Eco-Sphere
March 7, 2003 9:25 AM   Subscribe

Self-contained ecosystems on your desk. Eco-spheres strike a perfect balance between members in an environment. Based on NASA studies, they can last past 10 years. Is it feasible to have more complex self-contained systems in the near future? Imagine, a sealed tank with a 'pet' you never have to worry about feeding, watering, or cleaning. That doesn't use batteries. Plus, they look pretty cool.
posted by rich (55 comments total)
 
My girlfriend got me one for Christmas - it's pretty neat. The tiny little shrimp inside have gotten bigger and pinker, and they seem very active.
posted by GriffX at 9:27 AM on March 7, 2003


rich - they're very cool indeed, not the least reason of which is their tendency to settle into "steady states" which are quite sensitive to apparently small changes. Moving these flourishing ecosystem balls - say, from a shelf to a tabletop - often causes them to abruptly expire.

nonlinear systems sensitivity to minor variables......capacity for abrupt, dramatic system state shift....handle with care.....
posted by troutfishing at 9:31 AM on March 7, 2003


I have one and it's the coolest thing going.
posted by stbalbach at 9:31 AM on March 7, 2003


They're not cool, they're hella cool, and I want one. Can they make one with a betta fish?
posted by vito90 at 9:32 AM on March 7, 2003


the sharper image used to sell these ... i sort of wanted one when i was little ... do they actually work?
posted by donkeyschlong at 9:32 AM on March 7, 2003


Wow, I totally want one. It would look so good in my earthship, when I get one.
posted by folktrash at 9:38 AM on March 7, 2003


Mine inspired this haiku:

(;_;)

Dead shrimp float in globe
Nine days after warranty
Grown man's seamonkey.

(;_;)
posted by putzface_dickman at 9:39 AM on March 7, 2003


griffx, sea monkeies. Here someone webpage on it too.

Even the ones you add food too are neat, but how to get the poor frog out. This reminds me of a Cambodian I met who said he grew up on a boat and had animals housed in large hollowed-out bamboo tubes and the animals grew elongated, like the woman you see with rings around their necks.
posted by thomcatspike at 9:41 AM on March 7, 2003


I have a self-contained eco-system growing in some dirty coffee mugs on my desk
posted by monkeyman at 9:45 AM on March 7, 2003


elongated... girlfriend.... for christmas.... globe... *thread parse failure*

must not work
posted by folktrash at 9:47 AM on March 7, 2003


Is it feasible to have more complex self-contained systems in the near future?

I always thought complex sealed ecosystems eventually head in the same direction as the Earth: One fish gets greedy, eats too much, grows too big, and then the whole thing is fluxxored.
posted by Shane at 9:50 AM on March 7, 2003


I have been meaning to order one of these. To those of you who have one, which size do you have? Don't feel like spending $250 on a desk ornament, but the smaller ones look dinky. FYI, Brookstone seems to charge slightly less for the smaller ones.
posted by widdershins at 9:56 AM on March 7, 2003


nope, not quite like sea monkeys. It's a sealed glass thing, and they eat algae.
posted by GriffX at 9:57 AM on March 7, 2003


Yeah, they sound awesome, but look at this:

The Globes range in price from $18-$38, free shipping... and if you look at the warranty/replacement info...

"Because the EcoSphere is a living thing we know it will die some day. Because we want each customer to have the healthiest eco-system possible, we established the Replacement Policies. The replacement policy period will start from the original issue date of your original EcoSphere. The Small Sphere and Small Pod have a 6 month Replacement Policy. All larger EcoSpheres have a 12-month Replacement Policy. This Policy requires the customer to pay all shipping charges. $20 per unit - $40 for Extra Large."

So basically, there is no warranty, and you pay a HIGHER PRICE for the replacement.
Bah.
posted by Espoo2 at 10:01 AM on March 7, 2003


Oh. I'm an idiot.
That WAS the shipping costs.
Nevermind me.
I'll get my hat.
posted by Espoo2 at 10:02 AM on March 7, 2003


Or you could try to build your own, maybe with some help from this Yahoo group.
posted by some chick at 10:06 AM on March 7, 2003


I want one with a cat in it
posted by Raindog at 10:06 AM on March 7, 2003


There's some information about making these things here. Maybe I should say "how not to do it," as it seems their experiments largely didn't work.

There's gotta be something about how you could make one of these yourself out there. Anyone find anything?
posted by rusty at 10:08 AM on March 7, 2003


Please pretend I posted the above before some chick's comment. D'oh.
posted by rusty at 10:09 AM on March 7, 2003


They are very cool, but they also make me feel sad for the poor little guys trapped in there, with no way to escape if things go horribly wrong.

