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September 20, 2010 | by  | in Opinion |
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The Water Bear

‘Water bear’ or ‘moss piglet’ are both names by which the tardigrade is commonly known, and both imply that it’s a lot more appealing than it actually is. There’s not a lot cute or cuddly, actually, about the tardigrade; it resembles a bear in its gait only, and even that requires a considerable imaginative leap—or some very potent bear goggles! (Sorry. I’ll stop now.) It is, however, quite a fascinating creature otherwise. Over 1000 species of tardigrade have been documented across the globe, including in mountain ranges above 6000 metres, the deep ocean below 4000 metres, and even polar regions. This is because tardigrades are polyextremophiles, they can survive at almost any temperature, pressure or radiation; they can live for almost a decade without water; and they are the only known animal capable of surviving the vacuum of space. Yes, that’s right—space: tardigrades were present on the Foton-M3 mission into low Earth orbit in September 2007, and returned to Kazakhstan 10 days later unharmed. Makes Laika the dog look a bit shit, really, doesn’t it? Sure, they might not be cute, but cute doesn’t get you far in this life. You don’t survive the impact of 5000 gamma-rays being cute. We’ve got a lot to learn from the tardigrade.

ANIMAL FACT!
If the moon was an animal, it would be the biggest animal.

Email suggestions for an upcoming ‘Animal’ to elle@salient.org.nz

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About the Author ()

Elle started out at Salient reviewing music. In 2010, she wrote features and Animal of The Week, which an informal poll revealed to be 40% of Victoria students' favourite part of the magazine. Alongside Uther Dean, she was co-editor for 2011. In 2012, she is chief features writer.

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