The Fish Guru

Surviving When All Else Fails: The Amazing Tardigrades

Tardigrades are intriguing microscopic creatures that have captured the attention of scientists and researchers around the world due to their unique properties that enable them to survive in extreme conditions. Commonly known as water bears, tardigrades are often regarded as the most resilient creatures on the planet, capable of surviving in the harshest of environments and conditions.

Anatomy and Species Diversity

Tardigrades are microscopic creatures, ranging from 0.05 to 1.5mm in length, and have a barrel-shaped body with four pairs of stubby legs armed with claws. These microscopic creatures are incredibly diverse, with over 1100 described species to date, indicating that they can thrive in almost any environment.

They are often found in mossy habitats, lichen beds, and other aquatic environments, where they use their sharp claws to grip the surface and move around. Despite their small size, tardigrades have a unique and complex anatomy.

The creatures’ digestive system consists of a muscular alimentary canal that runs from their mouth to their anus. Their nervous system is composed of brain-like ganglia connected by several nerve cords, while the reproductive system is relatively simple, with the animals reproducing asexually or sexually, depending on the species.

Lifespan and Size

Tardigrades have a remarkable ability to withstand extreme environmental conditions, including high temperatures, extreme cold, and prolonged periods without water. While some species may live for only a few weeks, others can live for several months or even years.

Moreover, tardigrades have an incredible ability to go into a state of dormancy when faced with unfavorable environmental conditions. They can survive in a dehydrated state for several years before being rehydrated, a process that reawakens them from their dormancy.

Size is another remarkable feature of tardigrades. Despite being classified as microscopic animals, tardigrades come in a range of sizes.

Some species, such as Hypsibius klebelsbergi, can reach a length of up to 1.5mm, while others, such as Batillipes pennaki, are a mere 0.05mm.

The Largest Tardigrade Species

The largest known tardigrade species is called Macrobiotus shonaicus. This tardigrade species was discovered in 2015 in Japan, and it measures around 1.3mm in length, making it one of the largest tardigrade species to be described.

However, even with their large size, Macrobiotus shonaicus still possesses the remarkable features that tardigrades are known for, such as the ability to withstand harsh environmental conditions and entering a state of dormancy.


In summary, tardigrades are incredibly diverse microscopic creatures with unique properties that enable them to survive in extreme conditions. With a complex anatomy, an amazing ability to enter a state of dormancy, and the capability to withstand harsh environmental conditions, tardigrades have captured the imagination of scientists and researchers worldwide.

The discovery of new tardigrade species continues to add to the fascination and study of these remarkable and seemingly indestructible creatures, which may hold clues to some of the most significant questions about the origins of life on our planet.

3) Habitat and Finding Tardigrades

Tardigrades are among the hardiest creatures on earth, capable of living in a wide range of environments. They can be found in aquatic, semi-aquatic, and terrestrial habitats worldwide, from the depths of the ocean to the highest mountaintops.

Tardigrades are particularly common in mosses, lichens, and leaf litter, but they can also be found in soil, freshwater, and marine environments.

Mosses and Lichens

One of the most common locations where Tardigrades can be found is moss and lichens. Some species of mosses and lichens provide the ideal habitat for Tardigrades.

These habitats are often humid, providing an ample supply of moisture for the creatures to survive. Additionally, since mosses and lichens are found in both terrestrial and aquatic environments, Tardigrades have a diversity of habitats to choose from, making it easier for scientists and researchers to find them.

Methods for Finding Tardigrades

Tardigrades are typically found using the “wet mount” technique, which involves collecting moss, lichen, or other samples from the environment where Tardigrades are likely to reside. The sample is then placed in a “wet” or moist environment to keep the Tardigrades hydrated.

Another technique is the use of a “Baermann Funnel,” which is a device that uses gravity to extract Tardigrades from the soil. Soil samples are placed in the top of a wide tube with a narrow bottom, and water is added to moisten the soil.

