Tardigrade ―The Most 'Indestructible' Animal On Earth

Tardigrade ―The Most 'Indestructible' Animal On Earth

If you go into outer space without a spacesuit, you will die.

The vacuum of space will pull the air out of your body. Without air in your lungs, your blood will stop sending oxygen to your brain. The gasses dissolved in your body's fluids would expand, push the skin apart, and force it to inflate like a balloon. Your eardrum and capillaries would rupture, and your blood would start to bubble and boil. Even if you survived all that, the ionizing radiation would rip the DNA in your cells apart.

But one group of animals can survive this: tiny creatures called tardigrades.

Tardigrades or water bears are tiny, cute, and practically indestructible animals, between 0.1 mm and 1.5 mm, and multicellular invertebrates.

Tardigrades belong to the elite category of animals known as extremophiles, or critters that can survive environments that most others cannot. They are microscopic eight-legged animals that have been in outer space and are likely to survive the apocalypse.

They were found in the fossil record as long ago as the middle of the Cambrian period, over 500 million years ago, when complex animals were developing. Approximately 1,300 Tardigrades species are found worldwide. Considered aquatic because they require a thin layer of water around their bodies to prevent dehydration, they have also been observed in all kinds of environments, from deep-sea to dunes. Freshwater mosses and lichens are their favorite habitat, and therefore their nickname is also moss piglet.

These microscopic animals can go up to 30 years without food or water. They can also survive in a pot of boiling water, at the bottom of a deep-sea trench, or even in a cold, dark vacuum of space.

Researchers have often gone to an extreme level to test Tardigrade's resilience by sending them into space.

In September 2007, Thousands of tardigrades were taken into low Earth orbit on the FOTON-M3 mission carrying the BIOPAN astrobiology payload. For 10 days, tardigrades were exposed to the hard vacuum of outer space or vacuum and solar UV radiation.

After the satellite had returned to Earth, scientists looked at them and found that many survived. Some of the females even laid eggs in space, and the young, newly hatched, were healthy.

Tardigrades have the resilience to respond to extreme environments is due to cryptobiosis.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, cryptobiosis puts tardigrades grades in a "tun" state ― in which the body dries out and appears lifeless. In this state, metabolism may decrease to as little as 0.01% of its normal rate, reducing their need for oxygen and eliminating their water cells almost completely. Tardigrades have been able to survive as tuns for years or even decades.

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