ESCONDIDO —The Escondido Creek Conservancy recently discovered fairy shrimp near Hidden Meadows at the Mountain Meadow Preserve. This elusive species is fairly uncommon in San Diego County due to the loss of preferred habitat — vernal pools.
And while they won’t grant you three wishes — as most vernal pools in San Diego have been destroyed by urban development — their discovery is quite magical.
Vernal pools are small depressions in the earth that fill up with water in the winter months. During that period, they spring to life with rare plants, amphibians, and other aquatic creatures.
In this case, the fairy shrimp (Branchinecta lindahli) were found in a road-rut on the preserve that had filled with water this spring—six pools total. While they aren’t natural vernal pools, they provided homes to tadpoles, plants, aquatic insects, and the elusive fairy shrimp.
The shrimp are known for their translucent bodies, swimming upside down and their unusual life cycle. They only live for about two months which is just enough time for the females to continue their legacy by laying eggs.
With enough rainfall, these eggs typically hatch around December. Although the eggs themselves have been known to last for up to 15 years without hatching—which is great in areas experiencing prolonged droughts.
San Diego County used to be home to more than 28,500 acres of vernal pool habitat. By the year 2001, fewer than 2,400 pools remained due to a rapid increase in development.
Their preservation has become a higher priority in recent years and thanks to the acquisition of Mountain Meadow Preserve by the conservancy — in partnership with the county of San Diego Department of Parks and Recreation and the U.S. Navy on behalf of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton — these pools will be protected in perpetuity.
The Conservancy hopes to restore these pools and utilize them as part of future education programs. For more information, visit escondidocreek.org and sdparks.org.