The water mixes with the soil and trickles down through the tube, carrying Tardigrades suspended in the water down to the bottom of the tube, where they can be collected and examined. Some researchers have also found tardigrades in bird nests, suggesting that the creatures are capable of hitching a ride on other creatures such as animals or insects.

4) Tardigrade Diet

Tardigrades are opportunistic feeders, meaning they will feed on whatever food sources are available to them in their environment. They have a wide range of feeding habits, with different species preferring different types of food sources.

Some species of Tardigrades are considered herbivores, feeding on algae or plant cells found in their environment. They use their sharp claws to grasp onto the plant material and then use their mouth to penetrate the cell wall and extract the contents inside.

Other species are predatory, preying on small invertebrates such as nematodes, rotifers, and other tardigrade species. They have a distinctive hunting style, employing a spear-like tube to impale their prey, before sucking out the body fluids.

While some Tardigrades are predators, others are scavengers, feeding on detritus and dead plant and animal matter. Similar to other invertebrates, they play an important role in breaking down organic matter, facilitating nutrient cycling and soil conditioning, particularly in aquatic or semi-aquatic environments.

Interestingly, some species of Tardigrades have been known to exhibit cannibalistic behavior, feeding on other tardigrades of the same species that happen to be smaller than them. The larger individual will engulf the smaller one, breaking it down internally using enzymes.

In conclusion, the feeding habits of Tardigrades are remarkably diverse and can vary depending on the species and their environment. Some Tardigrade species act as herbivores, preying on plant cells, while others are predatory hunters, feeding on other small invertebrates.

Others still are scavengers, feeding on dead plant and animal matter, while a few species are even cannibalistic and will prey on other Tardigrades of their own kind. Knowing what Tardigrades eat is important in understanding their role in various ecosystems and their overall impact on the environment.

5) Tardigrade Survivability

Tardigrades are renowned for their ability to survive extreme conditions that would obliterate most other life forms. This incredible ability is due to a range of physiological adaptations that enable them to tolerate and survive extreme environmental stresses.

Extreme Temperature, Pressure, Radiation, and Chemical Tolerance

Tardigrades are among the few creatures on earth that can survive exposure to extreme temperatures, both high and low. They can survive being heated up to 149C and frozen at as low as -272C (near absolute zero) without damage to their bodies.

Furthermore, tardigrades are known to survive high levels of ionizing radiation and are even capable of withstanding pressures of up to 6000 atmospheres. Another remarkable feature of tardigrades is their ability to tolerate a broad range of chemicals, including acids, bases and heavy metals.

They can also withstand exposure to toxic substances and pollutants, such as benzene, toluene, and PCBs without any apparent damage.

Dehydration and Repair Capabilities

Tardigrades’ unique ability to enter a state of dorment dehydration, also known as anhydrobiosis, is another key factor in their incredible survivability. During this process, water is removed from tardigrades, and they become desiccated and metabolically inactive.

However, when supplied with water again, the tardigrades can rehydrate, and their metabolic processes resume, allowing them to continue their normal activities. Tardigrades also possess remarkable repair abilities, allowing them to regenerate tissues and even their entire selves.

When exposed to extreme environmental stressors, tardigrades’ cells undergo DNA damage and genome fragmentation. Importantly, instead of repairing their DNA in the conventional way by using homologous recombination, tardigrades repair their fragmented DNA using a process called nonhomologous end joining.

6) Mind Boggling Facts

Age and Adaptability

Tardigrades are incredibly adaptable creatures and have been around for over 600 million years, meaning they survived all five mass extinctions since then. They are among the few living species to have persisted for so long, and their adaptability is a testament to their evolutionary success.

Unique Reproductive and DNA Characteristics

Tardigrades have unique reproductive capabilities, allowing them to reproduce asexually by parthenogenesis or sexually. In some species, males and females can reproduce sexually, while others reproduce by self-fertilization through hermaphroditic means, increasing their chances of survival in harsh environments.

