AskDefine | Define tardigrade

Dictionary Definition

tardigrade n : an arthropod of the division Tardigrada

User Contributed Dictionary


Etymology 1

From etyl la tardigradus, from tardus + gradior


  1. Sluggish; moving slowly.
Derived terms

Etymology 2

From Tardigrada


  1. A member of the animal phylum Tardigrada.

Extensive Definition

Tardigrades (commonly known as water bears) comprise the phylum Tardigrada. They are small, segmented animals, similar and related to the arthropods. Tardigrades were first described by Johann August Ephraim Goeze in 1773 (kleiner Wasserbär = little water bear). The name Tardigrada means "slow walker" and was given by Spallanzani in 1777. The biggest adults may reach a body length of 1.5 mm, the smallest below 0.1 mm. Freshly hatched larvae may be smaller than 0.05 mm.
More than 1000 species of tardigrades have been described. Tardigrades occur over the entire world, from the high Himalayas (above 6,000 m), to the deep sea (below 4,000 m) and from the polar regions to the equator.
The most convenient place to find tardigrades is on lichens and mosses. Other environments are dunes, beaches, soil and marine or freshwater sediments, where they may occur quite frequently (up to 25,000 animals per litre). Tardigrades often can be found by soaking a piece of moss in spring water.
Water bears are able to survive in extreme environments that would kill almost any other animal. They can survive temperatures close to absolute zero, temperatures as high as 151°C (303°F), 1,000 times more radiation than any other animal, nearly a decade without water, and can also survive in a vacuum like that found in space.

Anatomy and morphology

Tardigrades have a body with four segments (not counting the head), four pairs of legs without joints, and feet with claws or toes. The cuticle contains chitin and is moulted. They have a ventral nervous system with one ganglion per segment, and a multilobed brain. Instead of a coelom they have a haemocoel. The only place where a true coelom can be found is around the gonad (coelomic pouch). The pharynx is of a triradiate, muscular, sucking kind, armed with stylets. Although some species are parthenogenetic, males and females are usually present, each with a single gonad. Tardigrades are eutelic (all adult tardigrades of the same species are believed to have the same number of cells) and oviparous. Some tardigrade species have as many as about 40,000 cells in each adult's body, others have far fewer.

Ecology and life history

Feeding ecology

Most tardigrades are phytophagous or bacteriophagous, but some are predatory (e.g. Milnesium tardigradum).


Extreme environments

Tardigrades are very hardy animals; scientists have reported their existence in hot springs, on top of the Himalayas, under layers of solid ice and in ocean sediments. Many species can be found in a milder environment like lakes, ponds and meadows, while others can be found in stone walls and roofs. Tardigrades are most common in moist environments, but can stay active wherever they can retain at least some moisture.
Tardigrades are one of the few groups of species that are capable of reversibly suspending their metabolism and going into a state of cryptobiosis. Several species regularly survive in a dehydrated state for nearly ten years. Depending on the environment they may enter this state via anhydrobiosis, cryobiosis, osmobiosis or anoxybiosis. While in this state their metabolism lowers to less than 0.01% of what is normal and their water content can drop to 1% of normal. Their ability to remain desiccated for such a long period is largely dependent on the high levels of the non-reducing sugar trehalose, which protects their membranes.
Tardigrades have been known to withstand the following extremes while in this state:
  • Temperature — tardigrades can survive being heated for a few minutes to 151°C or being chilled for days at -200°C, or for a few minutes at -272°C. (1° warmer than absolute zero).
  • Pressure — they can withstand the extremely low pressure of a vacuum and also very high pressures, many times greater than atmospheric pressure. It has recently been proven that they can survive in the vacuum of space. Recent research has notched up another feat of endurability: apparently they can withstand 6,000 atmospheres pressure, which is nearly six times the pressure of water in the deepest ocean trench.
  • Dehydration - tardigrades have been shown to survive nearly one decade in a dry state. Another researcher reported that a tardigrade survived over a period of 120 years in a dehydrated state, but soon died after 2 to 3 minutes. Subsequent research has cast doubt on its accuracy since it was only a small movement in the leg.
  • Radiation — as shown by Raul M. May from the University of Paris, tardigrades can withstand 5,700 grays or 570,000 rads of x-ray radiation. (Ten to twenty grays or 1,000–2,000 rads could be fatal to a human). The only explanation thus far for this ability is that their lowered hydration state provides fewer reactants for the ionizing radiation.
Recent experiments conducted by Cai and Zabder have also shown that these water bears can undergo chemobiosis — a cryptobiotic response to high levels of environmental toxins. However, their results have yet to be verified.

Evolutionary relationships and history

Recent DNA and RNA sequencing data indicate that tardigrades are the sister group to the arthropods and Onychophora. These groups have been traditionally thought of as close relatives of the annelids, but newer schemes consider them Ecdysozoa, together with the roundworms (Nematoda) and several smaller phyla. The Ecdysozoa-concept resolves the problem of the nematode-like pharynx as well as some data from 18S-rRNA and HOX (homeobox) gene data, which indicate a relation to roundworms.
The minute sizes of tardigrades and their membranous integuments make their fossilization both difficult to detect and highly unlikely. The only known fossil specimens comprise some from mid-Cambrian deposits in Siberia and a few rare specimens from Cretaceous amber.
The Siberian tardigrades differ from living tardigrades in several ways. They have three pairs of legs rather than four; they have a simplified head morphology; and they have no posterior head appendages. It is considered that they probably represent a stem group of living tardigrades.
Aysheaia from the middle Cambrian Burgess shale might be related to tardigrades.
tardigrade in Catalan: Tardígrad
tardigrade in Czech: Želvušky
tardigrade in Danish: Bjørnedyr
tardigrade in German: Bärtierchen
tardigrade in Estonian: Loimurid
tardigrade in Spanish: Tardigrada
tardigrade in French: Tardigrada
tardigrade in Korean: 완보동물
tardigrade in Croatian: Dugoživci
tardigrade in Hebrew: דובוני מים
tardigrade in Italian: Tardigrada
tardigrade in Latin: Tardigrada
tardigrade in Latvian: Gauskāji
tardigrade in Hungarian: Medveállatkák
tardigrade in Dutch: Beerdiertjes
tardigrade in Japanese: 緩歩動物
tardigrade in Norwegian: Bjørnedyr
tardigrade in Norwegian Nynorsk: Bjørnedyr
tardigrade in Low German: Tardigrada
tardigrade in Polish: Niesporczaki
tardigrade in Portuguese: Tardigrada
tardigrade in Russian: Тихоходки
tardigrade in Slovak: Pomalky
tardigrade in Serbian: Tardigrada
tardigrade in Finnish: Karhukaiset
tardigrade in Swedish: Trögkrypare
tardigrade in Turkish: Su ayıları
tardigrade in Ukrainian: Тихоходи
tardigrade in Chinese: 缓步动物门
Privacy Policy, About Us, Terms and Conditions, Contact Us
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Material from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Dict
Valid HTML 4.01 Strict, Valid CSS Level 2.1