When I say tiny, I mean tiny!
A few days ago, dear friend Dan Gomez sent me a link to an article in the March/April edition of Maui Magazine (must admit not heard of it before).
It was a story written by Shannon Wianecki under the title of ‘Eight Tiny Steps for Tardigrades‘. Here’s how it opened;
Eight Tiny Steps for Tardigrades
It might sound like a fairy tale, but it’s fact: Haleakala National Park is home to a troupe of tiny bears. But don’t bother searching for these wee creatures. Tardigrades, better known as water bears, are miniscule, ranging from 50 to 1,200 microns. Which means a couple of water bears could fit into the period ending this sentence.
Water bears are so named for their appearance and form of locomotion. Like microscopic grizzlies, they pad along on eight stumpy legs, brandishing claws and short snouts. Another name — moss piglet — refers to the animal’s most common habitat. Tardigrades are aquatic, but to creatures of their size, suitable swimming holes include the moisture clinging to mosses, or the capillary water between grains of sand. They are found all over the globe: in the arctic, desert, deep sea, and — most of all — in Hawai‘i.
Now if I blow the dust off my aged brain, I recall that a micron is a millionth of a metre (or meter in American speak). Whatever the spelling, that is small.
So even if this little creature can be up to 1,200 microns ‘big’ that would still only be 1.2 thousandths of a metre.
The article is well-worth reading in full. However, I will take the small liberty of republishing the final paragraph;
In 2007, water bears joined astronauts in space to see how they handled cosmic rays. Exposed for ten days to the vacuum of space, without oxygen, water, or heat, and zapped by intense solar radiation, water bears became the first animals to survive in space.
Back on Earth, the mini-cosmonauts continued to breed successfully. Investigating the molecular makeup of these amazing creatures may show humans how to survive future space explorations.
Now without wishing to be too basic, I would love to have this question answered: How does something that small breed? Indeed, how could they ever find each other?
So if you are a pet owner and a bit worried about the costs of feeding and looking after your beloved animal, don’t worry! There’s something else in town a little bit smaller!