Fairy shrimps – an exciting new find in Oxfordshire

Fairy shrimp from an Oxfordshire temporary pond (it's not upside down!)

The English Fairy shrimp (Chirocephalus diaphanus). Photo copyright Jean-François Cart.

Exiting news from correspondent John Woolliams of Fairy Shrimps in Oxfordshire.

These inch long animals are rare inhabitants of temporary ponds that dry out in summer – usually in the least polluted, semi-natural landscapes – well-known spots for these animals are the heathland ponds of the New Forest and pools made by tanks on the extensive chalk grasslands of Salisbury Plain. Both places are notable for having escaped the 20th centuries intensification of farming and its associated water polluting chemicals.

Over the country as a whole Fairy Shrimps have probably been seen in less than 50 ponds over the last 50 years – and they are so distinctive its hard to mistake them for anything else so we can be pretty sure they really are this rare.

What’s exiting about the new find is this is the only place in Oxfordshire where they are currently known – it’s on the edge of ancient woodland in the north-west of the county.

Fairy shrimps – the species is almost certainly Chirocephalus diaphanus [ky-ro-ke-fa-luss di-a-fa-nus], the only species known from the UK at present – are dependent completely on ponds: they never occur in permanent lakes or rivers where they would quickly be snapped up by fish or washed away.

They glide gracefully through the water on their backs, filtering tiny particles from the water. As their preferred ponds dry out in summer the eggs produced by the adults drop to the bottom to lie in the mud, waiting to hatch when the water returns.

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