The Dark Origins Of ‘Sea-Monkeys’ Are Leaving Parents Seriously Uneasy

The Dark Origins Of

What do you do when your kid wants a pet but they’re not responsible — or financially stable — enough to take care of a dog? You turn to sea monkeys, of course! Aquatic specks that zip and zoom around a portable tank, they’re the perfect pals for a kid curious about the world. But before you fork over some cash to become a proud grandparent to sea monkeys, you might want to see what, exactly, they are — and the dark truth behind the man who first sold them.

Sea Monkeys

Their name has spread far and wide, but few people really know what sea monkeys are. They don’t live in the sea, and they’re far from what you would call monkeys. The truth is, they weren’t given the name until some time after their creation.

Photo by Chris Weeks/WireImage/Getty Images

Harold von Braunhut

It started with Harold von Braunhut back in 1957. He was notorious for selling the most ridiculous products, like x-ray glasses and invisible goldfish. Seeing the success of the ant farm in 1956, he eyed his own slice of the simple pet market.

X-Ray Glasses – Occhiali a Raggi X – X-Ray Specs – X Ray Goggles/Facebook


He looked to what were not yet called “sea monkeys” which were bred from a type of shrimp called “brine shrimp” in the 1950s. This explains their shape, of course; but it does not explain why we call them monkeys.

ML5 at English Wikipedia/Wikimedia Commons

Scientific Name

Well, the scientists that artificially created these creatures named them “Artemia NYOS,” a calling card based on the brine shrimp’s official moniker, artemia salina. That name wasn’t going to sell these creatures to anyone, so von Braunhut honed in on one specific trait of these shrimp to come up with a new name.

© Hans Hillewaert/CC BY-SA 4.0/Wikimedai Commons


See, the creatures have the capability to undergo cryptobiosis, which is when a being slows its internal systems down to a point that it almost seems dead — for decades or centuries even — but is still alive. They can survive in this way without oxygen. Exciting for sci-fi lovers…horrifying for the rest of us.

Photo by Chris Weeks/WireImage/Getty Images

Instant Life

Taking this into consideration, von Braunhut and his team discussed new names for Artemia NYOS, and landed on… “Instant Life.” The name made a lot of sense when you consider the way they were packaged and sold.


Just Fill

With “Instant Life,” all you needed to do was fill your tank with distilled water and a packet of “water purifier.” After letting the so-called purified water sit for 24 hours, you then pour in the packet of “live eggs.” Then, life instantly is born! Of course, this was all a marketing scam.


The Facts

See, there was no “instant life” being created the moment you pour the final “Live Eggs” packet in. In fact, if you were to do away with the packet, you would still have your odd aquatic pet — they were actually in the first packet. The key is in their cryptobiosis.

© Hans Hillewaert/CC BY-SA 4.0/Wikimedai Commons

Frozen Solid

Hidden in the back of distilled water were several of these genetically modified brine shrimp in a state of cryptobiosis, frozen without the need for food or water. Once poured into water, they seemingly “came to life” — but they were never dead!


Name to be changed

“Instant Life” sold for ¢49, but von Braunhut wasn’t satisfied with the name. Shortly after the turn of the decade in 1962, von Braunhut again changed the name, this time looking at a physical aspect of the creature for inspiration.


New Name

Looking at these shrimp’s somewhat ape-like tails, he dubbed his on-the-market pet “sea-monkeys.” Although they do have some sort of tail, it’s still very difficult to see any resemblance. Regardless, the name stuck. The pet was popularized by an unlikely medium.


Spread the Word

Throughout the ’60s and ’70s, comic book illustrator Joe Orlanda (below) portrayed sea monkeys in his works, though he drew them as humanoids and not shrimp. This was von Braunhut’s plan: “I think I bought something like 3.2 million pages of comic book advertising a year,” he said.

Scanned from Amazing World of DC Comics #6/Wikimedia Common

Rich and Famous

Sea-monkeys made Harold Von Braunhut rich and famous, and he elected to spend his money in the ways he saw fit. Most people buy a bigger home, a new car, or even go on vacation, btu Braunhut decided to donate his money… just not to a decent non-profit.

Great Big Story/YouTube

Hate Group

The marketer and inventor donated his money to the Aryan Brotherhood, despite being Jewish himself. People started looking closer at von Braunhut — and they saw he had some seriously dangerous connections.


Ties With Bad People

News leaked out of Von Braunhut’s ties with Neo-Nazis in an interview with Richard Butler, head of the Aryan Nations. Butler was facing charges in federal court and told his interviewer that von Braunhut was supporting him with funds from a new and dangerous invention.

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Kiyoga Agent M

After the success of sea-monkeys, Von Braunhut came up with the Kiyoga Agent M5, a pen-sized, coil-springed weapon that unfurled a metal whip at the flick of a wrist. It was marketed as the ideal weapon when “you need a gun but can’t get a license.” Von Braunhut used these earnings to support Neo-Nazis.

Dave Ward/Pinterest


Von Braunhut not only supported white supremacist groups financially, he also participated. He held a funeral service for Butler’s wife, calling himself an ordained priest. As shocking as all this is, there was so much more.


