A research led by a researcher at Harvard University in the US this week described the discovery of tardigrades trapped in a piece of amber dating back 16 million years. The discovery of one of these fossilized animals is extremely rare.
Tardigrades are microscopic animals known as “water bears”. They are organisms less than a millimeter long and can withstand temperatures of 150 degrees Celsius and freeze to near absolute zero.
According to the researchers, the fossil will be only the third described in a scientific study. The result is described in the journal “Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences,” and shows a species called Paradoryphoribius chronocaribbeus found in the Dominican Republic.
“The discovery of tardigrade fossils is really a once-in-a-generation event,” said Phil Bardeen, lead author of the study.
In previous studies, scientists have found that tardigrades have what appears to be some kind of superpower. When dehydrated, they retract their heads and eight legs, curl into a small ball, and enter a deep state of suspended animation that feels a lot like death.
They lose almost all of the water in their body – and their metabolism slows down to 0.01% of normal. And there’s more: When they’re active, they’re able to withstand temperatures of 150 degrees above and below zero.
The image shows the location of tardigrades on a piece of amber – Photo: Philip Barden/Harvard/Ingate