Tardigrades (aka "water bears" or "moss piglets") are odd little creatures at the best of times. Rarely measuring more than 1 millimeter in length, they look like a mash-up between a pig and a caterpillar with eight legs and a tubular mouth armed with needle-like teeth called stylets.
But this particular creature takes things a step further. Captured on camera by biologist Rafael Martín-Ledo, it looks as though it has gorged on glitter bombs and now resembles one of those sparkly water snake toys found in many a '90s kid's party bag.
Martín-Ledo found the world's most extra tardigrade relaxing in moss collected from the banks of the River Saja in Cantabria, northern Spain. The video was filmed using an imaging technique called phase-contrast microscopy. This effectively amps up the brightness setting on the image, making it easier to identify microscopic structures and turning the contents of the tardigrade's stomach into a glittering disco ball.
The source of these sparkles is unknown but Martín-Ledo believes they could be fragments of the tardigrade's own mouth that it has accidentally swallowed. Stylets are made from aragonite – a mineral and naturally forming crystal consisting of carbon and calcium.
But this is just a suggestion. The sparkles could instead have come from bacteria or algae it ate – or something else altogether. For now, and until more research is done, it will remain a mystery.
Tardigrades look alien but they can be found just about anywhere on the planet. Size-wise, they can measure anything from 0.05 to 1.2 millimeters and there are more than 1,000 known species.
Tardigrades have developed an almost cult-like following, partly because of their strangely cute appearance and partly because they are the John McClanes of the animal kingdom. To put it bluntly, they are nearly indestructible.
These microscopic beasts can survive an incredible 30 years without food or water by achieving a state of suspended animation. They can survive in some of the planet’s harshest conditions (see: Antarctica’s underground lakes) and the vacuum of outer space. They can withstand high doses of radiation, extreme pressure, and boiling water, not to mention temperatures as low as -200°C (-328°F) and as high as 150°C (302°F) or more.
Basically, when the apocalypse comes (whether by climate change or nuclear war), tardigrades will outlive us all. Indeed, experts reckon these little creatures will carry on surviving until the Sun eventually dies roughly 10 billion years in the future.
[H/T: Live Science]