VSL:SCIENCE // These creatures can’t be killed

How do you take a life? Withhold the essentials, like food and water, and your victim will die in a matter of days. Or quicken the process by exposing your prey to hostile environments: extreme temperatures, blasts of radiation, intense pressures, vacuums, or worse. Killing is easy; it’s living that’s hard.

Tardigrades — barely visible invertebrates that cling to mosses and lichens — are an exception to this rule. They are virtually indestructible. In recent years, scientists have subjected tardigrades (which are also known as water bears) to extreme temperatures, ranging from 155ºC to –200ºC. They’ve deprived the creatures of food and water for years at a time and zapped them with incredibly toxic levels of radiation. But, just like a Timex watch, water bears keep on ticking. Earlier this month, scientists reported that a colony of tardigrades had even managed to withstand the vacuum of outer space. (The European Space Agency put the creatures on a satellite and sent them into orbit for ten days.) If our life form manages to destroy the earth as we know it, maybe we can take some solace in knowing which other species will survive us.

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