Then I get this creepy feeling that our own biosphere is in some cosmic Sharper Image catalog right now...
posted by Guy Smiley at 10:10 AM on March 7, 2003


oh look - one of them figured it out. let's shake it.
posted by folktrash at 10:15 AM on March 7, 2003


"The Perfect Balance of Science and Art"

Except that -

"EcoSpheres have an average life expectancy of two years."

So, then, it's not such a perfect balance after all - all an EcoSphere is really doing is consigning a captive population of shrimp to an eventual, inevitable, decline and extinction, and in the end all you are left with is a lifeless ball of sludge. Not that that isn't pretty poetic in itself - and, perhaps, a pretty good metaphor for our own existence on this self-contained ecosphere we call the Earth - but as science, the EcoSphere is a long way from a breakthrough.
posted by yhbc at 10:18 AM on March 7, 2003


There's a pretty big one of these (about 1m diameter) at the Museum of Natural History in New York. (picture, press release).
posted by whatzit at 10:20 AM on March 7, 2003


Oh, and to add to the average lifetime business above... The one in New York is supposed to last 5 years (about 3 more from now, it's a couple old), and will be opened, investigated, and restarted at that time. Sweet.
posted by whatzit at 10:21 AM on March 7, 2003


I friend of mine went the low tech/low budget way. She scavenged an old fishtank, filled the floor with sand and rocks, and stocked it with hermit crabs. They're very cool. They burrow and hide, and come out at night to scuttle and creep about doing their little, crabbish things.

Not quite an 'ecosystem' though.
posted by troutfishing at 10:23 AM on March 7, 2003


How about if I just paint an underwater scene on an old bowling ball?
posted by troutfishing at 10:24 AM on March 7, 2003


I had one of those. After one year the shrimps in there mutated and became sentient (may be I placed them too close to the radiation from my monitor?) They started sustaining themselves by farming seaweed. And as farming technique increased the supply of food, their population exploded, the globe became really crowded and the shrimps started fighting with each other. Some of them even built biological weapons by culturing and concentrating the bacteria that was in the globe.

After the war, their world was badly contaminated, and most of the shrimps died off except for a few. One of them got really smart and built a "spaceship" from the rocks that would allow them to break out of the glass wall and escape from the globe.

What he didn't include in his calculation is that the world outside the glass globe is not filled with water. In fact, water was so ubiquitous that they don't even have the concept of "lack of water". Obviously the spaceship builder didn't prepare for this calamity, and now the entire shrimp civilization is lying dead on a puddle of water on my desk.

I want my money back.
posted by VeGiTo at 10:28 AM on March 7, 2003 [1 favorite]


VeGiTo - Clap clap clap! - Van Vogt, "Microcosmic God" (I think it was V.V.) We're not much different from your precocious, warlike shrimp now, are we?

Those spheres, they vibr..... ....Oh, never mind.
posted by troutfishing at 10:36 AM on March 7, 2003


....or an anteater in it. That would be cool.
posted by Raindog at 10:39 AM on March 7, 2003


I can't help but draw the comparison between these and that maddingly moronic "interior decorating" trend of keeping betta fish in a glass vase under a plant and claim the thing needs no care because the fish will nibble on the plant roots or something and then their poo will fertilize the plant...

I just want to tear my hair out when I see things like that. Keeping aquariums is my hobby and those fish are actually slowly starving to death. They're hardy little guys, so they can last for a while, but I feed mine blood worms because their primary energy source is animal protien. There's no way they can actually survive on plant roots.

I'm not denying that these spheres are beautiful and fascinating, but considering the extreme amount of effort I put into my goldfish because I want them to live longer than 6 months (though I have been accused of being too hardcore before), I'm always suspicious of any system that claims to create "complete" self-sustaining ecosystems.
posted by nelleish at 10:52 AM on March 7, 2003


I bought a medium sphere for my wife last Christmas. It's totally cool: the sphere acts as a magnifying lens, so seated on the couch looking up at the ecosphere on the mantel, the shrimp look gigantic. We also have small Christmas lights behind it, and when you turn out the room lights, shadows of shrimp zip around the walls. We absolutely love it.

If you're considering buying one for yourself, we got a good price and great service through Greenfeet.com. Also, Ecosphere Associates guarantees the medium sphere for a twelve month period, and offers a "recharge" program for $70 which will replace your shrimpies after the warranty has expired.
posted by eamondaly at 11:02 AM on March 7, 2003


...they also make me feel sad for the poor little guys trapped in there, with no way to escape if things go horribly wrong.

