“Tough” takes on new meaning when it is used to describe the tardigrade. Called “Earth’s hardiest animals,” these resilient creatures have long been the subject of scientific curiosity.
Tardigrades are microscopic animals blessed with two very cool nicknames — the water bear and the moss piglet. They are segmented and reach a maximum length of a millimeter, maybe a millimeter and a half.
This microscopic animal can survive being frozen, boiled, exposed to extreme radiation and high pressures, being starved for several years and put into the vacuum of space for several days. It can even endure having its body completely dried out, a process called desiccation, by pulling its eight legs and head into its exoskeleton and forming a tiny ball.
They’ve been known to survive in temperatures as cold as minus -273 C and as hot as 150 C degrees and 5,700 grays of radiation, when 10-20 grays would kill humans and most other animals.
They shrug off extreme doses of radiation and laugh in the face of the silent vacuum of space itself. In an experiment in 2007, water bears were exposed to outer space for 10 days.
“They can remain like that in a dry state for years, even decades, and when you put them back in water, they revive within hours,”
For years scientists had thought that the water bear relied on a sugar called trehalose to preserve its cells during desiccation. That is how brine shrimps, or sea monkeys, survive being dried out. But previous studies had shown that trehalose levels were much lower in the tardigrade than in brine shrimp when they were dried.
So, there might be another factor keeping the water bears alive.
Bow it is found that tardigrades instead have unique genes that create proteins, which they call tardigrade-specific intrinsically disordered proteins, or TDPs, that preserve their cells during desiccation (1).
The animals can also live for a decade without water and even survive in space (2).
These bears are less than 1mm long and are found in the sea, in fresh water and on land. Some experts have compared their shape with jelly babies or moles
While not the most attractive creatures, the small, segmented animals come in many forms
The water bears are often found in moss
There are more than 900 species of Tardigrade or Water Bear, pictured
They’re found everywhere in the world, from the highest mountains to the deepest oceans.
Boil the 1mm creatures, freeze them, dry them, expose them to radiation and they’re so resilient they’ll still be alive 200 years later
Water bears can be completely dried out for years – and then spring back to life as if nothing had happened
Water bears can hack temperatures as low as -457 degrees and heat as high as 357 degrees
Molting Water Bear or Tardigrade with an egg mass
Water Bear’s can surivive 5,700 grays of radiation, when 10-20 grays would kill humans and most other animals
This Tardigrade or Water Bear is infested by fungi
The animals can also live for a decade without water and even survive in space