Earth’s most tenacious creature can live in boiling water, solid ice, and the intense radiation of space. It can survive a decade in a desert, without a drop of water to drink, or in the deepest trenches of the sea.
Meet the tardigrade.
This week on COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey, Neil deGrasse Tyson introduced viewers to the tardigrade, or the water bear. The small aquatic invertebrates are nearly invincible, able to tolerate conditions and temperatures that would kill nearly any other living creature.
So what gives the tiny tardigrade its enormous strength? Find out below.
1. Tardigrades change form to survive without water.
When faced with extreme conditions, tardigrades can dry out completely, replacing almost of the water in their bodies with a sugar called trehalose. As a result, they’re able to survive environments that would otherwise kill them.
2. Tardigrades’ minuscule size hides them from predators.
For all their resilience, the tardigrade is one of nature’s smallest creatures. Barely the size of a poppy seed at less than 1.5 millimeters long, the tardigrade can exist hidden in sediments and seas, unnoticed by potential predators.
3. Tardigrades’ mouths contain sharp daggers.
Though they may be little, they are fierce! The tardigrade’s mouth is a serious weapon, its dagger-like teeth used to spear algae and even other small animals.
4. Tardigrades traveled to space – and survived.
To test the true resilience of tardigrades, Swedish researcher K. Ingemar Jonsson from Kristianstad University launched tardigrades into space on the FOTON-M3 spacecraft on low-Earth orbit in 2007. Exposed to open space conditions, most of the tardigrades survived exposure to vacuum and cosmic rays, with some even surviving deadly levels of UV radiation.
5. They’ve been around longer than nearly every other living organism.
Tardigrades roamed the earth and seas far before humans did – and will most likely outlast us. Will the tardigrades be nature’s last organisms standing? Only time will tell.
Want more incredible scientific facts? Tune in to the next episode of COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey on Monday, March 24 at 10P.