The Strange, True Story of Sea-Monkeys revealed in new Eco Kids “Tiny Wildlife” Special

The advertisements for Sea-Monkeys promised you: pink, web-footed ‘instant sea animals’ with smiling faces and crown-like horns. You received: a packet of dust!

That’s if you ordered Sea-Monkeys, the brainchild of Harold von Braunhut, from an American comic ad in decades past. The ads promised they’d play Hide and Seek. You could train them to do stunts at your command.

But the creatures that hatched were neither monkeys nor from the sea. They were barely visible… and died after a couple of days.

JD Savage tells the strange story of sea-monkeys in the new Eco Kids Planet Tiny Wildlife special, on sale now. A kind of brine shrimp that doesn’t exist in nature, created by a man who also sold ‘invisible goldfish’ – and how he improved them.

In his feature on the phenomenon for Mental Floss, Jake Rosen notes the Sea-Monkeys got their biggest boost in the early 1970s, when comic book artist Joe Orlando drew the most famous Sea-Monkeys advertisement ever – a depiction of an entire Sea-Monkey family with human facial features.

Art credited to Joe Orlando

“There was a disclaimer,” notes Jake, “‘Caricatures shown not intended to depict Artemia salina’ but kids, who are not known for reading the fine print, were captivated. They could buy vitamins for their Sea-Monkeys, a mating powder that was supposed to make for some kind of Sea-Monkey date night, and a banana treat.”

Joseph “Joe” Orlando (4th April 1927 – 23rd December 1998) was an Italian American illustrator, writer, editor and cartoonist during a lengthy career spanning six decades. He was the associate publisher of Mad and the vice president of DC Comics, where he edited numerous titles and ran DC’s Special Projects department.

Citing game inventor and author Tim Walsh’s book, Ant Farm and Sea-Monkeys, (information possibly repeated in his easier to find Timeless Toys: Classic Toys and the Playmakers Who Created Them), Wikipedia notes Orlando also worked in toy design, packaging and advertising; and sales of Harold von Braunhut‘s Sea-Monkeys escalated considerably after Orlando drew his series of unusual advertisements visualising the creatures’ enchanted and peaceful undersea kingdom.

Sea-Monkeys Ad
A Sea-Monkeys ad, art believed to be by Joe Orlando
A restored version of the Sea-Monkey ad with thanks to Allan Harvey

In 1992, the short-lived live-action television show The Amazing Live Sea Monkeys with Howie Mandel used special effects make-up designs based on the character concepts created by Orlando for his Sea Monkeys illustrations.

If someone out there knows if Orlando drew all the ads, do let us know!

Despite the reality behind the Sea-Monkeys as misleadingly advertised – and still on sale today, in the US and Canada – that didn’t stop millions from wondering what they were, or marvelling at the charming images of the Sea-Monkeys, a fascination that still holds sway today for many. Who, aged nine or ten, read the small print effectively admitting the caricatures were a big fib?

A series of colourful and informative kids’ nature magazines aimed at 7-11year-olds, Eco Kids Planet aims to introduce children to the wonders of nature, and encourage them to protect their planet.

Eco Kids Planet Special Issue 80
Eco Kids Planet Special Issue 80 - Amelia the Fox by Ricky K. Chandler
“Amelia the Fox” by Ricky K. Chandler

Along with “Amelia the Fox” strip by Ricky K. Chandler, in Issue 80, a “Tiny Wildlife” Special, JD Savage brings you the stories of bacteria that poo gold and electricity, and the hidden world inside dust! Half-a-milimetre-long sea creatures that ooze glue and build elaborate homes by sticking teeny grains of sand together! The spider-like creatures that live, eat and mate on your face! Interviews with the variety of animals living in a dead tree!

Plus lots more mini-marvels for nature-loving kids, available to order online here from the Eco Kids Planet web site.


• Author John Hemry tells us one of the Sea-Monkey ads made an appearance (at the 1:57 point) in the official lyric video for an Andy Grammer song!

• Cartoonist Lew Stringer notes Sea-Monkeys were given away free with the first issue Target magazine, back in 1972. The ones I had lived for a few weeks until the sachet of food (free in issue 2) ran out,” he tells us

• “I bought some from an ad like this when I was a kid,” reader Mark Williamson recalls. “It was my first experience of feeling ‘betrayed’ by an advert, and cost me a month’s pocket money. In hindsight, the lesson I learned was well worth it, but at the time I was bitterly disappointed to find that you can’t train a brine shrimp.”

With thanks to JD Savage for the heads up

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