That’s a tardigrade. You’re looking at it from below, so you see its eight stubby legs, each with three claws. The head is at the top. Almost looks like some kind of freaky alien manatee.
Tardigrades, also known as water bears, are only a millimeter long, but they’re one of the toughest life forms on earth. According to the Wiki article:
…tardigrades can withstand temperatures from just above absolute zero to well above the boiling point of water, pressures about 6 times stronger than pressures found in the deepest ocean trenches, ionizing radiation at doses hundreds of times higher than would kill a person, and the vacuum of outer space. They can go without food or water for nearly 120 years, drying out to the point where they are 3% or less water, only to rehydrate, forage, and reproduce.
Plenty of microbes can survive under extreme conditions, but the tardigrade is unusual for an extremophile because it’s so big. A millimeter isn’t much to you or me, but it’s ginormous compared to a microbe.
(Really, spellcheck? You accept “ginormous” but not “extremophile”? Remind me to have a stern talk with your dictionary.)
I came across these hardy little creatures in a recent issue of National Geographic, which featured this gorgeous, full-color tardigrade photo. Just look at its face! I mean, I don’t even know if “face” is the right word for what’s going on there. It’s so…weird.
Perhaps even more remarkable, tardigrades were discovered way back in 1773, by the German scientist Johann Goeze. He was the one who first named them “water bears,” or, in his words, kleine Wasserbären.
More recently, according to this article, scientists “…exposed [them] to the open and harsh vacuum of space, with all its deadly radiation, on a spacecraft in low-Earth orbit. Many of them survived.” Just think about that for a second. They survived being in space.
I don’t know about you, but personally, I’d find a spacewalk sans protection to be…un-bearable? OH HO HO HO
I, uh. I’ll see myself out.