Sometimes I despair at the state of the planet, but then I remind myself of the Tardigrade – I use a capital T as anything less would be an insult to this god-like little pig-bear. In the face of mass extinctions and climate change, the Tardigrade is doing just fine and will probably carry on just fine until about eight minutes after the sun explodes…but let’s not dwell on that.
The Tardigrade is tiny, around the size of this full-stop. While most tiny things dart around quickly, the Tardigrade lumbers around on its stumpy legs, hence its name which means “slow walker” in Latin.
It can live for up to 100 years without food, water or basically anything. It does this by rolling up into a ball, a bit like a pangolin, but very unlike a pangolin, it then completely dehydrates itself and cozys down into a hibernation-like state called cryptobiosis. In this state it waits indefinitely until something good happens. We know this because scientists have rehydrated a Tardigrade from a 100-year old piece of moss from a museum collection.
This water-bear can not only survive 100 years of nothing, but also does fine in pressure higher than the depths of the ocean, temperatures as low as -272 and as high as 150 celsius and extreme radiation that’s over 100 times what would kill you – you retardigrade. The obvious next step here is to shoot one off into space. Of course, the Tardigrade, without any protection just floating around totally naked was absolutely fine – in SPACE.
So where can you find one? Well lots of places, while it normally makes its home in mosses and lichens, it can also be found in your salad. Yep, you probably ate one this week. But did it survive? Well no, come on, it’s a little squidgy full-stop, not much chance against stomach acids. Everyone has their weak points.
Despite its weakness for stomach acid, the Tardigrade thrives in modern messy times and is a welcome reminder of the extraordinary hardiness of life on earth.
Maybe it could survive the eventual explosion of the sun and float off into the dark abyss, waiting quietly for a sup of water and a nice bit of space moss to clumsily amble around on.
Long live the mighty Tardigrade.