Wildlife

At Home with the Water Bears

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In the science tent, there’s pandemonium as the skies open and it begins to pour. Crews dash to move computers and power cables from the path of the small&#8212but rapidly widening&#8212river that courses the length of the tent. I think of the intrepid ‘Blitzers in the field, and reach for my PowerBook.

John Francis, Nat Geo’s Vice President for Research, Conservation and Exploration, rushes over to tell me that in these early hours of the BioBlitz, someone’s already identified several varieties of tardigrade—nature’s most lovable microscopic creatures, better known as water bears.

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Baker University’s William Miller lets me peer down his microscope at these wriggling, translucent critters that do indeed resemble tiny bears, albeit eight-legged ones. He’d taken some moss from a nearby tree, placed it in a small cup of water, and then sampled the water to obtain the specimens.

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What happens when the moss dries out, I ask. “They can desiccate.” He tells me. “It’s what they’re known for.”

See David Liittschwager’s revealing photograph of tardigrades from the 2007 Rock Creek Park BioBlitz!

Photographs by Ford Cochran

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