Peabody Museum Scientist Rediscovers Elusive Fairy Shrimp not Been Seen in 50 years

A tiny species of fairy shrimp that hasn’t been seen since the 1950s has been rediscovered by a scientist at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History.

Eric A. Lazo-Wasem, senior collections manager in the Peabody’s Division of Invertebrate Zoology, was surprised to find two species of Eubranchipus in a temporary woodland springtime pond, a freshwater vernal pool that sits by the side of a road in Groton.

While one example of the species, Eubranchipus vernalis, was well known and not threatened, there has been no scientific record of the other, Eubranchipus holmani, in Connecticut in a half-century, Lazo-Wasem says. The freshwater arthropods grow up to a half-inch long, slightly larger than mosquito larvae - so they can be seen by the naked eye.

“I had been hearing that it was around, but the last time anyone had seen or written about the holmani was in the 1950s,” Lazo-Wasem notes. “That was a Connecticut College professor who has since passed away. I wrote to Connecticut College, and they suggested looking in Groton.”

While collecting with his assistant, Daniel Drew, the Peabody scientist found a vernal pool in an open space area that had apparently been undisturbed for a while. He spotted small fairy shrimp right away, noticing their trademark forked tail, and gathered about 30 specimens to take back to the lab. That’s where he discovered that some of the specimens included the elusive holmani.

“The vernalis had a fairly normal head, but the holmani has a bigger frontal appendage, almost like an elephant trunk,” explains Lazo-Wesem.

Fairy shrimp are found only in springtime vernal pools and not in regular ponds since they have no defense mechanism. Their eggs can survive in the mud or soil of a dried up vernal pool and hatch after it fills up the following spring.

“This is why it’s important for towns to have wetlands regulations, to protect this kind of species,” says Lazo-Wasem.

Eubranchipus holmani did not qualify for special protection status in Connecticut since no specimen vouchers of it are known to exist in any museum. Now with a known population, it can be added to the list of endangered species and qualify for protective status, says the scientist.

Lazo-Wasem, a Redding resident, is a member of the state’s Endangered Species Review Committee. He hopes to get permission from the town of Groton to collect specimens to monitor population structures and changes, with the goal of having this rare fairy shrimp listed as an endangered species.

- By Bill McDonald, Yale Peabody Museum

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