What Are Water Bears, And Where Do They Live?

Let’s start with the good news: water bears are not, to the best of our knowledge, the ungodly spawn of a Kodiak and a great white with the ursine strength and shark-like hunger of a nightmare animal come to life. That said, if anybody reading this works for Asylum Pictures, that one’s a freebie. Be sure to put us in the “Special Thanks.”

No, the term “water bear” is a nickname for the tardigrade, an adorable species of nearly invisible little engines that could. Tardigrades are microscopic eight legged animals with about the same body proportions as Baymax from Big Hero 6. According to the Science Education Research Center at Carleton College, they were first described in the late 1700s by a German pastor before being named “tardigrades,” or “slow steppers,” by an Italian biologist a few years later. They thrive on goo sucked out of plants and animals, and they look like they’d make a deep cartoon “boing” sound if they bumped into each other.

And where can you find these majestic creatures? In practice, just about anywhere, since over 900 varieties have been found all over the world. In theory, things get even cooler: tardigrades are insanely adaptable creatures, capable of surviving in unimaginably unwelcoming environments like vacuums, under deadly amounts of radiation, and in vials of boiling alcohol. This is achieved through a process called cryptobiosis, in which the lovable little scamps suspend all of their body functions, placing themselves in a state almost indistinguishable from death, only to restore themselves, ship shape, as soon as their environment becomes a little more hospitable. Add to that the fact that a collection of the little fellas was scattered across the moon during an Israeli spacecraft collision not long ago, and we’re left with the very real possibility that the answer to the question “where do they live?” is quite possibly “in their new headquarters, orbiting Earth, waiting for their chance to strike.”

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