"Temporary Ponds: a natural habitat to be protected!"

Crustaceans - Large Branchiopoda

> Chirocephalus diaphanus

Order: Anostraca (“fairy shrimp”)

Fairy-shrimp are temporary freshwater crustaceans adapted to very concrete conditions of the aquatic environment and with very strict tolerances to certain environmental factors and are therefore considered good ecological indicators.

They differ from the remaining Branchiopodes due to the lack of carapace. This temporary freshwater crustaceans can reach a maximum length of 3.7cm.

Crustaceans of the order Anostraca, have separated sexes but with a clear sexual dimorphism, that is, the males and the females have a different aspect. Males have retractable penis and antennas developed to grab the female during intercourse. The females have smaller antennas and have a long ventral conical ovissac that can reach the level of the 6th abdominal segment. It is in this ovissac that the eggs mature and are stored until their release.

These temporary freshwater crustaceans live in temporary pponds with few or no predators. One very interesting feature is that these fairy-shrimp swim freely with the belly upwards throughout the water column.

Movement, respiration and feeding are done together by toracopods beating which remove particles from the water column, such as phytoplankton, protozoa, organic debris or even clay particles because they have some organic matter in their composition. These foods accumulate in the alimentary canal and are pushed to the mouth with the help of the first toracopods.

In the image it is possible to observe a Male (up) and a Female (down).

Other caracteristics are ilustrated in the next image.

Ref: Adaptado de Alonso, M.1996. Crustacea, Branchiopoda. In Fauna Ibérica (eds, Ramos, M.A., Alba, J., Bellés, X., Gonsálbes, J., Guerra, A., Macpherson, E., Martin, F., Serrano, J. & Templado, J.), 7: 1-486. Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales-CSIC, Madrid.

Life cycle:

The active stage of the life cycle unfolds during the flood phase of the biotope, lasting from little more than 1 month to just over 3 months.


They are filterers because they swim freely in the water column "filtering" what they find, namely phytoplankton, protozoa, organic debris or even clay particles because they have in their composition some organic matter that serves as food.


Sexual maturation is reached between 2 and 9 weeks after hatching. Fertilization is internal. Before releasing them, the females store the cysts in the ovissaco. The cysts are spherical, reddish and well visible in the ovissac. The number of cysts per posture is directly related to the size of the female.

Cysts of Chirocephalus diaphanus - Photo of Margarida Cristo

Nauplius of Chirocephalus diaphanus - Photo of Margarida Cristo

It is found in several type of temporary freshwater systems, namely in the Mediterranean Temporary Ponds (Priority Habitat 3170 - Directive 92/43/CEE), ditches, flooded fields and abandoned quarries.


It is a palearctic specie. It has a wide distribution in Portugal.


The threats to this species are directly related to the loss and degradation of its habitat. Up to this date it has no legal protection status.


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