A water bear, also called a tardigrade, is actually an insect and not a bear. The nickname is due to its slow, bear-like gait. It ranges in size from 0.1 to 1.5mm and resembles a short caterpillar with eight legs.
The reason for the water bear’s fame is its amazing survivability. In short, a water bear can live anywhere.
Water bears are capable of cryptobiosis. This can be seen as an extension of hibernation and it is an organism’s ability to lower its metabolism to near-death rates in order to survive a harsh environment. In this state, a water bear can survive for indefinite amounts of time.
Why is cryptobiosis useful? The answer can be found from the water bear’s natural habitats. The water bear is found on the highest point of the Himalayas, the deepest oceans, hot springs and virtually any location from the North Pole to the South Pole. It can survive temperatures from 151°C to minus 273°C, the intense pressures in deep seas and even vacuum states.
Furthermore, water bears can survive in space. A recent experiment by NASA on the International Space Station found that not only can they live in space, but they also mated and laid eggs that later hatched. They can even survive heavy doses of radiation and toxic chemicals.
Ergo, if a cockroach can survive a nuclear war, water bears can survive even if the Earth was split in two. If we took a leaf out of the water bear’s book and lead a slower life, could we live a longer and happier life?