that, we know very little about their preferred habitat and distribution in the northeast. Dr. Aram Calhoun, from the University of Maine, Orono, needs your help in gathering information. What species are present? In which vernal pools are they most likely to be found? Join us in gathering data on this mysterious species!

Mission Steps

Fairy shrimp, Judy Semroc
  1. Plan to complete this mission in the early spring when most fairy shrimp are present (March through June).
  2. Gather your materials for fieldwork, including:
  3. Find a vernal pool near you to search for fairy shrimp.
    • Walk around the pool quietly and slowly looking for fairy shrimp along the water’s edge. Tip: polarized sunglasses can help you see beneath the surface of the water.
    • In a sunny spot, dip a light-colored tray (frisbees work well) into the water and see if fairy shrimp are swimming by.
    • If you don’t see fairy shrimp from the edge, walk carefully into the pool, no more than two feet from the edge, and try again.
    • Document evidence of the presence or absence of fairy shrimp in the Vital Signs Freshwater Species and Habitat Survey. Take photos on a white background, and include a close-up of the antennae. Record additional habitat information on your Fairy Shrimp Habitat datasheet.
    Fairy shrimp, Of Pools and People
  4. Post your "found" or "not found" observations to Vital Signs. Remember, not found data is important! Copy the information from the Fairy Shrimp Habitat datasheet into the field notes section.

Use caution collecting data in this fragile habitat!

  • Leave dogs and other pets at home when you go to your vernal pool.
  • No more than two people in the pool at one time.
  • Limit your steps in the pool as they could disturb amphibian egg masses.
  • Fairy shrimp can be temporarily removed from the pool and photographed, but leave amphibian egg masses in place.
  • Keep fairy shrimp submerged in water and do not touch them.
  • At the end of your visit, carefully remove mud, leaves, and twigs from your boots and equipment. Spray them down or soak them in a 10% bleach solution (do this far from the pool). Wash your hands carefully. This will protect you and other amphibians from disease.
Fairy shrimp, VS user 4plgreenteam

Why this Mission Matters

Fairy shrimp play an essential role in vernal pool ecology by filtering the water and providing an important food source for birds and amphibians. They are important to track as they only survive in particular habitats (unlike mosquitoes that can breed most anywhere). We know that fairy shrimp are highly sensitive to pollution and temperature change, and they only breed in vernal pools. Collecting data on fairy shrimp will help us to conserve the species by providing insight into the type of habitat they need to survive. How will they be affected by climate change? Will monitoring their population tell us anything about other impacts of climate change? They only way we will know is if we start tracking them!

Teacher Resources

Find useful information for conducting this investigation with your class on the Mission: Fairy Shrimp Teacher Resources page.