One of the more popular targets for amateur microscopists is the water bear. Water bears are sub-1mm animals and so peculiar that they belong to a phylum all of their own, the Tardigrada. The name means to walk slowly, a reference to their leisurely 8 legged gait. Water bears have a cuddly appearance, make a living by drinking plant sap, and are commonly found in moss and lichens. But don’t be fooled - in spite of their diminutive and somewhat absentminded appearance, water bears are polyextremophiles. That’s just a fancy word meaning to be fond of BASE-jumping, snowboarding and mountain biking off sheer cliff faces. Oh, no wait. It means that you can freeze them to just about absolute zero, pressure cook them at 150oC, blast them with a thousand times the dose of radiation that would fry you and I, fling them into the vacuum of space, and as an afterthought dessicate them completely for ease of storage. If, after a few years, you miss your pet water bears, just coax them back to life with some wet moss, and all is forgiven!
Why are waterbears so tough? Here’s an interesting thought … panspermia from our heavenly neighbour!