The microscopic critter that can survive almost anything

Tardigrades could outlive us by 10 billion years, one recent study found.

Story highlights

  • Tardigrades are microscopic animals that withstand extreme conditions
  • They will outlive humans and may be closely related to roundworms

(CNN)Tardigrades, often called the "water bears" or "moss piglets," are starting to reveal more secrets about their ability to survive extreme conditions that humans can't, according to a new study in the journal PLOS.

These tiny, pudgy animals are no longer than one millimeter. Tardigrades, which live in water or in the film of water on plants like lichen or moss, can be found all over the world in some of the most extreme environments, from icy mountains and polar regions to the balmy equator and the depths of the sea.
    They have eight legs with claws at the end, a brain and central nervous system, and something sucker-like called a pharynx behind their mouth that can pierce food.
    And they could outlive us by 10 billion years, according to a recent study from Oxford University.
    It's because they would be largely unaffected by things that could potentially spell doom for Earth and human life in the future, like asteroids, supernovae or gamma ray bursts. As long as the world's oceans don't boil away, tardigrades will live on.
    But even if tardigrades have to go without water, it isn't a sacrifice. They've been through worse and come back to life. And no matter what inquiring scientists put them through in the name of science, tardigrade life finds a way.