Alkali Fairy Shrimp

The scientific name for the Alkali Fairy Shrimp found on the Colville Reservaiton is Branchinecta mackini.

As you admire the beautiful lakes and ponds that provide water for cattle, horses, and wildlife and serve as swimming holes and picnic spots, you have probably noticed the occasional small animal. Or in the case of mosquitoes, the horde of tiny animals that threaten to carry you away. You may even have seen tiny things swimming gracefully through the water. 

One of those animals is called the fairy shrimp. These beautiful animals swim upside down in many of the ponds and lakes on the Colville Reservation. 

I am learning the story of these tiny little creatures.

One of my jobs is to keep a list of the different animals that live in the state. The various kinds of birds, reptiles and other vertebrates are well known, and lists are easy to make. I have also made lists of many smaller animals, such as butterflies, dragonflies, slugs and snails. 

But when I found an article by a researcher from Kansas a couple years ago, I was stumped. 

This scientist had created a list of fairy shrimp native to Washington. 

I discovered that while fairy shrimp are related to the shrimp we eat, they are much smaller. Most are less than one inch long and the biggest, called the Giant Fairy Shrimp, is about three inches long. We have 12 species in Washington. Only one of them lives west of the Cascade Mountains. All the others live on the east side of the state. Some live in freshwater while others like slightly salty water. And a few live in water that will peel the paint off your boat. 

We know of a few locations for each of the species known in Washington. But, we do not know how wide-spread they are. We don’t know how many ponds they use. And we don’t know much about their habitat. 

One fairy shrimp species, with the interesting name of Pocked Pouch Fairy Shrimp, has been found in a few ponds south of the Columbia River, in Grant and Adams counties. In 1960, they were found at a place described as about 10 miles north of LaFleur and in 1969, they were found in Penley Lake. While the first site is a little indefinite, both are on the Reservation. This animal may be very rare in Washington, and it is not known to exist in any other state. 

Since two important documented sighting of the Pocked Pouch Fairy Shrimp came from the Colville Reservation, I thought it would be important to see whether the Pocked Pouch Fairy Shrimp is common here, and what other species might be present. 

I called the tribal office and was put in touch with Karen Condon in the Cultural Resources Office and Michelle Campobasso in the Natural Resources Office. They graciously assisted me through the Research Application process. I was put in touch with tribal biologist Janet Ebaugh. In June of 2016, I came out to the Tribal Office to meet with Janet. I also met several of the other tribal biologists who had suggestions on lakes I might survey. 

Janet and I spent a day and a half visiting lakes. I used my aquarium net to scoop through the shallow water along the lake edge. We visited Soap Lake, Duley Lake, Little Goose Lake and several other small ponds. We found mosquito larvae, diving beetles who wanted to chew off my finger, beautiful copepods, and finally, fairy shrimp. I found two different kinds on the Reservation – the Brine Shrimp and the Alkali Fairy Shrimp. I didn’t find the Pocked Pouch Fairy Shrimp. 

The Brine Shrimp was abundant in some lakes on the Reservation. It lives in very salty water here and elsewhere in the state. The Alkali Fairy Shrimp is was less abundant where I found it. 

I hope to be back on the Reservation this year, looking again for these beautiful animals and learning more of their story. And, I hope to meet more tribal members to share what I have learned. If you see me, please stop and say Hello. Perhaps I will have found a Pocked Pouch Fairy Shrimp to show you.

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