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January 16, 2015

Tardigrades for President

So I’m sitting around with the family watching Cosmos: A Space Time Odyssey with Neil Degrasse Tyson (always fascinating) and he's talking about this animal called a Tardigrade which I’ve never heard of. It was instant love. These teeny tiny creatures can withstand boiling water or temperatures almost as low as absolute zero. They can withstand the vacuum of space and radiation 100 times the lethal dose for humans. They can survive for as long as 100 years without water and then rehydrate when a single drop becomes available, then continue to grow and reproduce, like "Hey, not like I was just pretty much dead for a century or anything. No biggie."

They are about the size of a grain of sand and they live everywhere. There are definitely tons of Tardigrades in your backyard right now – millions at least – especially if there's any moss out there. They love moss and lichen, and moist environments that hold water. They are sometimes known as Water Bears because they inhabit water and sort of move like bears. They are also known as Moss Piglets which I think is just because they're so utterly adorable. Even though it's the dead of winter they are all over the place at this very moment. These mad bastards just freeze and go into a kind of suspended animation called cryobiosis. Cryobiosis is now my second favorite word, right after tardigrade.

This is what they look like: they have eight legs, a pudgy body and a weird snout that extends the mouth which is full of tiny dagger-like teeth. But I don’t think they’re mean or anything, they just go around slurping up plant cells and algae and stuff. Oh, and they have survived all 5 of the mass extinctions that have occurred since life began on planet earth. We humans have a tendency to think of ourselves as the pinnacle of evolution, but how many cataclysmic events do we have under our belt? Oh yeah, none. We can barely even deal with a little self-inflicted climate change. Evolutionarily speaking these little freaks are totally killing it.

Just when you think you’ve seen it all and there can be no weirder thing in the known universe than the platypus, along comes the tardigrade.




Thanks a Bunch!

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Comments

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I never knew!! They are adorable. Microscopic manatee
Comment By: Catherine2 years ago 
I like your taste and second the nomination! They are adorable.
Comment By: Dee2 years ago 

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