"If the EcoSphere® represents our planet on a small scale, the shrimp might represent the human race. Thus, EcoSphere can show that the human race is in constant jeopardy of extinction. We can learn, through the EcoSphere, the importance of maintaining the delicate balance with our environment."
The EcoSphere resulted from technology developed by scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory while researching self-contained communities for astronauts to live in during long-term space flights. Today, EcoSpheres are sold by EcoSphere Associates, Inc, a family-owned and operated business located in Tucson, Arizona (I've seen them in shops, but they don't look very healthy there so I think it's better to get them directly from the source). If you ask them nicely and give them lots of money, they'll make you a custom microcosm up to 39 inches in diameter.
Someone gave me one of these for Christmas. I keep it in my office. It's oddly soothing to watch the shrimp go about their business, which seems to consist mostly of eating things I can't see. This particular species of shrimp was apparently chosen for its lack of aggression. They don't seem to interact much with each other, although clearly they've been doing things while I haven't been looking. Lots of young shrimp, each about a millimeter long, have appeared over the last week or so. They now outnumber the adults by at least three to one.
The average life expectancy of an EcoSphere is two to three years, but the life expectancy of the shrimp used in the spheres is five years. The oldest EcoSpheres with living shrimp still in them are over ten years old. Some systems without shrimp are still alive after 18 years.
While they're alive, the shrimp feed on the algae, bacteria, and diatoms that grow in the water. The gravel and gorgonia provide surface area for the microorganisms to live on. The microorganisms feed on shrimp excrement and on the shrimp themselves, when the shrimp inevitably die.
- An EcoSphere needs light, but not in excessive amounts. Six to twelve hours per day, with an intensity suitable for reading from low indirect window light, should suffice. Too much light will cause rapid algae growth, which will raise the pH of the water and kill the shrimp.
- Keep your EcoSphere at temperatures between 60 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. The shrimp, like you, don't enjoy being too cold or too warm.
- Don't keep it near a window.
- Do not handle the EcoSphere excessively or keep it near anything (such as a television or a stereo or a light fixture) that will generate heat.
- Do not shake it, drop it, or otherwise treat it roughly.
- If there's too much algae (a green EcoSphere is not necessarily a healthy EcoSphere), keep it someplace darker for a while. Don't let it go without light for more than about 60 hours, though.
Things you might see:
- Film or spots on the inside of the glass: this is made by diatoms, and is no cause for alarm.
- Condensation on the inside of the glass: an EcoSphere is like a little greenhouse. The condensation means it's warmer inside the sphere than outside.
- Exoskeletons: the shrimp periodically shed their skins.
- A gradual shift in the algae population. Older EcoSpheres tend to have more blue-green algae, as the green algae eventually uses up certain nutrients that it needs to thrive.
- Baby shrimp! This is apparently rare, but it does happen. I have proof in my office. Watch this space for the dismaying conclusion to this epic tale of ecological doom!
- March 10, 2003: One of the adults is belly-up on the gravel this morning. I am curious to see how long it will take to be recycled.
- March 12, 2003: Two more dead adults this morning. There's only one adult left. There are still plenty of live babies.
- March 14, 2003: The last of the adults is dead. Some of the babies may be dead too. It's hard to tell if those little floating scraps are exoskeletons or corpses.
- March 18, 2003: All the shrimp are dead. They went a lot faster than I thought they would. The water is all cloudy. Yuck.
For more information: www.eco-sphere.com