Tardigrades: Macrobiotus sapiens
Good Morning Watershed Explorers,
Today's critter spotlight is about the tardigrade, more well-known to most as water bears. They are super incredible little creatures. They belong to an elite group of animals known as extremophiles. They are really tiny, almost microscopic. Here is a microscope photo of a tardigrade from an article in the Smithsonian Magazine.
Tardigrades are extremely tolerant to many harsh conditions. They can withstand temperatures of more than 300 degrees Fahrenheit and -328 degrees Fahrenheit. They can also survive in outer space. (livescience.com) Tardigrades can live up to 30 years without food or water. Tardigrades can also perform a very neat trick called cryptobiosis in which they go completely dormant in dry conditions. When the conditions improve and water returns they uncurl themselves and begin to live again.
Tardigrades prefer to live in wet environments where moss and fungi are present. They eat by absorbing fluids from moss, fungi, and plants. They have also been found to eat other microscopic organisms, and to cannibalize (eat each other) if necessary. Tardigrades possess another cool feature that scientists just recently discovered, they share some of their DNA (Deoxyribonucleic Acid) with the moss, fungi, and plants they eat. If you are interested in learning more about this cool feature, check out this article https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/water-bears-tardigrades-master-dna-thieves-animal-world-180957371/ (side note: this is a bit scientific and some of it may be a little difficult to understand!)
Tardigrades are covered with a hard outer layer called a cuticle. It is very similar to the exoskeleton of other insects. They shed the cuticle in order to grow. Tardigrades can only grow to about 1 mm, which is less than the size of a pencil tip. This makes them very difficult to see in the water. Tardigrades can be found just about everywhere considering their extreme tolerance to all environments.
I hope that you enjoyed learning more about the tardigrade. The inspiration for this post came from a Wild Kratts episode that my daughters love. Check it out here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nw-KvRkO8ck
I hope that you all continue to get outside and explore as much as possible.