CHARLOTTE, NC: May 16 has an interesting history. The first Academy Awards were presented on this day in 1929. And in 1983, Michael Jackson performed his “moonwalk” on television for the first time. Could it have been in honor of his sister Janet who was born on May 16? Pierce Brosnan, Liberace, and Henry Fonda all claim May 16th as the day of their birth. And we first met the ubiquitous Sea-Monkeys. Meaning today is National Sea-Monkey Day.
On this day, Harold von Braunhut, a name that has largely been forgotten, introduced the world to Sea-Monkeys.
National Sea-Monkey Day
Given that today is “National Sea-Monkey Day,” Myth Trivia is equal to the task thanks to information provided by Erin McCarthy who wrote a story about these little creatures for “Mental Floss.”
Harold von Braunhut became infatuated with this species of brine shrimp back in 1957 when he observed it was being sold as pet food in his local pet store.
Noticing that the shrimp live in an environment rich in salt, the animals went into a type of suspended animation when the water evaporated. During this period, the creatures encased themselves in a crusty cyst-like pod which protected them until water was added.
Partnering with a marine biologist named Anthony D’Agostino, von Braunhut developed a method at home that would release the “brine shrimp” from their mummification.
Treating tap water with a mixture of nutrients they called “magic crystals”, von Braunhut believed he could interest school children about nature while making a dollar or two in the process.
Sea-Monkeys in the Comic books
The year before, ant farms had been introduced as a popular home science product, which von Braunhut thought would be a boon to his invention.
Whamo-O, a surging toy company thanks to hula hoops and Superballs, took a chance on Sea-Monkeys. Unfortunately, the idea met a disastrous fate when the idea didn’t work as well as advertised.
The combination of a less than satisfactory product combined with an “LA Times” story linking von Braunhut to white supremacism all but doomed the venture.
Desperately von Braunhut sought methods to salvage his investment. He hit upon a brilliant solution, deciding to promote Sea-Monkeys directly to kids by bypassing parental authority with ads in comic books.
A bowl full of happiness
Opting to promote his toy in all genres rather than being specific such as superheroes or humorous strips like “Casper, the Friendly Ghost” or “Archie”, von Braunhut hit a home run with the slogan a “bowl full of happiness.”
In the beginning, the product was “Instant Life”. Selling his life kits for 49 cents, children purchased a packet of shrimp and a packet of nutrients along with a pack of shrimp food. Tanks or goldfish bowls had to be bought separately.
An instant and short life
By 1964, the moniker of “Instant Life” disappeared when von Braunhut changed the name to Sea-Monkeys because his creation had tails that he thought looked like a monkey tail.
Another problem initially encountered by von Braunhut was the extremely short lifespan of his so-called “pets.”
The average life cycle of a Sea-Monkey was, at first, about a month. To circumvent the problem, the inventor offered a “Sea-Monkey life insurance policy” which was much like a two-year warranty after purchase.
Following his temporary solution, von Braunhut and D’Agostino began experimenting with ways to develop a sturdier species through cross-breeding, hoping they could at the very least make their sea shrimp live long enough to become a pet.
Eventually, they found that something in the magic powder was detrimental to the animals. Chemistry ultimately altered the formula enough to revive the longevity of the Sea-Monkey population.
Lest you fear an accident in which a Sea-Monkey somehow manages to go down a drain, there is no harm to the environment. They cannot survive without their special formula.
Most noteworthy among Sea-Monkey oddities is they are born with only one eye, but as they mature they grow two more.
Also unusual is that these critters breath through their feet. Apparently, scientists know this because they observed shrimp wearing tiny clips on their feet when they went snorkeling.
Telling the difference between male and female Sea-Monkeys is also easy, though not as much fun as with humans. Males have whiskers under their chins, females do not.
If ever you should encounter a pair of Sea-Monkeys locked together and one has whiskers while the other does not, please look away because this is an extremely private moment that can last for days. Talk about staying power.
Despite this, feminists will be happy to learn that females have the ability to fertilize their own eggs. Male Sea-Monkeys are not necessary for procreation. And male Sea-Monkeys are happy since they can have female Sea-Monkey friends with benefits. But no fear of Maury Povich hitting them with a DNA suit.
The miniature lives of Sea-Monkeys
In case you are wondering, Sea-Monkeys can grow to be two inches long. However, at birth, they are about the size of the period at the end of this sentence.
Of special note, Sea-Monkeys do have a place in history. In October of 1998, the Space Shuttle Discovery carried some 400 million Sea-Monkey eggs into space for 9 days. Eight weeks later, when they hatched, they showed no ill effects from the journey.
Thus endeth this episode of Myth Trivia…period.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people, and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is a founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
Editors Note: Support Bob’s GoFundMe to give him a hand up