This post is not directly related to any of our animals here at the museum but I thought it was cool enough to squeeze in anyway. One group of animals you’ve probably not heard of are the water bears which belong to the phylum Tardigrada. (If you don’t remember your taxonomy you can read my earlier post.) They are one of the few microscopic things that people regularly refer to as “cute”. You can see from this micrograph from the Goldstein lab at UNC that Tardigrades do have a passing resemblance to bears but they are quite a bit smaller, most are less than a milimeter long. They are found in almost every environment on Earth from the deepest oceans to highest mountains. However, they are most commonly found on lichens and mosses.
Dimunitive though they are, water bears are some of the toughest critters in the animal kingdom. When faced with tough times they can shut down their metabolism and remain in a state of suspended animation for years. Tardigrades can resist 1000 times more radiation than humans and survive at temperatures as high as 300 degrees Fahrenheit and down to almost absolute zero! A recent study revealed that water bears can survive and reproduce even after orbiting the Earth while exposed to the vacuum of space!