Water Bears

Water bears, or Tardigrades, are microscopic organisms that belong to the animal kingdom. However, they are not a single species. In fact, they’re a whole phylum that consists of over 1000 species! Honestly, I didn’t know that until I started researching them and now I know too many cool things about them to keep to single post. I’m sorry?

There’s so much to talk about when Tardigrades are the subject, though not as much as coral when I’m the one speaking! Let’s start with some general characteristics.

Water bears range in size between 0.05 a 1.2 mm, though the average water bear is about half a millimeter. In other words, they range from “extremely tiny” to “really tiny,” but their average size is “really really tiny.” You can’t see these guys with the naked eye except under specific lighting conditions. Most of us need to use strong microscopes to spot them.

What your microscope will show you is a really freaky but cute close-up of these eight-legged animals with nightmarish claws at the end of each leg. Unlike other microscopic organisms with appendages, Tardigrades have their legs positioned beneath them, which they use them to crawl around their environment. In fact, their name originates from a Latin word meaning “slow walker” because they move at a much more leisurely pace than the rest of the microscopic community.

Now, what do they move slowly to do? They feed on algae, lichen, and moss—well, more specifically, they suck the fluids out of them like vampires. Oh my, they’re adorable little vampires of doom for photosynthesizers!

Their prey lives in very moist environments. Water bears can be found on damp moss, in the sediment at the bottom of a lake, or even between grains of sand in marine sediments. Most Tardigrades are fresh water species, but there are some that can live in salt water environments. Water bears can pretty much survive in any condition, and researchers speculate that they will survive long after our bones have turned to dust!

I first learned about these guys at a sci-fi convention when I was looking for a toy to give to the small child of a family friend. There was a vendor selling microbe plushies with cool facts on the tags, and the water bug was one of them. The kid absolutely loved the plushie, and I found a favorite microbe that day!

Sources and cool links:
https://www.livescience.com/57985-tardigrade-facts.html
https://www.americanscientist.org/article/tardigrades

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