Daphnia are small, planktonic crustaceans, between 0.2 and 5 mm in length. Daphnia are members of the order Cladocera, and are one of the several small aquatic crustaceans commonly called water fleas because of their saltatory swimming style (although fleas are insects and thus only very distantly related). They live in various aquatic environments ranging from acidic swamps to freshwater lakes, ponds, streams and rivers.
The lifespan of a Daphnia does not exceed one year and is largely temperature dependent. For example, individual organisms can live up to 108 days at 3°C while some organisms live for only 29 days at 28°C. A clear exception to this trend is during the winter time in which harsh conditions limit the population in which females have been recorded to live for over six months. These females generally grow at slower rate but in the end are larger than ones under normal conditions.
Sometimes Daphnia may be used in certain environments to test the effects of toxins on an ecosystem. This makes Daphnia an indicator species, particularly useful in that area because of its short lifespan and reproductive capabilities. Because they are nearly transparent, their internal organs are easy to study in live specimens (an example might be to study the effect of temperature on the heart rate of these ectothermic organisms). They are often fed to tadpoles or small species of amphibians such as the African Dwarf Frog, Hymenochirus biettgeri. Daphnia are also a popular live food in tropical and marine fish keeping.
Several water flea species are considered threatened.
Some species can be found in hypersaline lake environments.
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