Could tiny TARDIGRADES be space aliens living right in our backyards?! One thing’s for sure: they are strange beasties!
Tardigrades are eight-legged micro animals, about the size of the period at the end of this sentence. They are squishy and cute and resemble a fat bear, complete with tiny bear claws. They are also the toughest creatures on our planet! And they are old. Tardigrades have been around for over 600 million years, beginning in the Cambrian era. During that time, they’ve survived five mass extinctions on earth! That’s tough!
Tardigrades live everywhere on our planet, from the frozen mountains of Antarctic to boiling deep sea vents in the Pacific Ocean. You’ll even find them snuggled in your garden. But mostly tardigrades live in moist environments. They especially like moss, which is why tardigrades are also called “moss piglets”. Tardigrades feed on plant cells, algae, and tiny invertebrates like rotifers.
But like I said, the most amazing thing about tardigrades is just how tough they are. You can boil a tardigrade, freeze a tardigrade, dehydrate them, starve them, take away their air, and even radiate a tardigrade! Tardigrades have been found to survive after being dehydrated for 10 years. And, they can go without food for 30 years! You can even pop a tardigrade into a nuclear reactor–these little guys can stand 1000 x more radiation then we can–and still, they’ll come back to life and go happily about their business.
NASA was so impressed with tardigrades that it sent a herd of them into space, and then…opened the doors. Not only did the tardigrades not die as they floated happily around in deep space—they had babies! Babies! Tardigrades are sooooooo very strange, that some scientist wonder (though in a whisper) whether these little being are actually aliens from another planet. Now wouldn’t that be cool!