|Image: Antonio Guillén|
Water Fleas are over 600 species of teeny-weeny, itsy-bitsy crustaceans in the order Cladocera. They can be found in great abundance in just about every single lake, river or pond in the world, either swimming freely or attached to a surface. Some can tolerate the saltiness of brackish water and there are also a few marine species.
|Image: Biopix, N Sloth|
A belly soars over the riverbed in search of food
|Image: Biopix, N Sloth|
The wings of this graceful belly have a feathery appearance that belie their muscular power
For this reason, Water Fleas don't have jet packs. They must instead make do with a huge pair of feathery antennae that are used to swim in a jittery, jumpy manner, like an excited corgi. Or those things you get on corgis... fleas. Only in water.
They don't drink blood, though - most Water Fleas aren't so picky. They'll eat any kind of detritus or tiny algae they can find. Along with the big, swimming antennae are another pair of tiny antennae to sense their surroundings, plus one compound eye. Everything else is usually encased in a shell called the carapace. Some of the 4 or 5 pairs of legs beat to create a tiny current that gets food in there, while the other legs act as filters to ensure nothing too big gets though.
|Image: Daniel Stoupin, Microworlds|
The belly is actually a shell that encases the whole body
|Image: Carolina Biological Supply Company via Flickr|
So transparent you can see not just the eye, but the eye muscles!
Sounds pretty drunk already...
Something else you often see within that carapace are eggs. Almost all Water Fleas hatch as even tinier versions of the adults, without having to go through a larval stage.
|Image: Hajime Watanabe|
Lots of eggs in a brood pouch beneath the carapace
I guess it's not so bad. When conditions begin to falter and it starts getting hot or it starts getting cold or the place is generally not as nice as it used to be, the females will start to produce male eggs.
|Image: Specious Reasons via Flickr|
Females again produce eggs, but this time they're covered in a shell that allows them to survive until liveable conditions return.
Some Water Fleas can use this to survive in deserts! The most extreme ones live in salt pans, where old lakes have dried up in desert heat to leave behind an expanse of salt and other minerals. Somewhere in the glistening aridity are Water Flea eggs, waiting to hatch when the next rains come.
|Image: Carl Zeiss Microscopy via Flickr|
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