What would you do if a creature like this was lurking around your house? And no matter how hard you tried, you couldn’t get rid of it.
You could crush it, throw it in boiling water, even blast it into space; this little thing would survive it all. And on top of all that, there could even be one near you right now, and you wouldn’t even see it coming…
These hardy, microscopic organisms are called Tardigrades, and while they may look creepy, they’re nothing to be afraid of.
But they are indestructible. Tardigrades have been around for about 520 million years; they watched the dinosaurs come and go.
Scientists believe that they can survive apocalyptic disasters like nuclear war. They can even come back from the dead!
How do Tardigrades manipulate their bodies to survive? Where are the most extreme places they can live? And how could they help humans live longer?
Tardigrades measure just 1 mm in length, their miniature size allowed them to go undiscovered until the 18th century. Once we started to observe them through the lens of a microscope, their superpowers really came into focus.
When humans look for a place to live, we generally avoid areas that are too hot or too cold. Tardigrades couldn’t care less.
They’ve been found living in some of the most extreme conditions in the world: mountain tops, hot springs, even at the bottom of the ocean! Some tardigrades survive in temperatures as low as -272.8 °C, that’s about three times lower than the coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth!
In 2007, they traveled to space and lived to tell the tale. Yeah, this might not sound so impressive, seeing that flies, rats, monkeys, and other creatures had already completed the journey. But tardigrades did it a bit differently: they traveled on the outside of the ship.
Swedish scientists attached two species of these pudgy critters to a satellite and launched it into space for ten days. When they came back down to Earth, many of them were unphased by the whole experience; some females had even laid eggs while in space, which hatched into healthy offspring.
So how do these tiny, unassuming organisms survive conditions that would kill everything else on the planet? Well, it’s because they posess an ability that’s almost as hard to believe as it is to say: cryptobiosis.
To endure the extremes, tardigrades dry themselves out; shedding all but 3 percent of the water in their bodies. They retract their heads and legs, and enter a state of suspended animation between life and death.
Their genes produce a unique type of protein. One that forms a glass-like structure to preserve their dehydrated cells.
Tardigrades can stay in limbo like this for decades on end, only reanimating when they come into contact with water. Researchers from the University of North Carolina believe that the protein making this all possible, called trehalose, could one day help protect crops that are vulnerable to drought, or preserve perishable medications.
So even though they’re super-small, tardigrades could have an enormous impact on our lives, and that’s why they’re Crazy Creatures!
“7 Tough Facts About Tardigrades”. Horowitz, Kate, 2015. mentalfloss.com. Accessed April 12 2019.
“These animals can survive until the end of the Earth, astrophysicists say“. Guarino, Ben, 2017. Washington Post. Accessed April 12 2019.
“‘Water Bears’ Are First Animal To Survive Space Vacuum”. Courtland, Rachel. 2008. New Scientist. Accessed April 12 2019.
“Key To Tardigrades’ ‘Superpowers’ Identified In Their DNA”. Mindy, Weisberger, 2017. Live Science. Accessed April 12 2019.
“Tardigrades Return From The Dead”. Fox-Skelly, Jasmin. 2019. bbc.com. Accessed April 12 2019.