I’ve recently seen a couple of posts on Facebook that are highly disturbing. The photograph, taken through an electron scanning microscope, reveals a creature so bizarre as to cause nightmares in even the most fearsome redneck and/or semi-immortal Scottish alchemist with a golden sword.
As you can see, this creature, commonly called a Water Bear is NO bear I’ve ever seen or heard of (as you know, I do not care for bears and thought the name highly appropriate in any case) also called Moss Piglets (too cute for this monster). It’s real name is Tardigrade by the fellow who discovered it. It has no eyes and no discernible ears. That means you can’t scare it away by looking mean and it won’t be able to hear you if you scream at it. Having said that, let me fill you in on a few facts about this critter. (And no, that is not Uncle Bob’s sweater it’s crawling on; that is highly magnified moss.)
- It is the most common creature on earth.
- It lives under our feet.
- It can survive in outer space.
- It can withstand deadly radiation.
- It can live for decades without a thing to eat or drink.
- It doesn’t mind deep freeze near absolute zero; nor does it mind extreme heat above the boiling point of alcohol.
- It can live at the bottom of the deepest ocean under enormous pressure.
- It likes both salt water and fresh water.
- It has FOUR pairs of legs that end in four to eight CLAWS.
Let us forget for a moment that this critter is microscopic in size and consider the implications of mutation. Mutation is generally accepted as the engine running Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. According to a great number of people, we are what we are due to a series of mutations. At one time, we were little bitty hominids or ape-like critters living in trees. Now we often grow to astounding heights and weights… but relatively speaking, even a 6’3″ 250 lb. muscle building Viking Warrior is nothing more than a microscopic speck on a dust mite’s butt in the cosmic scheme of things.
Imagine our little Water Bear somehow ingesting something either natural or man-made or extraterrestrial in origin and starting to put on a little weight. In no time at all, the earth would be overrun by the trillions of Water Bears out there looking for a scrumptious munchie to scarf up. I would hate to run into one or two of these mutated to say…. the size of a Mini-Cooper. ‘Run for your life!!’ I could scream, but with only two legs to carry me, how could I outrun something with eight? (Which is another reason to dislike the Water Bear. What else has eight legs? Aha! You got it. Spiders!)
Refer now, with your full imagination tuned in, back to the photo of the Water Bear. See that little Dixie Cup looking thing stuck in its wrinkly face? Well, that is its mouth apparently and from the looks of it, I would say it sucks up its dinner like a vacuum cleaner. Shudder! Cringe! And if it was the size of a Mini-Cooper, why stop there? Why not a Ford 150? Or a Dodge Durango? That would be a problem, wouldn’t it?
The Water Bear is a very good reason to hope that Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution was wrong. It is also a good pictorial representation of what the Worms of Sherma that I used in the first book of the Assassin Chronicles might have resembled as they spit acid on bedrock strong enough to cut out building blocks. Eerily enough, I never saw these things or thought that something like them existed until just recently, but I certainly must have imagined them over twenty years ago as one of the most terrifying creature I could dream up. What a shock it was to see one naked and exposed on my Facebook wall.
Oh, did I mention that they are asexual? In other words, one Water Bear goes a long way…
All kidding aside, I was astounded by the tenacity of this creature and equally astonished to learn that very little actual research is being done to unravel its secrets. The Water Bear can actually repair its own DNA. Perhaps, we might be able to learn something from this little fellow about aging and survival if we take the time to research it thoroughly. If I were just starting out now as a Microbiologist, this would be my life’s work I think. It is truly amazing what we do NOT know about what we are walking on every time we go outside.
Image Credit & Copyright: Nicole Ottawa & Oliver Meckes / Eye of Science / Science Source Images