Disgraceful Beliefs

Harold von Braunhut reportedly stated that “Hitler wasn’t a bad guy, he just got bad press.” If his own sinister affiliations didn’t tarnish his reputation — and that of the sea monkeys — then this twisted proclamation sure did.

My Cool Nostalgia/YouTube

Public Knowledge

All of von Braunhut’s close ties with white supremacist groups became public knowledge when he died in 2003. Parents have to be so careful about what they’re buying their kids these days. Many seemingly innocent toys from our childhoods have been banned because of their alarming dangers.

Hailey’s Magical Playhouse For Kids / YouTube

Cabbage Patch Snacktime Kid

Straight from a horror movie plot, the Cabbage Patch Snacktime Kid was literally chewing on children. The toy, which had a mechanical mouth, ended up biting quite a few fingers before it was finally recalled.

Brooks Kraft LLC / Sygma via Getty Images


In 1962, Disney’s quirky character known as Flubber was transformed into a children’s toy to promote the movie Son of Flubber. The toy, created by Hasbro, was a huge success — until it began causing Folliculitis, a disease of the pores that spreads rashes.

Bounce House

In May 2014, three children were swooped into the air when their bounce house was caught in a gust of wind. The house eventually reached a 50-foot elevation, though thankfully the children only fell from around 15 feet. They survived with serious injuries.

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Aqua Dots

The popular ’00s toy Aqua Dots puzzled scientists; when children ingested the colorful beads, they experienced bouts of dizziness, nausea, and even passed out. As it turns out, the binding ingredient in the toy metabolized into GHB, otherwise known as the date rape drug!

Darrell Goemaat / Chicago Tribune


Even modern toys have their issues. The smash hit holiday item of 2015 was the futuristic hoverboard — until half a million ended up getting recalled when countless units burst into flames while charging. One child was even killed!

Atomic Energy Lab

The 1950s were a dangerous time to be a kid, and the Atomic Energy Lab “toy’ didn’t help. The set came with three “low level” radiation sources and items like a Geiger counter to experiment with. Yes, parents actually allowed this!


Diving Sticks

Anyone who grew up around pools remembers diving for these colorful weighted sticks. You would think drowning would be the danger associated with this toy, but on six different occasions, reports emerged of these diving sticks malfunctioning and actually impaling their victims.

Barbie & Tanner

This attempt by Barbie to teach kids responsible pet ownership went horribly wrong. Tanner came complete with metal poop, allowing Barbie to use her magnetic scooper to pick it up. Unfortunately, if a toddler ingested Tanner’s droppings, intestinal damage was guaranteed.

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Austin Magic Pistol

Along with a number of other dangerous ideas and inventions, the 1950s gave us the Austin Magic Pistol, which used calcium carbide to launch ping pong balls. The problem? When the “toy” got wet, the calcium carbide reacted with the water to cause a mild explosion.

We Are The Mighty

Lawn Darts

Whoever thought up lawn darts clearly didn’t think their marketing as a children’s toy all the way through. Needless to say, the oversized “jarts” caused countless injuries and were actually banned outright by the U.S. government in 1988.

The Post Star

Slip ‘N Slide

The summer sensation that took the nation by storm in the ’90s was actually much more dangerous for adults than children. The added height and weight of adults and teens made them more susceptible to neck and spinal injuries, including paralysis!

Inside NanaBread’s Head

Burger King Poké Balls

If you grew up in the ’90s, you probably remember Burger King’s Pokémon toys. While they were a huge hit with kids, the key chain attached to the Poké Ball could cover a small child’s nose and mouth, which actually led to two deaths.

Mini Hammock

You may remember this backyard toy from the ’90s being a great summer activity. Unfortunately, due to the lack of a spreader bar, the mini hammock led to the deaths of 12 children by strangulation in 1996 alone, prompting massive recalls.

Rollerblade Barbie

Barbie has seen a number of questionable variations over the years, though none failed as miserably as Rollerblade Barbie. When rolled too fast over a flat surface the rollerblades would spark, leading to accidental fires and even several deaths.

Easy-Bake Oven

What was designed to be a safe way to teach kids the joy of baking turned out to be an utter disaster. The Easy-Bake Oven has been recalled a number of time over the years, most recently due to young children getting their fingers caught — and cooked — in the oven.

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Sky Dancers

While they were quite graceful in flight, Sky Dancers ended up doing more harm than good. After hundreds of complaints of eye injuries, facial lacerations, and even a mild concussion, 8.9 million units were recalled and production was halted for good.

Toothpick Crossbow

This one needs no explanation — other than how someone actually approved it for production. The small crossbow was capable of piercing a can from 60 feet away and caused a rash of injuries in China in 2017.


Popular in the ’70s, acrylic clackers would up being recalled because of their hazardous design. When heavily used, the acrylic balls would crack and shatter, causing serious eye injuries.

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Every year, 90,000 Americans are hospitalized from colliding or falling incorrectly while using a trampoline, resulting in broken bones, paralysis, and even death. Many homeowner insurance policies even ban them because of potential injury risks.

HowTosByBros / YouTube


Now considered a weapon, the “wrist rocket” was once marketed as a children’s toy. Needless to say, a “toy” capable of launching projectiles at a high velocity was bound lead to some serious injuries, and an age restriction for buying slingshots was eventually imposed.

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