Here we go with metaphors for existence on Earth again. Wise, peaceful people all over the globe feel exactly the same way.
posted by Shane at 11:05 AM on March 7, 2003


The tiny little shrimp inside have gotten bigger and pinker, and they seem very active.

Time to fry and eat them, perhaps?

VeGiTo's fable reminds me of one "I am Weasel" cartoon episode. Anyway, it's not a living, self-sustained system, as observed by many above. No reproduction, no evolution.

It also reminds me of the mini-planet living in a locker room on "Men in Black II".

I think PETA should have a word to say about this, since it looks to me like a glass prison for the shrimp.
In the future, I'd consider buying one with tiny dinosaurs, though.
posted by 111 at 11:16 AM on March 7, 2003


The best part about mine was that after the shrimp became sentient they started building lots of statues in my image.

Except they seemed to think my nose was *really* big.
posted by mattpfeff at 11:21 AM on March 7, 2003


matpfeff - had they been reading Sandkings?
posted by jazon at 11:29 AM on March 7, 2003


and I know that there are two t's in mattpfeff
posted by jazon at 11:30 AM on March 7, 2003


I got one of these as a gift about 2 years ago. One shrimp is still alive (I think - I actually haven't looked at it that closely for a while). These things loose their coolness factor after about a month. Now its just another piece of crap taking up space on my desk.
posted by Quinn at 11:30 AM on March 7, 2003


troutfishing: Theodore Sturgeon wrote Microcosmic God, not Van Vogt.
Van Vogt! Van Vogt, he says! Of all the... *sputter* *fume* Good sweet crap, man! Van Vogt! *shakes head*
posted by sonofsamiam at 11:46 AM on March 7, 2003


Nelleish: My husband bought my stepdaughter one of those betta-fish vases with a bamboo plant. I did some research on it, however, and quickly realized that the fish wasn't getting any benefit from the roots. WE cleaned up his vase, put the roots of the bamboo UNDER the rocks, and feed him a little bit of betta food every day. The difference is amazing-- I think when we got the fish, he was nearly dead. Now he's healthy and making big bubble nests in the water (which I read is what bettas do when they are happy.)
posted by CoFenchurch at 11:52 AM on March 7, 2003


Imagine, a sealed tank with a 'pet' you never have to worry about feeding, watering, or cleaning

I've got several squirrels and a few birds in mine. I keep them in a giant sphere I call 'Earth.' I don't have to do a damn thing to take care of them except clip my plastic soda can rings and turn off the water when I'm done showering. They're pretty cool, except they don't come when I call them.
posted by KnitWit at 12:04 PM on March 7, 2003


good thing, but i only would buy one if i could make it live longer. i mean, i would look for all the information i could to make the beings live longer in there, waaaaay much longer. if i own that company, i'd include a manual explaining all the micro and macroorganisms in the ecosphere and teach the costumers to keep theirs alive longer (and better, and more beautiful, and more symbiotic, etc).

p.s.: maybe this sphere is too dualistic (for people who already are over-dualistic), isn't it? it would be a very curious idea if instead of the glass with beings in there we have a sphere built of mirror (and the environment we should care and appreciate would be our own). [waking up from daydreaming...] anyway.
posted by nandop at 12:18 PM on March 7, 2003


How about if I just paint an underwater scene on an old bowling ball? ha haha, but hey...na never work, gutter ball for sure.

turn out the room lights, shadows of shrimp zip around the walls
Thanks for the tip.
posted by thomcatspike at 12:20 PM on March 7, 2003


Then I get this creepy feeling that our own biosphere is in some cosmic Sharper Image catalog right now...

Or perhaps it's like the final episode of St. Elsewhere, where it was revealed that the hospital and all of its workers lived inside of a snowglobe.

There is a rerun of The Twilight Zone which comes on occasionally - a family keeps having strange accidents and odd interactions with each other, very upsetting and causing much strife. This goes on until the end of the show, when the camera pans back and reveals a gigantic girl who is using the people as playthings in her gigantic doll house. It's quite creepy.

I would most certainly not recommend that anyone watch the travesty that is Bio-dome, but there were some interesting ecosystem experiments conducted in the name of science during that movie. Not that I would know personally - I heard that from a friend.
posted by iconomy at 12:26 PM on March 7, 2003


what about shrimp sex? don't they reproduce like crazy? or are these all big glass shrimp bachelor pads?
posted by andrew cooke at 12:44 PM on March 7, 2003


Anyway, it's not a living, self-sustained system, as observed by many above. No reproduction, no evolution.

