World’s toughest animal: the water bear

Meet the water bear, the world’s toughest animal. Despite what their name may let you believe, these water-dwelling creatures are very very small, measuring less than a millimeter. Having the unique ability to basically die and come back to live again, these rather adorable animals can survive even the most hostile conditions and environments.

water bear Worlds toughest animal: the water bear

The water bear, the world’ thoughest animal.

You can find these fascinating creatures about everywhere: on the bottom of the ocean, under meters of ice, in hot springs, and on the top of the himalaya! Prefering to live on moist lichens and mosses with up to 25000 of their little friends, you can bet that some water bears will be very close to you; even in your backyard! Go search for them yourself!

Water bears really are miniature animals, having tiny legs, claws, eyes, mouth, stomach, and even nerves. They have such precise muscle control that they can even move like higher order animals.

Water bears are able to survive the most extreme environments that would kill almost any other animal. They can take temperatures close to absolute zero and hotter than boiling water, withstand over 1000 times more radiation than humans, can live over a decade without water, endure six times the water pressure in the deepest ocean trench, and even survived in the vacuum of space, making them the only animals to do so.

The key of their remarkable durability is that they are capable of decreasing their metabolism with a factor of 10000 and decrease their water content to 1% of normal. When conditions get though, they basically die, stopping any process in their miniature bodies for up to 120 years! When conditions get better again, they revive and go on with their lives.

tardigrade water bear1 Worlds toughest animal: the water bear

This miniature ‘bear’ measures less than a millimeter.

These fascinating creatures got their name from their miniature resemblance of a bear, as is so nicely put by Johann August Ephraim Goeze (1773) who was the first to ever describe them:

Strange is this little animal, because of its exceptional and strange morphology and because it closely resembles a bear en miniature. That is the reason why I decided to call it little water bear.

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Jolle Jolles

Written by Jolle Jolles

Jolle Jolles is a zoologist working at the University of Cambridge with a love for natural history and animal behaviour and enjoys fascinating others about our weird and wonderful natural world. Follow Jolle on Twitter or sent him a personal message.

  • Clarissa

    I just found a few of these in the lab!! My samples are drinking water. How do you think this would impact human health? Will it just be passed out again or do you think it could be dangerous. Such a cool day at work! :)

  • Jolle Jolles

    Cool find Clarissa! No, I don’t think they are harmful, they will probably die in your stomach with the millions of other micro organisms. It is fascinating that they indeed appear almost everywhere but that almost nobody knows about them. Did you manage to take a picture or video?

  • Amy

    Those are awesome!! I can’t believe those guys! Can you see them without a microscope? In the tests, like the the hottest temperature they survied,if you went any more over that temp. would they die? P.s. love the website!

  • Rode

    Interesting……………… How do people find something that small?

  • somebody

    Your website is very useful, thank you for creating it!

  • jered

    I don’t think they die in your stomach, radiation won’t kill them, deep space won’t kill them,boiling doesn’t kill them. A lot of other deadly things doesn’t kill them. I wonder if old age eventually kills them?

  • Isaac

    I’m writing a paper on the water bear, could I use some of your facts and pictures?

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  • Mike Dornfest

    Why am I just now learning about these things 30 years after completing school?

    You know what also bothers me, these two religious ladies waking me up this morning banging on my front door to tell me the good news.