Sea-Monkeys is a brand name for brine shrimp—a group of crustaceans that undergo cryptobiosis—sold in hatching kits as novelty aquarium pets. Developed in 1957 by Harold von Braunhut, the product was heavily marketed, especially in comic books, and remains a presence in popular culture.
16 May is National Sea-Monkey Day in the United States.
Ant farms had been popularised in 1956 by Milton Levine. Harold von Braunhut invented a brine-shrimp-based product the next year, 1957.
Von Braunhut collaborated with marine biologist Dr. Anthony D’Agostino to develop the proper mix of nutrients and chemicals in dry form that could be added to plain tap water to create a purified habitat for the shrimp to thrive. Von Braunhut was granted a patent for this process.
Initially called “Instant Life” von Braunhut changed the name to “Sea-Monkeys” in 1962.
The new name was based on the supposed resemblance of the animals’ tails to those of monkeys, and their salt-water habitat.
Sea-Monkeys were intensely marketed in comic books using illustrations by the comic-book illustrator Joe Orlando. These showed humanoid animals that bear no resemblance to the crustaceans.
Many purchasers were disappointed by the dissimilarity, and by the short lifespan of the animals.
Von Braunhut is quoted as stating: “I think I bought something like 3.2 million pages of comic book advertising a year. It worked beautifully”.