Thursday, September 19, 2013

my own personal tun

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that I’m just another lazy blogger. That I’m going to give you the good ole’ “things have just been so crazy!” routine. That I might tell you things like “the summer time here in Alaska has been insanely busy and I haven’t had the time or energy after work to write.” Or even “I rather be out fishing or jogging or hiking in the beautiful weather we’ve been having than inside on a computer.”


The truth: I’ve been in a suspended state of animation. I am, in fact, part water bear.

Oh hey there, water bear. (
Water bears are real. They are tiny little animals part of Tardigrada, also called Tardigrades (but water bears is much cuter so we’ll go with that.) They live in water, typically in mosses and lichens and other damp biological environments. When they are full grown, they are about this long:


They are segmented, and have 8 little legs with little claws on each.  They molt, poop, eat, and lay eggs just like real animals (they technically are real animals, but, I mean, look at them. C’mon.) They eat plant material and bacteria, some of them being considered predatory. *Cue mental image of a water bear stalking and killing a bacterium. Adorable.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Tardigrades is cryptobiosis. That is to say, they can be in suspended animation, of sorts. You can dehydrate them, hang out for ten years or so, sprinkle some water on them, and they’ll spring back to life like nothing ever happened. It’s akin to hibernation- an extreme decrease in metabolic activity. When a water bear enters one of these “hibernations,” it is called a tun.

It gets even cooler. They can survive the vacuum of space. NASA took some up and let them orbit around the earth for 10 days, brought them back, and rehydrated them. Almost 70% came back to life within half an hour.

Outer space exposure has other implications about their extreme hardiness: they are able to withstand extreme UV exposure, radiation, and temperature. They’ve been found to survive temps almost as low as absolute zero, where all motion (and theoretically, existence) ceases to over 300 degrees Fahrenheit. (Guess cooking your baked goods thoroughly doesn’t ensure that you get all the water bears out... crunch crunch crunch.)

Basically, as far as reading and writing go, I’ve been in my own personal tun these past few months. But really, can you blame me?

My tun in photographic form.
As the days are getting shorter and the weather less conducive to frolicking, I feel my creative juices starting to surge again. I’ve been perusing Google scholar for new papers to read as of late, and the urge to write is returning with the cooler weather and the fall rain.

Consider me rehydrated.

Here is a link to video of a water bear shot by friend and fellow science nerd Roger Birkhead.