The Ways of the Waterbear

Link At Astonishing Legends, we’re a little more than obsessed with Tardigrades (also known as waterbears). If you’ve ever been to our front page, you’ve probably noticed it. But, now, there’s big news about these little creatures.

For those not yet indoctrinated in the ways of the waterbear, here’s a quick catch-up. They are microscopic animals first discovered in 1773. They have eight legs and are, roughly, 1mm long. Their phylum name “Tardigrada” means “slow stepper”. They populate all the craziest places on earth, from mountaintops to the deepest depths on the ocean.

Now researchers have successfully revived these micro-animals that were kept frozen for over thirty years.

The researchers are Scientists from Japan’s National Institute of Polar Research. They originally gathered the creatures from a moss sample in 1983. The tardigrades have been stored at -4 Fahrenheit ever since. A previous study conducted brought them out of freezing conditions after only 8 years, and it was believed the upper length of survival would be about 10 years.

Two waterbears were resuscitated and, though one died after twenty days, the other reproduced with a third specimen hatched from a frozen egg. It then laid 19 eggs, with 14 successful hatches. So, not only have they revived animals that were frozen for 30+ years…they actually got them to reproduce with relative success.

So, how did they survive? Well, they enter a state called “cryptobiosis” in which their metabolic processes systematically shut down and they show no visible signs of life.

The National Institute of Polar Research is now pursuing this research on the creatures’ genes and its spectacular recovery ability to gain a better understanding of its enviable long-term survival mechanism.


This picture was taken by Bob Goldstein and Vicky Madden, UNC Chapel Hill. it is licensed under Creative Commons. You can find more of their work and pictures of tardigrades here.