Antarctic tardigrade species resembles prehistoric forebears (Wired UK)


Sandra McInnes


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Polar biologists have discovered a new species of tardigrade, also known as
“water bears” and “moss piglets”, in a crater hollowed out by
ancient glaciers in Antarctica.

The red-orange creature, Mopsechiniscus franciscae, was
discovered in some moss on the shore of a lake in Victoria Land.
Tardigrades are already known to be found in Tierra del Fuego, in
Tasmania, and in South Georgia, but this is the first tardigrade
species discovered in Antarctica.

It differs from other tardigrades by the tiny pads behind its
claws and a distinctive pattern of hairs on its body. It’s unknown
yet what these features are for, or what benefits the creature gets
from them.

Tardigrades are extremely resilient, and have been spotted at
the top of mountains, in hot deserts, and in deep oceans. They’re
resistant to heat, cold, pressure, dehydration, poison and
radioactivity that could kill almost anything else. They can even
survive in the vacuum of space.

Nonetheless, their habitats are still somewhat specialised, and
this genus in particular is very rare in the rest of the world.
“It’s quite an unusual genus to find a new member of, particularly
in Antarctica where there are relatively few good tardigrade
habitats,” said Sandra McInnes, a tardigrade specialist at the
British Antarctic Survey.

In fact, it’s believed that this genus represents the
descendants of tardigrades that were present on the ancient
supercontinent of Gondwana, and that it’s changed relatively little
since. “The genus has a lot of more primitive characteristics that
suggest it is closer to the group’s more distant ancestors,” says
McInnes.

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The discovery has been published in Polar Biology.

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17 June 2014 | 4:00 pm – Source: wired.co.uk
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