Ursa Minor

A few days ago I wrote a second post about Robert Wright’s book Nonzero, in response to Kevin Kim’s thoughts about the idea of telelology in evolution. Earlier this evening a new commenter, a blogger who goes by the nickname ‘gordsellar’, stopped by to offer some worthwhile remarks in that post’s discussion thread. I moseyed over to peek at his site, eclexys – which, being obviously the work of a curious and intelligent person, has since been added to the waka waka waka sidebar – and found an interesting item about a marvelous animal you might very well never have heard of: the tardigrade. How I can have written hundreds of posts over the last year and a half without mentioning this cuddly little creature, I can’t imagine.

Tardigrades, which I first remember encountering in one of those science books I used to read when I was a little nipper, are also known as “water bears” (or even more charmingly, “moss piglets”), and if you look at this picture you will understand why:

A tardigrade.

Tardigrades (the name means “slow walker”, for their steady plodding gait) are found all over the world. They have their own phylum, which sets them apart at a very high taxonomic level, and are remarkable in a number of other ways, not least of which are their ability to enter suspended animation (for long periods, and in a variety of ways), and the extraordinary range of environmental conditions they can endure while in that state. Freeze ’em, boil ’em, nuke ’em – they take a licking and keep on ticking.

But I’ve said enough. Read gordsellar’s item on these wee beasties here. Make sure you don’t skip the video (also, take a peek some of the other videos at the bottom of that page, in particular the “Walking, Wind-Powered Art”). You can also find a good gateway article about tardigrades on Wikipedia.

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