A Water Bear In Amber

A Water Bear In Amber
Holly Sullivan

Today’s article is about [water bears]! What in the world is a water bear?? They are incredible, tiny creatures that are closely related to arthropods (animals like insects and spiders). They have other charming names like ‘moss piglets’ and more officially, tardigrades. These little animals are both adorable and amazing. They are able to survive in the most extreme conditions, like the vacuum of space, and intense radiation. And look how cute they are!

Here’s one swimming.

They were even featured in the TV show Octonauts.

A clip from The Octonauts.

This week, a new species was published that was found in a piece of amber from the Miocene (~23-5 million years ago) of the Dominican Republic. Amber is fossilized tree sap. When the sap is liquid, it drips from the trees and small organisms (like insects, pollen, and occasionally small birds and lizards) get trapped in it. When the sap hardens, it can turn into amber and anything trapped inside becomes a fossil. The authors were examining the ants trapped in this piece of amber for months before they discovered the tiny water bear. It is only one of a handful of tardigrade fossils.

Figure 1 from the article showing the water bear from the side.

The authors named this one Paradoryphoribius chronocaribbeus. They ran an analysis of evolutionary relationships to figure out what genus this little fossil belonged in. Because of its unique features, they realized that even though it belonged to a recognized group, it was a new species. So they named it ‘chrono’ meaning ‘time’ for the fossil’s age, and ‘caribbeus’ for where it was discovered.

Artist rendition of the water bear (by Holly Sullivan, Figure 6c from the paper).

Let’s hope we find more!

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