Total Eclipse: A Once-in-a-Lifetime Festival of Science, Music, and Celestial Wonder. August 19–21, 2017 in Eastern Oregon.

Fleeting Wonders: ‘Water Bears’ Awaken After 30 Years Frozen In Moss

A scanning electron microscope image of a tardigrade, seeming pleased with its indestructibility.

A scanning electron microscope image of a tardigrade, seeming pleased with its indestructibility. (Image: Bob Goldstein & Vicky Madden/WikiCommons CC BY-SA 3.0)

After spending an unprecedented 30 years frozen in a chunk of Antarctic moss, two tardigrades–microscopic creatures well-known for their extreme cuteness and survival abilities–recently rejoined the world of the living, with great gusto.

According to CBC News, scientists at the Institute of Polar Research in Japan thawed a chunk of Antarctic moss that had been kept frozen since 1983. When they examined its inhabitants, they found that two adult tardigrades were alive and kicking, along with a number of eggs, some of which subsequently hatched. A report of the research was published this month in Cryobiology.

An active tardigrade, on the hunt for new records to break.

An active tardigrade, on the hunt for new records to break. (Image: E. Schokraie et. al/WikiCommons CC BY 2.5)

Tardigrades, also known as “water bears” or “moss piglets,” are among the cuddliest-seeming of the microscopic creatures, but their looks belie their toughness. Tardigrades have survived extreme heat, dehydration, and pressure, as well as blasts of radiation one thousand times stronger than would kill any other animal. In 2007, a group of tardigrades successfully survived exposure to “open space conditions” aboard a European Space Agency shuttle.

The researchers named these particular record-setting individuals “Sleeping Beauty 1” and “Sleeping Beauty 2” (SB-1 and -2 for short). Although they weren’t necessarily roused with a kiss, they did start romancing pretty quickly upon awakening–one of them successfully reproduced with a third tardigrade, newly hatched from one of the frozen eggs. They’re from the ’80s, after all.

Every day, we track down a fleeting wonder—something amazing that’s only happening right now. Have a tip for us? Tell us about it! Send your temporary miracles to [email protected].