Shield Shrimp emerge as drought turns to floods

Sharon Barass took a photo of this shield shrimp at Namarva, south of Winton.
Sharon Barass took a photo of this shield shrimp at Namarva, south of Winton.

The North West Queensland floods have wreaked a trail of devastation across the region but there is always something to lighten the gloom.

A few weeks ago Sharon Barass told the Who Got the Rain Facebook page she had measured 253.5mm at Namarva property, 90km south of Winton.

But there was more.

"(I) went for a walk and seen these little guys. Smiling at me," Sharon said, adding a photo of a strange water creature with what appeared to be a smiley face.

Ms Barass she said she'd never seen such a thing before.

Immediately someone posted a comment asking Ms Barass if she knew what it was.

Shield Shrimp, or Triops australiensis, are "the most strange looking and distinctive of all desert crustaceans" Photo: Sharon Barass.

Shield Shrimp, or Triops australiensis, are "the most strange looking and distinctive of all desert crustaceans" Photo: Sharon Barass.

"Some kind of inland shrimp," she replied and before long the wisdom of the crowds was adding to the story as the photo was shared over 800 times.

Daniel Johnson identified it as a shield shrimp and posted a Queensland museum link giving information about it.

Shield Shrimp, or Triops australiensis, are "the most strange looking and distinctive of all desert crustaceans", the Queensland Museum said, and they occur over much of inland Australia.

"Populations of these peculiar creatures explode following rain, and they can be found teeming in the temporary pools and water filled clay pans," the Museum said.

These olive green to brown creatures grow to 90mm long and belong to a group of crustaceans called "branchiopods", which means that they possess up to 60 leaf-like, lobed feet, each bearing a gill plate to enable them to breathe.

Shield shrimp possess up to 60 leaf-like, lobed feet, each bearing a gill plate to enable them to breathe. Photo: Sharon Barass.

Shield shrimp possess up to 60 leaf-like, lobed feet, each bearing a gill plate to enable them to breathe. Photo: Sharon Barass.

The "shield" is a carapace that protects the head and frontal portion of the multi-segmented body.

Females carry their eggs under the body but otherwise the sexes are alike. The eggs are highly resistant to drying out, and they can survive for many years in the desert clay before hatching.

When it rains, temporary pools crop up all over the arid ground and the shield shrimp springs to life, as Ms Barass observed.