Tardigrades, also known as water bears or moss piglets are eight-legged microscopic animals that live in the water. Tardigrades are found on mountains, in the deep sea, tropical rain forests, the Antarctic and even in mud volcanoes. These are the most resilient creatures known to man and they can survive anywhere, including in space! They can be exposed to extreme temperatures and pressures that would kill other organisms and yet survive. Be it dehydration, starvation, radiation or lack of air, tardigrades can survive it all.
In 1922, a German scientist found that when a tardigrade is dried out, it retracts its legs and its head and enters a deep state that resembles death. It’s metabolism slows to 0.01% and stays in this state for years. When reintroduced to water, it comes back to life!
In 2007, more than a thousand tardigrades were put on a satellite and sent to space. When the satellite returned, almost all of the tardigrades had survived. To add the surprise, some of the females had even hatched eggs in space. Their new hatches were healthy. The most fascinating fact about tardigrades is that they are ancient creatures, dating back to the Cambrian period over 500 million years ago. These podgy faced water bears with folds of flesh, eight legs and ferocious claws resemble actual bears. Their mouth has dagger like teeth to spear their prey.
In 1702, a Dutch Scientist claimed that he took dry and lifeless dust from the gutter and introduced water. Within an hour, he found many small “animalcules” under the microscope, swimming in the water. In 1948 an Italian zoologist found 120 year old dead tardigrades and brought one partially back to life after rehydration. In 1995, completely dry tardigrades were brought back to life after eight long years.
Scientists continue to be fascinated by these creatures that battle all odds. Perhaps one day, tardigrades will share their secret of immortality to the human race.