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Well it isn't quite a dinosaur, but it has been around since the Triassic period, roughly 220 million years ago, making triops and more specifically Triops cancriformis, the oldest living species of animal on the planet. Early forms of this creature existed from the carboniferous period - 300 million years ago. In short, this is a living fossil. As such it seemed a brilliant project for my 6 year old son, who currently plans to be a paleontologist when he grows up. I came across a new unopened box at a boot sale for only £1 so I decided to let him give it a try.
WHAT IS A TRIOPS?
The name triops means three eyed, and yes this odd little creature really has three eyes. It is also capable of reproduction without the benefit of a male, although in most cases reproduction is sexual. The eggs are capable of withstanding extreme temperatures from 98 Celsius to well below freezing. They lay dormant as long as they are dry, springing to life when they are submersed in water. This is a small, primarily freshwater crustacean also referred to as tadpole shrimp. The majority are brown or greenish but an albino variant has recently become available.
WHAT'S IN THE BOX
Everything you need to raise triops - at least according to the manufacturer
Triops eggs in detritus or what looks like tiny wood chips which will cover the surface of the "tank" completely.
I believe the eggs are of the species triops longicaudatus.
Triops tank - a tiny bowl about 8" across which holds around a half pint of water - since trips are meant to have 1.5 litres each this will not suffice if your triops lives long enough to grow.
Heat source - according to the manufacturer you do not need one - just fire up your boiler and heat your house to 22 Celsius - I hate to think what this would do to my gas bill!
Food - this you get plenty of. One packet should last your triops it's entire lifespan - if not they eat everything. Simple sinking fish food tabs would work just as well.
Sand - not nearly enough to cover even the tiny dish provided.
You also need:
Rainwater or distilled water - I just used boiled and cooled water, but this is not ideal.
The illustration shows plants too, but these are only there to illustrate possible set ups. If you want plants, you need to buy your own.
On reading the instructions I was doubtful if we would get any hatchlings at all. Heating my house to a minimum temperature of 22 Celsius just was not going to happen. I could likely buy the children horses for less than the gas bill would cost me. Still we already had the set - so I decided to give it a go.
Every morning my son would carefully check the tank, and every morning nothing. This went on far longer than the normal hatch time - but I felt we had nothing to lose so let it sit awhile longer, and about 1 week later we had a tiny swimming speck - much smaller than brine shrimp - barely visible to the naked eye. The next day it was bigger and by the 3rd day this little creature was big enough even the 3 year old could notice it. Within a week it was brine shrimp sized, and it continued to grow. It was quite fascinating, constantly swimming about and diving in at a fair speed when food was added.
Sadly although it was warm enough indoors for this to hatch, the weather has been getting colder, and this only lived for 2 weeks. Only 3 days after I bought the thing a larger tank it was dead ! I had explained to my son that these creatures have a very short lifespan - only 2 -3 months maximum before we hatched it. I did think this was more like a bug than a pet, and he does have "real" pets, salamanders, fish, and a dog. I did not really think he would get so attached to this thing, but he did. The result was a very sad child as his tiny pet went out for burial in the back garden.
My overall feelings on this set are mixed. On the one hand, my son absolutely loved this creature. I can not really fault the toy company for the fact that these have a short lifespan. The lifespan is likely enough for many children who will soon tire of them anyway. I can fault the company for not making the temperature requirements clear. I do not honestly believe most people keep their home at 22 Celsius 24 hours a day. This is in fact a tropical species more suited to a tropical tank. I also feel that the tiny plastic dish they give you is a joke. This should be sold as food and eggs only with the clear instructions that a larger container and a heat source are required.
Would I recommend triops in general ? Yes, it was a fascinating creature and might well be worth keeping these as pets. Would I recommend this kit? If you look at this kit as eggs and food only, and are prepared to spend the money to buy and set up a proper tank, then at just over £5 from Amazon, this is not a bad price. If you buy this
during the summer, and can just transfer the triops to a larger container though, this kit will meet your needs, as long as you - and more importantly the children realise that this pet will only last for a few months.
I will not be buying this again though. Should we decide to buy more triops, and my son does still want to try them again, I will buy eggs for the European species - which are meant to be longer lived and more cold tolerant directly from an ebay supplier. I will likely wait and buy a proper heater and full tropical set up first, then hopefully we may be able to get eggs from our triops to hatch new when the older ones die off. At the moment though, I am undecided. As much as my son loved his triops - I am hesitant to buy a creature with such a short lifespan as a child's pet.
Although we are very interested in this species in general I have to rate the kit down on several aspects:
1. Lack of proper information about temperature requirements.
2. The plastic "tank" is obviously too small, even for only one of these creatures.
3. The detritus the eggs were packed in really is hard to later remove from the water, and does dirty it up.
4. Inadequate amount of sand or substrate.
5. Although these are very simple organisms - they are alive and I think more care should be given to give them a chance at survival by the manufacturer of this set.
For these reasons this set only gets 2 stars in my book.