Ever heard of a creature that turns into glass when it dries out? No? Meet the water bear!
Let’s get to know a little about these animals first before we discuss their weird adaptability in length.
Water bear, also known as moss piglets or tardigrades are water creatures. They have eight legs and are one of the many segmented animals (micro-animals). They are not endemic to a particular habitat or region, and can almost be found everywhere; from rainforests to the sea – even down to the depths of it. They can as well be found on tops of mountains and as far as the Antarctic region.
They love habiting around mosses and lichens; sediments of the freshwater; the marine; beaches – they are surplus in these aforementioned places – you can find as many as over 20,000 tardigrades in a litter.
This weird animal was first discovered by a German zoologist who goes by the name Johann August Ephraim Goeze in the year 1773. Johann August Ephraim Goeze gave them the name Kleiner Wasserbar – this translates into “little water bear” in English, while in the year 1776, Lazzaro Spallanzani named them Tardigrada, which means “slow walker”.
They were referred to as “water bear” due to the way they move, similar to that of a regular bear. As we said earlier, they are micro-animals; adults can reach a length of 1.5mm or can be as little as below 0.1mm – baby tardigrades can be below 0.05mm.
Tardigrades are eutelic animals, i.e. adult water bears of same species possess an equal number of cells. They have no respiratory organs because their entire body is designed for gaseous exchange.
Most Tardigrades Species Are Said To Be Parthenogenic – both males and females gametes are usually present within a single animal, each having a single gonad just above its intestine. They are oviparous animals, and fertilization occurs externally.
These animals are labeled as the world’s known greatest survivors, even better survivalist than the roaches in our kitchens we so love to hate. It’s often said roaches can survive a nuclear blast, but these water bears can survive worse. Tardigrades can survive extreme conditions – they can stay alive in boiling water or at temperatures over minus 400 degrees and survive extreme hotness of over 300 degrees.
They can survive extreme dehydration (they can survive decades without water) – scientists discovered the tardigrade can survive excessive dehydration/desiccation by producing a type of bioglass, this is used to hold their essential proteins and molecules intact until rehydration kicks in. Scientists are currently trying to figure out how to utilize the tardigrade’s weird mechanism in the development of crops resistance during droughts and vaccines.
A report made by the University of Chicago in September last year announced the Tardigrade has led to the discovery of a new type of glass. It’s said this glass seems like a liquid, but yet solid. The result of this research could well offer new insights in the production and improvement of electronic devices, optical fibers, light diodes and solar cells.
Tardigrades can also survive over 5000 grays of radiation (less than 20 grays of radiation will kill a human!). It’s said they can even survive space – in the year 2007, researchers of Swedish origin launched a couple tardigrades into space, and a number of them survived exposures to cosmic rays and space condition, just like fictional superman!