Gosh! For a little critter, the tardigrade is receiving some big press.
It first reared its––frankly––chubby little head as a segue between programmes on Channel 4, provoking an initial reaction of “Is this for real, or just some adman’s CGI creation?” Swiftly followed by the query: “If this is for real, does it live on me?”
The Channel 4 tardigrade is a rather loveable fellow. It is easy to see where it acquired its numerous nicknames: the water bear; the space bear; or, my favourite, the moss piglet. Although, I am going to suggest a new moniker: the quantum sloth.
However, the tardigrade’s exposure on Channel 4 was only a stepping stone to a global explosion of media interest. Now, it is practically impossible to go anywhere without stumbling over another tardigrade.
To give a little context: a tardigrade is an eight-limbed, segmented micro-animal, typically around half a millimetre in length, which lives in water, and has been known to have had phylum-ancestors in existence for over 530 million years; with fossils dating back to the Cambrian period. An impressive pedigree. It takes one to know one.
And, it is the tardigrade’s resilience, which has provoked recent headlines. Tardigrades can survive temperature fluctuations from -270°C to +150°C; they can live through pressures six times greater than those found in the Mariana Trench; and, perhaps most impressively, they can withstand radiation more than one hundred times more effectively than any human. They can live without food or water for decades, and yet still be capable of reproduction; and they have survived in the vacuum of outer space. Respect where respect is due.
It makes you wonder: why does any other species bother with the year-in year-out fag of evolution when the tardigrade pretty much has it all sorted?
© The Mudskipper