As the revelers of the rain-drenched Burning Man 2023 begin to depart, an uncanny spectacle of nature is preparing to take center stage. The aftermath of Tropical Storm Hilary transformed the typically arid Nevada desert into a vast muddy expanse, trapping thousands of festival-goers and prompting an urgent call for conservation of resources. Yet, amid the disorder, the unusual moisture has awakened an array of peculiar organisms, long dormant in the parched lake bed, ready to seize the spotlight as the human festivities wind down.
The Black Rock Desert’s unexpected deluge has roused the Triops, colloquially known as the ‘three-eyed dinosaur shrimp,’ and its crustacean compatriot, the fairy shrimp, more popularly dubbed ‘sea monkeys.’ These miniature marvels, often unnoticed in the desert’s usual dryness, are extremophiles, capable of surviving years-long droughts by remaining as eggs in the dry sediment, awaiting the perfect flood conditions to hatch and surface. As the festival’s human attendees make their exit, these ancient creatures are just beginning their own peculiar party.
Desert Deluge Unleashes Dormant Desert Dwellers at Burning Man
As the Burning Man 2023 festival draws to a close, the unexpected deluge from Tropical Storm Hilary has not only left the Nevada desert a muddy chaos, but also unearthed a host of bizarre organisms. As thousands of festival-goers were left stranded due to the closure of entrances, the unusual wet weather stirred up more than just inconvenience, it woke up creatures that have been dormant for decades in the dried-out lake bed.
Rain Rouses Triops and Fairy Shrimp
Among the strange creatures emerging from the saturated playa are the ‘three-eyed dinosaur shrimp’, or Triops, and the fairy shrimp, also known as sea monkeys. Triops, relatives of the oldest living creature triops cancriformis, sport two main eyes and a pit organ – their ‘third eye’. This organ is common among insects and aids in detecting changes in light. Fairy shrimp, scientifically named Branchiopoda, are translucent crustaceans found in vernal pools and hypersaline lakes worldwide. Both Triops and fairy shrimp are extremophiles, capable of surviving years-long droughts.
Life Cycle Triggered by Rain
The life cycle of these creatures is fascinating. They survive in the dry sediment as eggs, remaining dormant until floods provide the necessary conditions for them to hatch and surface. While these organisms might seem strange to newcomers at Burning Man, returning visitors to the Black Rock playa are familiar with this phenomenon.
Education and Conservation Efforts
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Friends of Nevada Wilderness, a group that supports the BLM’s Winnemucca District, attend the festival to educate visitors about these unique desert dwellers. They teach festival-goers about the playa’s "cultural, historic, and natural features, including the threatened fairy shrimp that hatch during spring floods", according to the BLM.
Clearing Up and Clamouring for Life
While the festival cleanup begins, the life cycle of the Triops and fairy shrimp is just starting. It takes a little over a week for these creatures to start producing eggs. However, their survival is a race against time, as any crustacean caught on the playa when it dries won’t survive as well as their eggs.
The unexpected deluge at Burning Man 2023 has not only caused chaos for festival-goers but has also brought to light the remarkable resilience and adaptation of desert dwelling organisms like the Triops and fairy shrimp. These creatures, capable of surviving in extreme conditions, exemplify the incredible diversity and adaptability of life on Earth. As climate patterns continue to change, their survival strategies offer valuable insights into how life might persist in changing environments.