There is lots of reproduction. The shrimp are just for show really, and not necessary at all - the REAL ecosystem is the bacteria and other microorganisms. That ecosystem has to be balanced before complex creatures like shrimp can be supported. Besides, apparently the shrimp do reproduce occasionally.

Also, there's just as much evolution going on in there as there is out here...
posted by jeffj at 2:15 PM on March 7, 2003


Today, one of my coworkers gave me his aquarium, as he wanted to get rid of it. It's pretty big, and I plan to build an ant farm in it.

That will be my biosphere (bioprism? Since the aquarium is rectangular...), for which I will act as God, dispensing food for the needy ants, introducing alien enemies (other types of insects), drugs (coffee or caffeine-laced sugar, and various over-the-counter pharmaceuticals), calamities (earthquakes, floods, etc), and whatnot, according to my whims.

Why, you ask?

Because I can!!! Muahahahah
posted by titboy at 2:32 PM on March 7, 2003


Now he's healthy and making big bubble nests in the water (which I read is what bettas do when they are happy.)

Yup! that's exactly what they do :) Glad to hear you're taking good care of him
posted by nelleish at 2:32 PM on March 7, 2003


Simply provide your EcoSphere with a source of indirect natural or artificial light...
so like earth itself it is not completly self-sustained.

That carppie movie was based on the disputed science experiment / turist trap in Arizona. (cool pic here


http://www-ang.kfunigraz.ac.at/~hinghofe/Bio-2.htm
posted by golo at 3:02 PM on March 7, 2003


i got one of the small ones and it's alive after like 4.5 years, i just leave it on the window sill and look at it once every couple months. one of them is much bigger than the other one now, but they started the same size.
posted by rhyax at 6:20 PM on March 7, 2003


These look hella cool but Id be too afraid of killing them by moving it around.
I got some Sea Monkeys for my birthday in October and only remember to feed them every once in a while.
I thought they had all died only to find a whole new batch have just started growing.
I wonder how long they can last with my random feeding technique?
posted by bhell13 at 6:26 PM on March 7, 2003


Best. comment. ever. - "Imagine, a sealed tank with a 'pet' you never have to worry about feeding, watering, or cleaning.......

I've got several squirrels and a few birds in mine. I keep them in a giant sphere I call 'Earth.' I don't have to do a damn thing to take care of them except clip my plastic soda can rings and turn off the water when I'm done showering. They're pretty cool, except they don't come when I call them."
- posted by KnitWit at 12:04 PM PST on March 7

Sonofsamiam: "troutfishing: Theodore Sturgeon wrote Microcosmic God, not Van Vogt.......Van Vogt! Van Vogt, he says! Of all the... *sputter* *fume* Good sweet crap, man! Van Vogt! *shakes head*" - OK, so I was Googlelazy.....so...so.........stick me in a tank and evolve me, why don't you!!
posted by troutfishing at 8:31 PM on March 7, 2003


Growing up in a biosphere
No respect for bad weather
There's still roaches and ants in here
So resourceful and clever

- The Tragically Hip, Titanic Terrarium

Cool idea. I, too, read of something like this in an old sf story, though I think maybe it was Samuel Delaney? The idea was, it was a piece of jewelry, that looked like a complex, self-contained ecosystem, but if you studied it long enough, it was just one organism with an extremely complex, multi-phase lifecycle. Like caterpillars->cocoons->butterflies, only much more so.

And if it turns out it was actually Sonofsamiam's Sturgeon story, well, I guess I feel your pain, troutfishing :-)
posted by arto at 11:27 PM on March 7, 2003


Can they make one with a betta fish?

A betta fish than what?
posted by kindall at 11:43 PM on March 7, 2003


arto - Sturgeon's story was about a scientist who creates tiny, rapid lifespan creatures - inside a large sealed tank. For safety, the creatures are designed so that oxygen is poisonous to them.

The scientist ruthlessly applies selective pressures to "evolve" his little creations. Then, when they develop speech, he announces himself to them: their God. He splits them into two camps, by mean of a clear plexiglass divider, and lets the cultures diverge. Then he pulls up the divider: WAR. The ensuing wars force new technologies....eventually technologies more advanced than the external, human civilization possesses....
posted by troutfishing at 7:20 AM on March 8, 2003


Compare the comments here with the fark thread.
posted by srboisvert at 7:47 AM on March 8, 2003


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