FunNature & AnimalThey find the 'kryptonite' of the indestructible tardigrades

They find the 'kryptonite' of the indestructible tardigrades


The tardigrade is one of the most resilient life forms on Earth but, for all their death-defying abilities (they can survive extreme temperatures, be it freezing or boiling water, starvation, massive amounts of radiation , one shot…) also have their weak point: their stubby legs prevent them from moving gracefully, which, coupled with their small size, makes it almost impossible for them to travel very far unless… they hitchhike. Although this type of transport can be, in some cases, a deadly journey for the almost indestructible tardigrades.


take me?

A new study published in Scientific Reports suggests that chubby little tardigrades might overcome their locomotor impotence by hitchhiking on animals “faster” than them: snails. Of course, the trip on board this mount that could seem slow to us can be safer than being dragged by the wind or by larger animals if it is the shell, but if they lean on the slime of the snails, they die asphyxiated.

It is the kryptonite of tardigrades: the slime of snails.

With an anatomy similar to caterpillars or mealybugs and a size of just a fraction of a millimeter , tardigrades depend on the help of external factors to relocate because they can only travel very short distances on their own.

In the new study led by Adam Mickiewicz University in Poland, scientists found that these fascinating creatures can travel long distances by clinging to the bodies of larger, more mobile animals, but these microscopic creatures suffocate when exposed to snail slime.

In a laboratory experiment, in which they placed several tardigrades in Petri dishes, they dehydrated them and after seven days they made three distinctions, adding snails to the Petri dishes, snails and moss or only tardigrades. On some plates, the tardigrades could curl up inside a pillow of moss, while others contained nothing more than droplets of water for the tiny creatures to float on. After three days, the researchers checked how many tardigrades remained in the same place and how many of them moved. They found that the tardigrades only left their original location in the box with snails but no moss.

The authors found that 98% of the creatures that were not exposed to the snail mucus survived, compared to 34% of the tardigrades that were covered by it.

Scientists therefore concluded that snails can greatly help tardigrades to travel long distances, but gastropods also negatively affect tardigrades by reducing their chances of survival . Be that as it may, since tardigrades reproduce asexually, one surviving suffice to establish a new population, so snail travel could still be a viable means for tardigrades to populate new habitats despite the chances of failure. be able to finish the trip.

The tardigrades were only able to escape from their silicone cases when they were in the presence of snails, and none were able to escape when the snails were absent. “Therefore, we assume that snails were responsible for tardigrade transport ,” the researchers write.

Referencia: Książkiewicz, Z., Roszkowska, M. Experimental evidence for snails dispersing tardigrades based on Milnesium inceptum and Cepaea nemoralis species. Sci Rep 12,4421 (2022).

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