Tardigrades – also known as water bears or moss piglets – are micro-animals (less than a millimeter long) which primarily live underwater; they have segmented bodies with eight legs. It’s the only living animal that can survive over 10 years in outer space without food, water, or oxygen.
One of the more visually striking animals on the planet, every photo taken feels like it’s straight out of a sci-fi video game or movie; it doesn’t seem real in comparison to other creatures on earth.
They can be described as “extremophiles,” living in extremely harsh environments where most life on earth would perish. Tardigrades have been known to survive in temperatures of nearly absolute-zero all the way to several degrees past the boiling point of water; they can also withstand pressures over six-times the amount found in the deepest ocean trenches, can be blasted with 100-times the radiation that would kill a human, and even survive in the vacuum of space.
Since they were first discovered by a German scientist in 1773, more than 1,150 separate tardigrade species have been identified. A team of researchers from the University of Hamburg-Zoological Museum in Germany were able to look through the creature with a new laser scanning microscope and see its nervous system and musculature to learn more about this strange creature.
The water bears even have seasonal faces that change regularly depending on the state they’re in. The can go without food or water for over 10 years after drying up and retaining only 3% water, and at any point can re-hydrate to begin foraging and reproducing again.
Vice has put together an outstanding mini-documentary on these fascinating creatures. Its probably cooler than anything you saw in biology class growing up!
After the age of mankind is long over, these nearly-invincible water bears will still be ruling the microscopic kingdom.