Water bears, also known as tardigrades, are everywhere… from the top of the highest mountains to the deepest abyss. Some of our more savvy readers will notice that they haven’t had to cut them a slice of the sponge cake, nor had to pour them a lapsang souchong… and so have quite rightly surmised that they are very very small… they are also really rather adorable.
The water bear is so called for his ursine looks and waddling gait, rather like a chubby grizzly plumped up on salmon for winter, actually to be fair it looks more like a first attempt at making a bear out of socks… but that was considered too much of a mouthful.
The tardigrades are also numerous, a thousand species have been named and undoubtedly many more will be. There can be as many as 250,000 in them in a litre of swamp water. However omnipresence, cuteness and looking like a bear is not enough to propel a critter into the Proceedings of the Ever So Strange. You see this chap is in fact the toughest creature on the planet, tougher even than the honey badger… though one wouldn’t say that to a honey badger..
Tardigrades can take anything to be honest, from temperatures as low as –273 celsius about as close to as cold as you can get… if that makes any sense… apologies I’m halfway through a rather nice chablis… which may or may not have tardigrades waddling about in it. They can take temperature hotter than a boiling kettle, an incredible 151 celsius, and can live for a decade without a drink, though why the blazes they would want to do that is anyone’s guess. What’s more, they can even take on far too much of the wet stuff withstanding about 6,000 atmospheres of pressure, in other words they could live in water six times deeper than the deepest ocean trench. Tardigrades can happily withstand about a 1000 times the dose of radiation that would take out a human. They’ve even spent ten days shoved out of a space shuttle window, and of course they thought that the whole trip was just dandy. Calling them names like ‘fat little multi-legged bear thing’ doesn’t even hurt them.
The key to this rather remarkable resilience is that they can basically die and resurrect themselves. When things are looking tough they will simply shut down their metabolism. Water bears will stop every single bodily process; repair, reproduction, development. Then when everything looks peachy once again, they’ll wake up, have a bit of a yawn and a stretch and waddle off. For this reason, although they are incredibly resilient, they are about as much use as the French when it comes to fisticuffs.