Thursday, September 4, 2014

calling all nerds!

Please tell me you're watching - or are way ahead of me and have already watched - the new Cosmos with Neil DeGrasse Tyson!  We started it as a family this weekend and watched two mind-bending episodes in a row and WOW. I took notes. I drew pictures. I wanted to watch it all over again when it was done, and I can't wait for Sunday when we will sit together and watch MORE.  Thank goodness Dan is our resident "starboy"; he can further explain most of what I just don't get, but the exciting thing is that most of it I do get. It is awesome. 

I won't be ruining anything for you to tell you that he mentions an incredible and extremely common creature called the tardigrade.  I'm guessing you haven't seen one and the reason is that they are microscopic and live in lichen and moss. However, in spite of being so small, they are the creature that has survived the major extinctions on Earth. There are fossils that date back to the Cambrian period.  They can survive being frozen, they can survive temperatures of 350 degrees (F). They can even be dehydrated and reconstituted many years later.  We are talking about a creature that is more resilient and far cuter than the cockroach - its cuddly names are "waterbear" and "moss piglet" - and I'm a bit obsessed.

So we set out to find one, Ani and I.  She pilfered her local supply of moss (replanted from our roof; she convinced the folks from the rental company who were cleaning our gutters that it was worth saving, so they gave her large pieces to relocate and tend to) and soaked it in water overnight. Following these instructions we then squeezed out the moss, set up the microscope and started looking at the water left in the bowl, drop by drop.  There are so many cool things to look at in the water - long worms and zippy little single-cell organisms, busy paramecium - and finally, we found what we were looking for.  A tardigrade, nuzzling its way along a tiny piece of moss. 

We were seriously excited.  We alternated between taking turns at the microscope, to watching a youtube video of tardigrade moving about, to jumping up and down.  I was a little worried that it would be hard to keep track of it, but tardigrade apparently means "slow walker" and especially compared with the crazy traffic of everything else whipping through there, it was definitely moving slowly.  

So excited that I tried taking photos through the microscopes, and you know what? They're awful, but I'm going to include them here anyway, 'cause it was that cool and if you know what I'm talking about, chances are you are just as excited about it as I am.

tardigrade, upside-down - one of its eight legs is visible
I think this is its sucking mouth
each of the eight feet has four toes with claws.  yowza!
A friend stopped by this morning and saw my drawing of a tardigrade on the chalkboard (obsessed) and exclaimed "Waterbear!!!" and I was so excited that she recognized what it was (she had met a woman in Alaska who spent four years studying these creatures, how cool is that?) that I got the microscope and the mossy water back out so we could find another. Which we did. 


verdemama said...

Seriously awesome.

alissa said...

Nerds! Fabulous!

Stacy @ Sweet Sky said...

Second time in a week that I've heard of tardigrades. And seen pictures!