A tiny, 600,000-year old shrimp is now Utah's official state crustacean

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The brine shrimp, a tiny but important crustacean, has been officially named Utah's state crustacean. (Credit: Utah Division of Wildlife Resources)

(CNN) — Brine shrimp, tiny crustaceans living in the Great Salt Lake area for hundreds of thousands of years, are now officially the state crustacean of Utah.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed House Bill 137 into law March 17, according to the legislature's website. The bill was passed by the House of Representatives on February 17 and the state Senate on March 3.

Brine shrimp join other unusual Utah state symbols such as the state dinosaur — the Utahraptor, obviously — and the state cooking pot, a Dutch oven.

Brine shrimp are "small crustaceans that inhabit salty waters around the world," according to a news release from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

The tiny creatures range in size from just a third of an inch to half an inch, says the news release. They are found in Utah's Great Salt Lake.

But despite their diminutive size, the crustaceans play crucial roles in Utah's economy and ecosystem. Their eggs are harvested and used as food for fish and shrimp, helping to contribute to a multimillion-dollar business in Utah, the release noted.

The brine shrimp fishery at the Great Salt Lake "supplies over 40% of the worldwide demand for brine shrimp," according to the department.

And it is not just humans who benefit from the shrimp population. A variety of birds also feed on the brine shrimp, including eared grebes, which depend on the crustaceans while molting and unable to fly during their migration.

"The importance of the brine shrimp in the Great Salt Lake ecosystem can't be overstated," said John Luft, program manager for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources' Great Salt Lake Ecosystem, in the news release. "We are thrilled about the designation of the brine shrimp as the state crustacean and the attention they are getting for their role at the Great Salt Lake."

Brine shrimp have been present in the Great Salt Lake area for more than 600,000 years, according to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

This story was first published on CNN.com, "A tiny, 600,000-year old shrimp is now Utah’s official state crustacean."