Thursday, February 1, 2007

Aquasaur, Thy Name Is Patsy!

For Christmas my 7 year old daughter wanted an "Aquasaur" kit that she saw advertised in a catalog. In very carefully penned block lettering she beguilingly wrote "May I pretty PLEASE with shugar on top get this for Christmas?" You would no more refuse her innocent longing than I did. And besides, the ad says "With flat heads, three eyes, skeletons on the outside of their bodies, sharp lateral fins, and forked tails, they are the epicenter of a child's world." Well, slap my face and sign me up!

For the unintiated, "Aquasaurs" are ugly little prehistoric-looking crustaceans that can grow from dormant eggs to about two inches in length over the course of a few weeks. The species has supposedly been around for over 250 million years and resemble something between a trilobite and a horseshoe crab. They arrive as a packet of eggs which can survive in a dormant state for years, until some unsuspecting fool (that would be me) brings them into his life. For behold! When you substantially alter your once-comfortable daily routines to patiently nurture along their life cycle ("kootchie-kootchie-koo!"), you will be rewarded with the experience of watching them hatch, eat each other, somehow excrete way more than they consume, and magically lose the attentions and affection of your child within days.

They arrive in a package with a plastic bowl and a handful of gravel. A stick-on thermometer alerts you to the possibility that there may be more at stake here than simply dropping in the eggs and coming back next week. The accompanying instruction manual soon makes clear that there's work to be done. The water must be spring, not tap, it must be kept betwen 72 and 80 degrees (a lamp with a 60 watt bulb is recommended, "not included"), the water must be changed regularly, etc.

Beyond dumping a half-teaspoon of tiny eggs into the water there's nothing much to do initially but wait a few days to see if anything happens. Pay close attention, because 95% of all the excitement that this project will bring occurs in the initial suspense of waiting to find out if any of the eggs will hatch.

Then, on the third day, the house is filled with little girl squeals and everybody will race to observe the magic of scores of little wiggly thingies banging around the gallon bowl. They look to me uncomfortably like spermatozoa racing around like fiends searching for something to break into. Now is the time to dump in a few fish pellets and ring the dinner bell. Initially the pellets are larger than these little creature-monsters but we're all confidant they'll figure out what to do.

Their solution, apparently bred indelibly into their genetic structure over hundreds of milions of years, is to eat each other. By the next day there are half as many and they are twice as large. Darwin in action. A teaching moment! "You see, honey, in nature all the big things eat all the little things. It's all part of the circle of....stuff." The manual enigmatically informs us the life cycle of these little buggers is "20 to 90 days", so there is definitely a hint of impending drama about the whole affair.

Each day the process continued: fewer, bigger, uglier survivors than the day before. It's obvious that some of the little monsters hatched a day or two after the first round did, and that the bullies of the Aquasaur schoolyard have already firmly established their turf between the plastic volcano and....well, everything else.

We have a goldfish (which I named "Fishy Fishy Fishy Fish" after an obscure Monty Python routine), who has lived very contentedly (I can just tell) in a small bowl for more years than I can remember. I change his water every month or so. These brutish Aquasaurs will have none of that. It has to be fresh water every two days for them, due to their favorite game of dying and quickly decomposing, causing the bowl to turn opaque and take on a slight smell that I imagine could be described as comfortingly prehistoric.

At first they were so tiny that any attempts to change the water resulted in the inevitable slaughter of innocent aquasaurs (don't you wish you had a nickle for every time you'd heard that phrase in your life!) As they grew that risk diminished, to be replaced by the growing prospect that I would simply and serenely chuck the whole lot of them down the toilet.

Casey dutifully put away her reading or computer game or drawing to "help" me clean the fetid water, but it soon became apparent that it's quite a procedure and I can most quickly get it over with by doing it by myself. I find that I both resent the task yet perform it with some sense of duty and perhaps even pride, like Gandhi cleaning the ashram latrines, I suppose.

By the end of last week there were only two left, and I named them Patsy and Loretta. As of this morning only stout Patsy remains, resting at the bottom of the bowl when she isn't squirming and swishing around looking for someone to eat. When I change the water she goes into little spastic flights around the bowl, which the manual whimily calls "aquabatics", allowing me distasteful glimpses of her creepy underbelly.

I have a packet and a half of Aquasaur eggs left, and if you'd like to take them off my hands I'm sure nobody in this household would mind. Who knows? Perhaps you will be the kind of loving parents who will, as advertised, "swell with pride.....and praise their accomplishments every time they shed another exoskeleton." As for our household, 250 million years may be just about the right amount of time before we do this again.

3 comments: said...

Hi im really sorry but I just got one for my child.
And when can I start changing the water?
I cant even see them?

Bill Herring said...

Abandon all hope, all ye who enter the world of Aquasaurs! Or flush them down the toilet and tell the kids they went to live on a nice farm in the country.....

Morty said...

Looked in on them after work on the third day and threw up a little in my mouth, they don't tell you how utterly unattractive these things are. Oof.