For some kids, a kitten was not enough - they wanted something that depended on them, that was always there when you fancied playing with them, and that looked, well, freaky! For that reason - and the fact Mum had banned worms being brought into the house - Sea Monkeys became the pet of choice for kids in the 70s - especially for those who'd surpassed the likes of Lego and instead wanted to create something living or to simply play God by ruling over an entire race.
Anyone who was reading comic books, like House Of Hammer and even Misty, in those days will surely remember the colourful adverts for Sea Monkeys that seemed to be on every other page. They never seemed to point out that Sea Monkeys weren't 'actually' monkeys, but something rather less thrilling - freeze-dried brine shrimp that survived in salt-water environments. Oblivious to this and the fact that the real thing bore absolutely no resemblance to the colourful, anthropomorphic characters in the adverts, kids were just enthralled at the prospect of watching something grow in their bedrooms (apart from the mould on their socks). Most didn't notice the small-print disclaimer on the ads, stating, 'Caricatures shown not intended to depict Artemia' (Latin name for brine shrimp). The adverts even claimed that you could train your new pets to perform tricks - but they didn't mean 'play dead' which most of them seemed to have no problem with.
The mad scientist-like creator behind Sea Monkeys (and X-Ray Specs) was Harold von Braunhut. Spotting the fact that these brine shrimp had no use to anyone else, he developed a simple kit to help aspiring biologists or taxidermists bring them to life. Hence, Honey Toy Industries marketed the kit under the name Instant Life back in 1957 (and later on in the UK Artful Arties). But kids weren't ready for the level of responsibility back then, so Instant Life sales flopped - just like most Sea Monkeys did eventually.
It wasn't until the Sea Monkeys were marketed as actual pets and fun-time creatures that kids began to take an interest. And once the accessories were produced - including Ocean Zoos, where they lived and even Sea Monkey Speedway, Ski Trails and a Fox Hunt (all exploiting the fact Sea Monkeys naturally swim against the current) - there was no stopping the sales... until more-advanced kids grew cynical of their potential for pets and went on to dissuade younger enthusiasts of the Sea Monkeys lacking potential. Boo!
Luckily, like most pearls of the 80s, von Braunhut's little creation had a resurgence in the 90s and are still on sale today. So, how does it work?
To start the process, the 'water purifier' package is added to water on day one. The kid is typically unaware that this package already contains eggs in addition to the salt. At day two, he or she adds the eggs package, containing Epsom salts, borax and soda ash, in addition to eggs, yeast, and sometimes a blue or green dye. The dye is used to enhance the experience by making the freshly hatched animals more visible. The Sea-Monkeys seen on the fifth day after adding the 'eggs package' are derived from the eggs added with the 'purifier' package. The food package is a mixture of Spirulina and dried yeast. The 'boost' packages mainly contains salts, which induce increased sexual activity in artemia.
Everyone now knows the adverts are incredibly misleading, but it seems we have enough imagination to still believe these white blobs floating around in a tank are a family of Sea Monkeys who manage to have great adventures right before your very eyes... (ahem). Oh, by the way, have you heard about the australian company, Little Aussie Products, which is now selling 'Itsy Bitsy Sea Dragons' to rival Sea Monkeys?