As preparedness-minded individuals, we often consider what it’d take to survive dangerous or challenging situations — lack of food or water, extreme weather, manmade disasters, and so on. Unfortunately, despite all our brain power and physical dexterity, the human body is relatively weak and fragile. All it takes to end a human life is a few hours in hot sun or freezing snow without adequate gear. Even a small cut or puncture wound can lead to death in minutes.

Now, imagine if you knew danger was coming, and could simply curl up into a ball and go dormant until the situation was safe again. In this state, even a massive dose of radiation from a nuclear bomb blast, the frigid temperatures and vacuum of outer space, or the crushing pressure of the ocean depths wouldn’t affect you in the slightest. Sadly, humans don’t have this superpower — but there’s an animal on earth that does. It’s called the tardigrade.

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The tardigrade, also known as the water bear or moss piglet, is a water-dwelling microscopic animal that has been found in virtually every environment on earth. Tardigrades are typically 0.3 to 0.5mm long — about 1/3 the diameter of the head of a pin — so they’re not visible to the naked eye. However, they can easily be found by examining moss under a low-power microscope. They have segmented bodies with eight legs and a tubular mouth, which is used to feed on plant cells and small invertebrates.

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The tardigrade’s resilience comes from its ability to suspend its metabolism and go into a dormant state known as a tun. In this state, the animal can lose up to 99% of its water content and remain alive without access to food or water for more than 30 years. It also becomes impervious to temperatures approaching absolute zero, intense heat up to 300°F, pressure six times greater than the deepest ocean trench, and doses of radiation that would be guaranteed to be lethal to most other animals.

To learn more about the incredible survival abilities of the Tardigrade, and the scientific breakthroughs these abilities may someday lead to, check out the 4-minute video below from TED-Ed on YouTube.

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