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How to Find and Care for a Pet Tardigrade (Water Bear)

Three Parts:Finding TardigradesSetting Up the Tardigrade ShelterCaring for the Tardigrade

"Water bears" is a colloquial name for tiny multicellular critters (typically 0.05-1.5mm long, depending on the species) that have always delighted microscopists. They are properly called tardigrades, and with four pairs of stumpy legs with a slow lumbering gait they do look a little like a microscopic bear (an eight legged, microscopic bear, that is). This article explains how to find some tardigrades, set them up for keeping and observing and caring for them long term.

Part 1
Finding Tardigrades

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    Understand where tardigrades live. They may be microscopic, but are very cool! Tardigrades (water bears) live in moss and ferns. They are some of the most amazing animals on Earth. They can survive:
    • Temperatures as low as -200 °C (-328 °F) and as high as 151 °C (304 °F);
    • Freezing in a block of ice
    • Lack of oxygen
    • Lack of water for as long as decade(s)
    • Levels of X-ray radiation 1000x the lethal human dose
    • Most noxious chemicals
    • Boiling alcohol
    • Low pressure of a vacuum; like that of space
    • And high pressure (up to 6x the pressure of the deepest part of the ocean).
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    Look for tardigrade habitat. Find a mossy place, like a forest, near a pond, or even in your backyard.
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    Be sure that the moss or lichen you are aiming for is wet. When it is moist, you will have a better chance of finding tardigrades.
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    Collect a sample of the moss or lichen with tweezers. Put the sample in a petri dish.

Part 2
Setting Up the Tardigrade Shelter

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    Dampen the moss completely so there is one centimeter of distilled/rainwater in the petri dish. This will make the water bears active. Allow to soak for 8 - 24 hours.
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    Squeeze the water from the moss into the dish.
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    While the water is still in the dish, look at it under the microscope.
    • If there is a water bear, you've struck jackpot. The petri dish could be its home.
    • If not, replace the water and try again with a different piece of moss until you find one.

Part 3
Caring for the Tardigrade

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    Feed the tardigrade. Water bears eat moss. Put moss in once a month.
    • Water Bears also eat nematodes, little worms that also live in moss. Try to find nice, wet moss for the Water Bears as that is most likely to have nematodes.
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    Replace the water in the petri dish once it dries out.
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    Enjoy caring for tardigrades.

Tips

  • This can make a wonderful science project.
  • You could look at moss under a microscope to see if Nematodes are there for your Water Bears to eat.
  • After you soaked the moss, don't leave all the water in, feel free to drain some.
  • Make sure that the moss is wet.
  • Be aware that some tardigrades will eat other tardigrades.

Warnings

  • Don't mistake water bears for rotifers and nematodes.
  • Be very careful when looking at the water bear under the microscope, they are easily crushed.

Things You'll Need

  • A petri dish
  • A good place to find moss and lichen
  • Moss and lichen
  • Rain/distilled water
  • Microscope
  • Nematodes

Article Info

Categories: Ecology and Conservation