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In a Desert’s Burning Sands, Shrimp


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Dec 3, 2017
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When it rains in Iran’s Dasht-e Lut desert, the ground comes alive with tiny, upside-down crustaceans.

In springtime, when the rain gathers into pools in Iran’s Dasht-e Lut Desert, the sand comes alive.

Tiny, desiccated eggs, buried among the ginger-colored granules, drink in the water and begin to hatch. Some may have been laid in the dunes decades ago. But when rains come, the eggs unfurl into small, feathery crustaceans called fairy shrimp, the freshwater cousins of brine shrimp. For a month or two, the fairy shrimp frolic, swimming upside-down in their ephemeral lakes and laying their eggs before they die or the pool dries up, whichever comes first.

Fairy shrimps live in brief spurts in seasonal ponds throughout the world, from steppes in Mongolia to woodlands in Long Island. But the Lut Desert, often called the hottest spot in the world, may be the last place one would think to find water, even seasonally. In 2005, NASA’s Aqua satellite recorded a ground temperature of 159.3 degrees Fahrenheit. So the presence of shrimp in the Lut, while striking, was not entirely out of character.

“I am not surprised by the presence of Phallocryptus anywhere,” said Miguel Alonso, a biologist at the University of Barcelona who was not involved with the research. “Fairy shrimps can appear in any place.”
The researchers described the new species, Phallocryptus fahimii, this summer in the journal Zoology in the Middle East.
Nature can always be relied on to produce surprises.
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