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.

tardigrade_swim

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.

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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.

tardigrade_close

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.

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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.


tardigrade_paws

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.

tardigrade_fam

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.

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Want more incredible scientific facts? Tune in to the next episode of COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey on Monday, March 24 at 10P.

Comments

  1. Stephane lacasa
    Paris
    March 24, 1:19 am

    I just change my last name to Tardigrades :)

  2. Mike Shaw
    Richmond, VA
    March 25, 7:45 pm

    Thanks for a great episode of cosmos. I loved the way you animated the tardigrade and showed it in a natural setting.

    I hope you don’t mind that I posted this article on my tardigrade website.

    Thanks again!
    Mike Shaw

  3. Brooke
    dartmouth
    March 26, 10:12 am

    That thing is literally repulsive…

  4. […] 5 Reasons Why The Tardigrade Is Nature’s Toughest Animal […]

  5. Catherine perrie
    Stirling Scotland
    April 14, 7:28 pm

    What a wonderful little being. The face is certainly different but watching them scamper around they become Taking and if not lovable another part of Gods Creation

  6. Jeff
    Texas
    April 14, 7:28 pm

    Does it eat fungus? is this nature’s answer to our contaminating water?

  7. dana
    texas
    April 14, 7:38 pm

    Thanks for looking at these fascinating creatures.

  8. Jem
    Manila
    April 14, 7:56 pm

    Very interesting!

  9. Nicolas Delille
    April 14, 8:52 pm

    Hi I’m a 3D artist

    In one of your issues, I discovered this amazing animal. That inspired me this version

    http://www.modern-age-studio.com/?work=the-water-bear

    Cheers

  10. Denis Taillon
    St-Jacques le mineur (PQ)
    April 14, 8:54 pm

    J’ai bien aimé votre publication , moi qui adore tout ce qui est nature et espace comme tout ce qui se trouve sous les eaux de notre planète. Je suis un fervent de National Geographique. Merci de partager .

  11. Njermel
    April 14, 9:16 pm

    You also can’t escape them by playing dead

  12. yourrealdad
    April 14, 9:29 pm

    We need more shows like Cosmos and not shitty reality tv

  13. Randy
    Philippines
    April 14, 10:24 pm

    SOmeone should put these tough creature in Mars… That’s there ultimate test…. Living Creatures in Mars… I like the thought of that!!

  14. Orlando Adona Calcetas
    Philippines
    April 14, 10:25 pm

    I am just amazed that this very resilient creature can survive the torment of nature but simply without a purpose or food chain to complete. Possibly we don’t know everything yet about this ultimate polar/desert bear animal, I think he/she is on the top of the food chain for unknown reason we don’t know yet. Good luck Mr. Tyson.

  15. Anonymous
    Ontario
    April 14, 11:17 pm

    Send that to planet Mars.

  16. Atul
    India
    April 14, 11:48 pm

    Daenerys Targaryen also survived but she is the last one. so let see what will happen with Tardigrade. :P :P :D

  17. andromeda
    vietnam
    April 15, 2:02 am

    i love tardigrades.

  18. waheed
    Pakistan
    April 15, 3:54 am

    Can it survive with out Oxygen?

  19. Secret Researcher
    Bangalore
    April 15, 4:40 am

    I am trying to learn to repair my DNA as fast as tardigrades so that I can withstand radiation. Will let this be known to the world for free so that every one can adapt well in space. seems earth aint enough

  20. Mayank
    April 15, 4:46 am

    So are the Tardigrades a threat to human beings or they can prove to be helpful in some way?

  21. Minju Kim
    South Korea
    April 15, 6:17 am

    Interesting!

    They look like even pets.. ;)

  22. skyla
    UAE
    April 15, 7:12 am

    I wish my pet was a tardigrade that would be so cool

  23. erika uys
    Uitenhage?
    April 15, 7:16 am

    Is it really a living creature or is it a hoax.?

  24. Andy
    USA
    April 15, 8:40 am

    And why haven’t we heard of these before? Truly amazing!

  25. Andy Thompson
    United States
    April 15, 9:05 am

    Most of these attributes are characteristic of all microscopic organisms, protozoa, nematodes, rotifers, tardigrades etc. Except for #2: the fact that its small does not mean it doesn’t have predators; it simply has predators that are relative to its size, ie microarthropods, micrometozoans, and some protozoa.

  26. Mercy
    USA
    April 15, 9:51 am

    I don’t know but it looks like it has little hands? Thank God those things ( Tardigrade) is so small. Imagine if it starts to get bigger? Eww

  27. vasanthi vallbai
    Tamilnadu,India
    April 15, 3:02 pm

    now only i heard about it vow seeing its mouth part …eventhough a small creature it has tremendous qualities..thankyou

  28. brian alford
    ocean park wa. USA
    April 16, 6:09 am

    The way Tyson blends science with the Tao is amazing!

  29. Frank
    April 16, 2:55 pm

    They seem a bit tardy.

  30. […] extremophiles on Cosmos (they can survive heat, cold, drought, radiation and even space. C lick here for some nice close-ups of what we’re looking for. I’ll let you know what we […]

  31. Rajapandian
    India - Tamilnadu
    May 30, 7:33 am

    Wow! Amazing…..make use of this creature..this could help humanity

  32. Brendan Beamer
    Texas, USA
    May 31, 4:52 pm

    Honestly, I think they look both grotesque and absolutely adorable at the same time. I just don’t know.

  33. Hisham
    San Jose
    June 1, 1:49 am

    1.5mm long, how can that go un-noticed? I always stare at the glass of water but didn’t find any creatures or tardigrades. Maybe I should look at the dew drop.

    A little correction on point 4, line 3, the word “space conditions” is misspelled. Thanks!

  34. Ashwin
    India
    June 23, 12:13 pm

    These creatures are best in the Universe
    Because of these creatures I want create something new

  35. Ashwin
    India
    June 23, 12:16 pm

    These creatures can show a path to travel around the Universe.

  36. Nitin soni
    mahendergarh/ india
    July 5, 6:18 am

    no doubt it will remain on earth after humans also. but i hope they don’t increase to a size of a car or a cargo ship

  37. Manuel
    Venus
    July 8, 2:27 am

    Impressive. Technology might develop something revolutonary with the help of creatures like these…