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Learning by living?

We have been demonstrating in previous issues that tardigrades clearly show signs of  youth  and  age . With increasing age obviously not only Homo sapiens tends to become a victim of obesity and of attack by myriads of age pigment spots - tardigrades apparently encounter similar problems.

On the positive side ageing implies growing, learning and sometimes even wisdom (admittedly, in rare cases :-). We have been thinking about the question whether learning processes can be assumed when looking at the behaviour of tardigrades as well. Movement characteristics appear to be a good starting point for this endeavour, as some young tardigrades' movements remind of young dogs jumping around and playing whereas older tardigrades apparently are cutting down the the energetic luxury of quick, spontaneous movement.

With the genus Echiniscus we were not successful. Even the youngsters appear to move smoothly and well-adapted to their environment, from the very beginning of their existence.

The more nervous, quickly moving maritime tardigrades looked more promising with respect to our goal. And we suggest that the following observation might be considered as a bit of evidence indicating learning processes:
Batillipes  youngsters from time to time apparently have problems to coordinate their "sticky" feet. Previously we had learnt that each Batillipes foot has six toes each of which can start and stop some mysterious glue secretion. When thinking about glue in general you will be able to imagine that it might be quite a challenge to simultaneously control 8 x 6 = 48 moving glue nozzles. And this is exactly the task which an adult Batillipes has to perform throughout its whole life.
Just have a look at the video clip below in order to understand that this tardigrade youngster has difficulties to fully master the job (top-right position in image, 1st and 2nd leg sticking together):

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Overall we conclude that this might be a complex learning process, "How to run with eight sticky feet?". In any case, though it might sound ridiculous and too emotional in your ears, we felt sympathy with the anti-glue struggle of our 0.1 mm tardigrade baby and hoped that its problems might be resolved with time. The tardigrade parents will be always far away in those moments.

© Text, images and video clips by  Martin Mach  (webmaster@baertierchen.de).
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.

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