Are Sea Monkeys a Scam? Or Just Clever Marketing?

Sea monkeys are a great example of marketing genius (or evil marketing for some). Sea monkeys were "invented by" Harold von Braunhut in the 1950s. The eggs can survive for long periods of time without water. When added to water they soon hatch. Von Braunhut, a mail order marketer, saw an opportunity to market them as mail order pets.

"a BOWLFULL OF HAPPINESS—Instant PETS"

And it worked. Sea monkeys are still a popular children's product that are sold in Toys R Us and other toy stores. In addition to the initial kits, which come with sea monkey eggs, water purifier, food and a container, the company behind sea monkeys also sells additional food packets, vitamins, air pumps, toys and even a diploma "certifying you as a Sea-Monkey Scientist."

Not only that, sea monkeys have become a part of popular culture. The Pixies have a song about them called Palace Of The Brine. References have been made to them in shows like South Park, The Simpsons, Spin City and Desperate Housewives. Howie Mandel even appeared in a quickly canceled early 90's series called The Amazing Live Sea Monkeys.

What Are Sea Monkeys

Sea monkeys are a type of brine shrimp. These tiny crustaceans produce dormant eggs called cysts that can be stored for long periods of time before being hatched. They're commonly used as fish food. Many pet supply stores sell the shrimp in bulk for significantly less than the cost of a sea monkey kit. Hence the claim that sea monkeys are a scam.

Sea monkeys or brine shrimp
Sea monkeys or brine shrimp

The Marketing of Sea Monkeys

Marketing brine shrimp as pets might not have worked well. Renaming them sea monkeys and portraying them as human-like did. The sea monkeys marketed in comic books showed beings with bows on their heads who lived in palaces.

USA Today Pop Candy writer Whitney Matheson in her humorous article The Truth About Sea Monkeys joked:

"Contrary to this illustration, female sea-monkeys do not wear lipstick."

She went on to say:

"If you've ever seen a box of sea monkeys, you've probably seen the creatures illustrated as very human-like, wearing clothes and playing tennis and such. The truth is, sea-monkeys do none of this!"

What Are Sea Monkeys?

Do you think sea monkeys are a scam?

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So, Are Sea Monkeys a Scam?

Clever marketing, yes. Deceptive, yes. Whether they're a scam or not probably depends on how people feel about marketing, especially to children. They are actually a lot of fun for kids. My daughter enjoyed hatching her sea monkeys. She also enjoys caring for them. We have a fish and realized we don't need to bother buying sea monkey food. They're thriving on fish food.

If you plan to get sea monkeys for your kids, prepare them in advance. They will imagine little monkeys in a bowl. Show them what they actually will get. You really don't need any of the extras that will be advertised in your sea monkey kit. It will be cheaper to buy food and purifier from a pet store.

Sea monkeys/brine shrimp are interesting to learn about. And they're a good lesson for children on the dishonesty of marketing and how marketers try to convince us to buy things. It's important for parents to teach their kids how the world really works.

Evan Hughes, in his article The Shocking True Tale Of The Mad Genius Who Invented Sea-Monkeys says:

"Von Braunhut had the knack for making facts go away. Look at the hands, lose sight of the feet. The man made a lot of us believe that we could see through clothes, that smiling underwater pets would arrive in the mailbox. He made us believe in invisible goldfish."

The Dark Side of Harold von Braunhut

Despite being Jewish, the late von Braunhut was a supporter of the Aryan Nation and Ku Klux Klan (KKK). Sadly, this probably wasn't hugely controversial to many people in the 1950s. However, his support for Nazism would have been. He said Hitler “just got bad press."

Palace of the Brine by The Pixies

© 2013 Learn Things Web

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Comments 10 comments

macteacher profile image

macteacher 3 years ago from New York

This is one of those mysteries I've always wondered about, but never gave much thought. When I was a kid the idea of having a bunch of little monkeys floating around in a water bowl kind of repulsed me. LOL.

Now I know everything...and have been spared the ordeal of having to order them. Thanks for an informative and interesting hub. Voted up!


Learn Things Web profile image

Learn Things Web 3 years ago from California Author

Thanks macteacher. Unfortunately a lot of kids really are susceptible to this kind of marketing, even though monkeys in a bowl of water is kind of dumb when you think about it.


Ann1Az2 profile image

Ann1Az2 2 years ago from Orange, Texas

It is amazing that I happened to read this hub at this particular time. I bought a triops kit at the dollar store about 2 months ago. It was only $5 and looked kind of cool and I'm a kid at heart, so my husband said get it and we'll see. So, about 8 days later, a triops appeared - he was cool swimming around and eating the food we gave him. 2 days later, something else hatched that didn't look anything like a triops, but we couldn't figure out what it was. It was smaller, so we heeded the warning in the instructions that said larger triops would eat smaller ones. about a week later, we noticed our triops was torn in half and partly eaten. Whatever this thing was, it was aggressive. My husband said it looked like a shrimp, but it never occurred to either one of us it was a brine shrimp. It looks just like your picture. Apparently, some brine shrimp eggs got mixed in with the triops eggs. So said they are aggressive little critters! Thanks so much for enlightening us!


Learn Things Web profile image

Learn Things Web 2 years ago from California Author

Ann1Az2,

That's really interesting and a little disturbing. I've actually been thinking about getting triops since all our sea monkeys have passed away. Hopefully nothing terrible will happen to them.


Ann1Az2 profile image

Ann1Az2 2 years ago from Orange, Texas

Just so you know, bigger triops eat little ones. You may wind up with one or two when all is said and done.


Learn Things Web profile image

Learn Things Web 2 years ago from California Author

Ann1Az2,

Is it something kids would notice or do they just disappear without any half eaten bodies left behind?


Ann1Az2 profile image

Ann1Az2 2 years ago from Orange, Texas

I don't really know because I haven't raised any yet - just the triops and the brine shrimp which as you know didn't turn out well. I have a teacher friend who raised the triops as a class project and I didn't ask the question about the half eaten bodies, nor does the kit I bought have any enlightenment on that subject. However, as you probably know, kids are very perceptive.


Learn Things Web profile image

Learn Things Web 2 years ago from California Author

Ann1Az2,

They are and mine are oversensitive types.


Ann1Az2 profile image

Ann1Az2 2 years ago from Orange, Texas

Whether there are any bodies left or not, they will probably still wonder what happened to them. Then, what do you say??


Learn Things Web profile image

Learn Things Web 2 years ago from California Author

They've lost enough fish that they understand death. But torn up bodies would disturb them.

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