The e-mails to the "Water Bear web base" fall into two
distinct groups. One group consists of inquiries which might be considered
as typical for a popular scientific magazine:
+++ How can I distinguish among different water bear species?
+++ Please help! I have been searching for a long time but didn't find any
tardigrades at all. +++ What are the appropriate conditions for a water bear culture?
+++ Do you have any information about the tardigrade size distribution in
southern ... ? +++ May I use one of your images for my publication ...
My budget is very limited. +++ Where can I buy water bears?
+++ Do you have a species list for ... country? +++ I would like to buy the
printed version of the 'Water Bear web base' +++ Is all this reality or just
a funny joke? +++ ... etc.
Though less abundant but on a regular basis we receive e-mails which might
be considered as surprising or a little bit irregular. Typical examples are:
+++ I believe that some tardigrades live within my body. How can I get rid
of them? +++ Do tardigrade live in textiles (Blue Jeans)? +++ How can I kill
those tardigrades within my apartment? +++ Are the water bears
extraterrestrial beings? +++ ... etc.
The last question about extraterrestrial life seems to be discussed by
very different groups of people, also scientists. E.g. there was one
link directed to our website in connection with the general topic:
"The European Space Agency increases its budget for astrobiology".
Possibly we tend to suspect the existence of extraterrestrial organisms when
we encounter beings with extremely unusual properties. In particular the water
bears have amazed many people.
Even the scientists who claim to be "objective"
tend to use somewhat romantic terms when describing the water bears
by words. You will find a collection of the respective quotations at
Micscape (The incredible water bear) .
In fact some of the photomicrographs of water bears look a little bit
mysterious.The image below has been taken in dark field illumination
without further tricks.
Is this an image of an alien
or just an Echiniscus water bear
in dark field illumination?
(original length about 250 µm).
The water bears seem to be among those few
organisms on earth that might travel across the universe without any modification:
-- They can survive high levels of radiocative radiation
-- They can withstand a vacuum (when in dry state)
-- They have no problem with temperatures as low as -273°C
-- They might survive elevated temperatures (100°C) when diving from space into
-- Their dry state persists for many years without food, water and oxygen.
Most organisms are not that much adapted to extreme conditions and certainly
wouldn't survive those harsh conditions, not even for seconds.
But the tardigrades might be able to cope with a journey through space.
Some biologists count them among the so-called 'extremophiles'.
Other authors have claimed that the tardigrades might have developped on distant
planets as evolution wouldn't create those extreme properties without need
(see e.g. Vettner, citation below).
Further points mentioned are the lack of clear relations to other
zoological phyla and the scarce fossil findings of tardigrades.
Our readers certainly will continue to find points for and against the alien
hypthesis. But please, do not take this discussion too serious.
You see, just the existence of any organism, no matter whether on earth or
elswhere, including yourself has to be considered as a marvel beyond
Vettner, Joachim: The "little bears" that evolutionary theory can't bear!
Creation Ex Nihilo 12 (1990) 16-18.
© Text, images and video clips by
Martin Mach (email@example.com).
Water Bear web base is a licensed and revised version of
the German language monthly magazine Bärtierchen-Journal .
Style and grammar amendments by native speakers are warmly welcomed.