Post 4 – Walk Along the Water
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Ever heard of Sea Monkeys? Those little guys are brine shrimp! You can see them in the lake if you walk down to the water’s edge, but there is also a brine shrimp display in the Visitor Center if you don’t want to get your feet wet!
The lake is too salty to support fish and most aquatic life, so a unique ecosystem has developed. Brine shrimp, brine flies, and several types of algae are the only species that can survive the lake’s hyper-saline waters. The brine shrimp and flies feed on the algae, and in turn provide food for thousands of species of migratory birds.
There are also reefs in Great Salt Lake, but they are not made of coral like most reefs in the ocean. While true coral is an animal, the reefs in Great Salt Lake are made of algae that builds bulbous sedimentary rock structures called algal bioherms, or stromatolites. The buoys that you see out on the lake guide boats away from these reefs and through deeper water channels.
Along the shoreline of the lake, you can see evidence of the different stages of these two species’ life cycles. Brine flies spend much of their lives underwater, as larvae. When they hatch out of their pupal casings they float to the surface of the lake in an air bubble, and their discarded pupal casings wash up along the water’s edge. Brine shrimp eggs, also called “cysts,” can be found along the shoreline too. These cysts are harvested commercially, primarily to be used as fish food.
During the warmer months of the year, you will see brine flies along the edge of the lake. Their massive numbers may seem intimidating, but they do not bite and tend to move away if you come near them. If you want to walk into the water, just walk right through them. The quantity of brine flies decreases the farther away you get from the shore.
You may also see gulls enjoying an easy meal by running through clouds of brine flies with their bills wide open! Over 5 million birds representing 257 species visit the lake each year. The constantly changing shoreline of the lake has created a large ring of marshlands around it, and birds use the marshlands as stopovers when migrating and for nesting.