In addition to their reproductive peculiarities, tardigrades have incredibly robust DNA. Tardigrades’ DNA is about 100 times the length of the human genome and contains an excess of genes that improve DNA repair and protect against damage from extreme environmental stresses.

Tardigrades even possess foreign genes or horizontally transferred genes that likely came from bacteria, adding to their genetic diversity.

Potential Applications in Crop Preservation and Space Travel

Studies in tardigrade research have led to a range of innovative applications and technologies. For example, researchers have discovered that Tardigrades can survive in extreme temperatures and pressures, gaps in radiation shielding, and prolonged periods of weightlessness in space.

This quality can potentially contribute to developing agricultural and horticultural crops in otherwise hostile environments to preserve crops and produce food. Moreover, tardigrades are unique in their abilities and potential for synthetic biology research applications.

Scientists are studying Tardigrades and their unique DNA to develop new insights into genetic engineering, from the production of food to the creation of nanorobots. In conclusion, Tardigrades are remarkable creatures with unique properties that enable them to survive under extreme conditions.

Their incredible physiological adaptations and DNA contribute to their survival and provide potential applications in various fields, from agriculture to space travel. Through research and study, we may discover new ways to harness the unique adaptability of these incredible creatures to create new technologies, save ecosystems, and protect life.



Given their incredible adaptability and survivability, scientists have recently begun to speculate about whether Tardigrades could be the last survivors on Earth. These microscopic organisms have persisted for millions of years in many different environments, making them candidates for survival in a post-apocalyptic world.

In the event of a catastrophic event, such as a massive asteroid impact, nuclear war, or a global pandemic, Tardigrades might be the only life form that can survive. They have already shown a remarkable ability to withstand harsh environmental conditions, such as high levels of radiation, extreme temperatures, and even outer space conditions.

These features make Tardigrades potentially the hardiest creatures on the planet and could be called to survive when all others cannot. While it is not necessarily true that Tardigrades could be the last survivors on Earth, they serve as an excellent model for how to survive under extreme environmental stresses.

By studying their biology and genetic makeup, scientists gain insights into how they are able to persist in harsh environments, indicating that we might learn new ways to enhance our survival in a post-apocalyptic world someday. The potential survival of Tardigrades in a post-apocalyptic world, although speculative, demonstrates their adaptability and the importance of studying their characteristics.

They could potentially be used to develop new technologies in synthetic biology, genetic engineering, and even space travel. Tardigrades could help pave the way for a brighter future, not just their own, but for humanity as a whole.

We should not overlook the importance of protecting and preserving Tardigrades and the environments they live in. They play an important role in the ecosystem, and their resilience could be vital to future generations.

By understanding the biology and adaptability of these creatures, we might learn from them and evolve ourselves to increase our chances of surviving in an ever-changing world. In conclusion, Tardigrades are incredible creatures that have captured the curiosity and imagination of scientists and researchers worldwide.

With their remarkable survivability and unique characteristics, Tardigrades could potentially be the last survivors on Earth, although this remains purely speculative. By examining Tardigrades’ biology, physiological characteristics, and genetic makeup, we can learn about their unique adapting ability and how to apply them to new technologies and the preservation of the planet.

Tardigrades’ unique adaptability makes them models for scientific research and provides insights into how organisms have survived and evolved through tough environmental challenges. In conclusion, Tardigrades, also known as water bears, are microscopic creatures known for their remarkable survivability and unique characteristics.

With adaptations that enable them to withstand extreme environmental conditions, including high radiation, extreme temperatures, and even dehydration, they can potentially survive when all other lifeforms cannot. Tardigrades’ adaptability and their potential to survive in extreme conditions hold significant implications for scientific research and innovation.

Moreover, the study of these fascinating organisms can provide insights into new technologies, genetic engineering, and the preservation of the planet. To ensure our future survival and that of other species, more research and effort should be invested in understanding and preserving the vital role of these remarkable creatures in the ecosystem.

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