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Three-Eyed Dinosaur Shrimp Had a Rad Time at Burning Man

No word on if they burned a tiny wooden crustacean.

By Cassidy Ward
Tadpole shrimp

The 2003 biopic Party Monster (streaming now on Peacock) tells the story of Michael Alig, a club promoter dubbed King of the Club Kids in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Alig (portrayed by Macauley Culkin in his first adult acting role) was something of a celebrity among clubgoers around the country, until he and a roommate killed friend and fellow club kid Andre “Angel” Melendez.

Sometimes, when a party goes sideways, it can bring out the figurative monsters inside all of us. Other times, when a party goes sideways, literal monsters come crawling out of the ground. That’s what happened at this year’s Burning Man when heavy rains awakened bizarre, three-eyed crustaceans in the Nevada Desert.

Tiny Three-Eyed “Dinosaur Shrimp” Emerge Among Burning Man’s Heavy Rains

Burning Man is an annual week-long event held in the Black Rock Desert in northwestern Nevada. It has been described by attendees, promoters, and reporters as equal parts art festival, religious experience, and unfettered party in the desert. Where your experience of Burning Man falls on that spectrum likely has a lot to do with how you approach it. Though, it also has something to do with the weather.

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The event takes place every year in the days leading up to Labor Day and culminates in the burning of a large wooden effigy popularly known as The Man. This year, festivities were disrupted by heavy rains which left thousands of people stranded and the titular event delayed.

While rains may have dampened the spirits of festival attendees, it was a welcome balm for a population of tiny three-eyed crustaceans called triops, that call the desert home. Crustaceans generally prefer wet environs and triops are no different, so you’d be understandably surprised to see thousands of them emerging from the desert muck.

Tadpole shrimp

Triops have an unusual survival strategy, slumbering through years or longer between generations, time-hopping into the future one storm at a time. They can be found in some of the driest places in the world and only appear on the rare occasions when lots of rain falls all at once. In truth, the triops were there the whole time, they were just waiting for the right moment.

When triops lay eggs, those eggs don’t immediately start developing. First, they pay attention to the environment around them. If conditions are nice and wet, they go ahead and develop, hatch, and reproduce themselves. If conditions are too dry, however, they arrest their development, seal themselves up, and wait for better times. When dried out, the eggs enter a kind of stasis known as diapause during which their development is delayed. In this state, they can tolerate incredibly high temperatures (higher even than the average temperature of the desert) and they can survive in that state for years or decades.

Once the rains return and their nesting ground is moistened enough, the eggs wake up, develop, and hatch. Once hatched, they live for about 90 days or as long as their temporary pools stick around. During that time they lay their own eggs, which most likely hunker down and wait for the next storm.

The success of a party, it turns out, is all about perspective. And no matter how you feel about mud, this year was a Burning Man to remember, both for the people and for the triops.

Catch Party Monster streaming now on Peacock!