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A new species of one of the toughest creatures on Earth has been found on the Antarctic coast. Mopsechiniscus franciscae is a tardigrade, or water bear. These microscopic animals can survive nearly any condition, including a vacuum, because of their ability to enter a deep resting state when water is not available. The new species was collected among moss growing on gravel during a 2011 survey of tardigrades along the coast of Victoria Land, which borders the Ross Sea.
The reddish creatures are tiny: Males are about a quarter of a millimeter long, and females are about 50 percent bigger than that. They sport four pairs of legs and red-brown eyespots that look like itty-bitty grains of rice. Because water bears have been in Antarctica since it was part of the ancient supercontinent Gondwana, researchers hope to use the tiny beast to better understand how animals reached the far southern continent, says Roberto Guidetti of the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia in Italy. He and his colleagues published their findings in the May Polar Biology.