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4 Reasons Why Water Bears Are the Toughest Animals on the Planet

4 Reasons Why Water Bears Are the Toughest Animals on the Planet

On this week’s episode of “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey,” Neil deGrasse Tyson explored the wonders of evolution. Wonderful it is! Life, it turns out, shows up in the wildest places, places only a few decades ago we would never expect. One of the little animals mentioned were tardigrades, otherwise known as water bears, waterbears or, adorably, moss piglets. They are tiny, adorable, micro-animals that only grow to about half a millimeter long. They are also one of the most amazing organisms on Earth. (They’re no slime molds, but then again, nothing is.)

Water bears can live in the vacuum of space

Talk about hardcore. In 2007 some tardigrades got the chance few humans even get: they were sent into space. A lesser creature would have succumbed to the harsh realities of nature outside the Earth’s atmosphere, but not tardigrades. Neither solar winds nor lack of oxygen could kill them off. They just needed a little water and they were back up and running.

Water bears can survive for a decade with basically no water

Basically all life on Earth needs water to survive. Humans are famously three quarters water. Everything needs water. Water bears do, too, but less than most. When it gets very, very cold, their body composition goes from 85 percent water to about 3 percent. During periods of extreme dryness water bears can undergo anhydrobiosis, or life without water. These microscopic organisms can survive in this dry state for 10 years. They do this by curling up into a little ball called a tun. While in its tun state, their metabolism can decrease to about 0.01 percent of the normal level.

Water bears can survive under intense pressure and extreme temperatures

Not only can water bears survive the very low pressure and temperature found in a vacuum, they can also withstand incredibly high temperatures and high pressures. Tardigrades can survive temperatures between -328 F and 304 F. They can even be frozen and thawed and live to tell the tale. The pressures they can tolerate is just as impressive. They can withstand the very small pressures of space, as well as over 1200 times the pressure of the Earth’s atmosphere.

Water bears can tolerate a bunch of radiation

Just mention the word “radiation” and people get all squiggly. Water bears, being the tough little buggers they are, are resistant to radiation. In their chilled state, it took 570,00 roentgens to kill 50 percent of exposed water bears. To put that in perspective, it only takes 500 roentgens to kill a human.

Tardigrades are arguably the toughest animal on the planet, and a marvel of evolution.

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Photo Credit: Eye of Science/Science Source Images

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169 comments

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3:56PM PDT on Aug 17, 2014

Thanks.

5:38AM PDT on Jul 7, 2014

Thank you :)

7:47AM PDT on Jul 6, 2014

Fascinating!

3:34PM PDT on Jun 17, 2014

They look like sci-fi creations!

3:54PM PDT on Jun 15, 2014

Hmmm.... tardi (tardis?) grades? Does the Dr have a hand in this?

10:28PM PDT on Jun 14, 2014

I also heard about them at AP. and i love those small creaturs.

2:05PM PDT on Jun 10, 2014

i've heard all this on Most Extreme on Animal Planet... too bad more animals aren't this tough us humans would have a much harder time wiping out species

9:48AM PDT on Jun 9, 2014

wow! Fascinating!

4:51AM PDT on Jun 7, 2014

No excuse to keep devastating our homeland

6:15PM PDT on Apr 26, 2014

Really interesting - It seems however that being 'hardy' 'tough' certainly has it's downsides with science wishing to consistently test your mortality rate.

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