Water bear hunter (video)

[Video Link] If Boing Boing had a mascot animal, it would probably be the tardigrade. As you aware, tardigrades (the scientific name is water bear) came to Earth from outer space.

Spaced Out is Vice's show about space on Earth. In the new episode, Motherboard travels to the Virginia wilderness to visit self proclaimed naturalist Mike Shaw on his hunt for the tardigrade, a "water bear" that can survive in situations that almost no other living organism can... and could have totally come from another planet.

Vice: First Animal to Survive in Space



  1. … and could have totally come from another planet.

    But just for the record, they didn’t. They might look alien to people who aren’t familiar with other little creatures, but they fit very nicely with velvet worms and the early arthropods of the Burgess Shale. To some extent they’re more typical of life on earth than we are.

    Also, the name “water bear” is the original one – as German “Wasserbär”, it goes back to their discovery in the 1700s – but I suspect tardigrade is still probably what counts as the scientific name.

      1.  I’m probably missing the joke here, (and for that i apologize), but in my bio-terminology courses “-grade” always referred to the “step” or “walk” of a creature.  As in unguligrade (“nail walker”, pretty much anything with a hoof), plantigrade (“palm walker”, bears and humans), digitigrade (“toe walker” cats and dogs).  So tardigrade would be “slow-walker”

    1. Physiologically they’re very much like velvet worms, which I’ve always considered super cool ever since Stephen J. Gould’s initial story about Hallucigenia.  The Wikipedia page says they’re popular as pets, but then my old “Walker’s Mammals of the World” said that honey badgers made good pets.

  2. I’ve always liked these guys. I remember thinking they looked like little “Space Hampsters” when I first encountered them in my undergraduate Invertebrate Zoology course; my textbook (“Invertebrates” by Brusca and Brusca) had the best drawings too. 

    Years later when I saw Disney’s “Lilo and Stitch”, I practically shouted “It’s a tardigrade!” when they introduced Stitch. Here he is, before he ‘hid’ his extra legs. Think the artist was influenced? :) http://www.disneypicture.net/data/media/175/Lilo_and_Stitch_1024x768.jpg

  3. Actually no – just because they can survive in space in no way means that they came from space. A quick study into the genome/proteome of these animals makes it abundantly clear that they’re from earth.

  4. I think we need to ship a few pounds of these guys to Venus to get the terraforming started.  Anybody got a rocket?

    1. I wonder, though, why these and water bears are the only ones people note. Off the top of my head, there are also rotifers that can survive dehydration, lots more radiation than other animals, and apparently temperatures as low as liquid helium.

      Yet fans of these extreme survivors never seem to mention them, or any others there might be. They’re less photogenic than water bears but much more than bacteria, so why?

      1. D. radiodurans isn’t an animal, but can withstand much, much more radiation than any animal. It is, admittedly, not the most radiotolerant species (I forget the name of the closely related bacterium that holds this title) but it is the arguably the most durable. It can resist cold, heat, vacuums, radiation, hypertonicity, extreme pH’s, you name it. Also, its genome has been sequenced, and that makes it a go-to for genetic research.

        But yeah, as someone who used to maintain a waste water plant at a brewery, I can confirm that rotifers are very, very, very cool.

      2. Dear Chenille –  It’s about cuteness, I think, both in appearance and name.  Waterbear, teddybear.  Rotifers pretty much hang out in one place, kind of spinning their umbrellas.  Sorry.

    1. What, you think it goes CCG ATT CGA GREETINGS FROM URANUS ATT ACC?  The Space Brothers are subtler than you think, my friend.

  5. Far be it from me to stomp on anyone’s enthusiasm or curiosity but . . . so much wrong in one place.

    “True” is actually pretty cool. Hopefully, curiosity will lead people there.

  6. favorite quote is about galaxies being so far apart that it would take “hundreds if not thousands of years” to travel between.  priceless.

    also “the universe is infinite” is a close second.

    also the bit about what tardigrades are thinking is cute, i didn’t know you could tell that through a microscope.

    so much of what this guy says is funny. i can’t help but like him.

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