Bath County home of very rare shrimp
Hot Springs, VA – One of the rarest animals in Virginia is the focus of a new documentary produced by Bath County naturalist Brian LaFountain. LaFountain spent two years filming fairy shrimp, which exist in only two locations that he knows of in Bath County.
“What I really wanted to make an impact in, in the movie, was these really gorgeous little animals are nearly all wiped out as far as their ecosystems go, because shockingly 90% of vernal pools that existed in the United States are gone,” says LaFountain.
Fairy shrimp live in vernal pools, also called wet weather ponds. The fairy shrimp hatch from microscopic dot size eggs, grow into adults, lay eggs and die before the pool dries up. The eggs then dry out for a year or more and when the pool forms again the eggs hatch.
“They look like feathers, but they have eggs that can sustain unreal temperatures and drought for many moons and still survive,” says LaFountain. “It’s an adaptation. Keep in mind they were sea dwellers. Now they’re found in rocky cliffs in the middle of a mountain. So how did they get there? What caused them to survive salinity, to not being saline, to being living in conditions where the eggs can survive drought. That’s the mystery and basically miracle of it all. Science is still studying this process, because little seems to be known about these animals.”
Fairy shrimp are actually a crustacean, related to crabs and lobsters, but look nothing like them. They are translucent, grow to an inch and a half in length and have many pairs of legs that wave in the water. Their eggs can survive sub zero temperatures all the way up to 150 degree temperatures in the desert.
“There was something called sea monkeys that I raised as a child,” says LaFountain. “And come to find out, I was so good at raising them that I ended up having the longest lived sea monkey troupe ever. And I got an award for the longest lived sea monkey. I had them for twelve years. But the sea monkeys are actually a salt water variety of the fairy shrimp that actually lives in these pools. And when I found out from a teacher at Sweet Briar College that there actually was a pond that was within thirty miles of my house that had these, that’s all it took. That’s what set off the whole process. And I decided that it was so important that we understand our little community has something that rare here.”
LaFountain’s documentary is called Secret Pond. It’s going to be shown at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in July. LaFountain is interested in talking with anyone who thinks they may know of a vernal pool in the area. He can be reached at 540-839-3073
“I was reading some of the descriptions in some of these really old books about fairy shrimp,” says LaFountain. “At first glance children would see them, because of the way their legs move on these fairy shrimp, it looks like two arms and two legs and it almost looks like they are walking along the bottom of the pools. So I can see how they would connect them to being fairies in the waters.”
The documentary Secret Pond will be shown at the Old Dairy in Warm Springs on Thursday June 14 at 7 o’clock. Seating is limited. If you plan to attend, contact Mary Hodges at 540-839-2407 or email email@example.com.