Meet the Tardigrade!

While doing a little research on cryptobiosis, for a far-future flash story I’m writing about a society where longevity-treatments are the ultimate key to power in a society, I ran across a description of the weirdest animal I’ve ever heard of: the tardigrade, also known as the “water bear”.

Check out these characteristics (courtesy of the Wikipedia entry linked above):

  • Body with four segments and head
  • Ventral nervous system with one ganglion per segment
  • Multilobed brain
  • Triradiate muscular sucking pharynx
  • Stylets
  • A single gonad
  • Instead of a coelom they have a haemocoel, the only place where we still can find a true coelom is around the gonad (coelomic pouch).
  • Cuticle with chitin, molting
  • Males and females present (though some species are parthenogenetic)
  • Four pairs of legs (in genus Hexapodibius reduced to three) without joints
  • Feet with claws or toes
  • Oviparous

And that’s not all: these critters are harder to kill than Rasputin! All kinds of extreme conditions are basically survivable for them:

  • Temperature—Tardigrades can survive being heated for a few minutes to 151 °C or being chilled for days at [minus] 272.8 °C (almost absolute zero).
  • Radiation— Shown by Raul M. May from the University of Paris, Tardigrades can withstand 5700 grays or 570,000 rads of x-ray radiation. (Five grays or 500 rads would be fatal to a human).
  • Pressure—They can withstand the extremely low pressure of a vacuum and also very high pressures, many times greater than atmospheric pressure. In theory, they could even survive the vacuum of space.
  • ?

Here’s what they look like:

Tardigrade image

… but you have no idea how strange they are till you see the tardigrade video. (There’s other neat stuff on this site, but coincidentally, a lot of the text is in Korean. Ah well, the tardigrade pics are worth the visit, even if the video freaks you out.)

I simply have to work these little buggers into a story somewhere. Maybe in the context of AI and robotics, which is an obvious one and which is suggested by the site with the video. Hmmmmmm.

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