Hey, you wanna learn about cool animal? A cool animal immune to mass extinctions? A cool animal you’re probably touching right now? I think you dooooo. Meet-
AND THE LAST ENEMY THAT SHALL BE DESTROYED IS DEATH.
Tardigrades, also called Water Bears (because of the way they walk with their six stubby legs, exactly like a regular Mammal Bear) are one of nature’s greatest survivors. They might not look all that impressive, being only half a millimeter long, but the humble Tardigrade has survived all five extinction events on the planet earth. Yeah, even the nightmare volcano thing and the dying-star radiation bath thing. Our planet is kind of awful. (Also, their face kind of looks like a butt. Hee hee!) They are found worldwide in almost every environment from meadows to the bottom of the ocean to the ice of Antarctica to the roof of your house. You’re probably touching one right now. (SPOOKY FINGER WIGGLE)
They usually live on patches of moss or lichen, where they dine on plant matter and also basically anything smaller than they are. (Including other Tardigrades because THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE). They’re pretty fragile and are eaten by many larger creatures. But that’s because these little buttfaces dumped all their individual survival stats and minimaxed themselves to be immune to extinction-level events! Not a choice I would have made, but hey! IT SEEMS TO HAVE WORKED.
Tardigrades can survive some seriously hellish nonsense that would freeze/boil/completely freaking pancake you and I. This is because they can go into a kind of hibernation state where they basically temporarily mummify themselves. In this freeze-dried condition, they can withstand temperatures from −458 °F to 300 °F, pressures of 0 - 1,200 atmospheres, and 1000 times more radiation than it would take to kill a human for short periods. They have even been exposed to actual outer space, (thanks to Nasa, paragon of hurling helpless creatures into Low Earth Orbit) and been revived none the worse for wear. For ten days. They were unprotected in space in the face of solar radiation and hard vacuum for 10 days and they were fine. YIKES.
If Mother Nature ever created an unextinctable creature, this is it. They fear no creature or man, and nothing can wipe them out. …Oh, except Google, who has personally killed hundreds of Tardigrades. What? Of course I’m serious. DEAD SERIOUS. Back in 2015, Google played with the idea of creating a modular smartphone with swappable components. For some goddamn reason, one of those proposed modules was a small, self-contained aquarium full of Tardigrades that you could look at and interact with using your phone. Kids love that kind of thing! It was basically going to be an IRL proto-Pokemon Go.
It was an… interesting (read: REALLY STUPID) idea, but Google ran into a problem: they kept accidentally killing the Tardigrades. Turns out the inside of a phone is pretty hot, and Tardigrades are actually not great with being constantly boiled even with their protective mummystate. YOU SHOULDA KEPT THOSE INDIVIDUAL STATS, TARDIGRADES. But before Google could figure out how to stop killing dozens of the most unkillable creature on the planet, the project was cancelled.
SMARTPHONES, MY ONE WEAKNESS.
Tardigrades have gone back to being weird little immortal gummy bears, just living their tiny lives without fear that someday a massive tech conglomerate might descend upon them and rend asunder all they hold dear.
But we must ask ourselves: if Google has perfected the art of killing the unkillable, what hope do we have?
(UPDATE: IN THE TIME SINCE THIS ARTICLE WAS FIRST WRITTEN, GOOGLE HAS DUMPED THEIR “DON’T BE EVIL” MISSION STATEMENT. BE AFRAID.)
1. Schokraie E, Warnken U, Hotz-Wagenblatt A, Grohme MA, Hengherr S, et al. (2012), Wikimedia Commons
2. Peter Von Bagh, Flickr
3. Tommy from Arad, Wikimedia Commons