Tardigrade has faces that only a mother could love, maggot-like bodies, and– at half a millimeter in length– are inherently un-pettable. Furthermore, the eight-legged micro-animals are not unique; they’re literally found all over the world.
But, thanks to their casual near-indestructibility, “water bears” have earned quite a fanboy following.
On that note, a new species has just been found in a Japanese parking lot, and the Internet is abuzz.
New Species Of Tardigrade
Now officially explained in a PLOS One paper, Macrobiotus shonaicus was first encountered when study author Kazuharu Arakawa took a scraping of moss bordering the paved area outside of his apartment building in the Shônai region.
” Most of [the] tardigrade species were described from mosses and lichens– thus any cushion of moss seems to be interesting for people working on tardigrades,” Arakawa told Live Science.
After bringing his sample of tardigrades back to the laboratory, something unexpected occurred. The individuals were not only thriving in the artificial environment, they actually began to reproduce; a rare event for these organisms. And when Arakawa looked at the resulting eggs under scanning electron microscopy, things got even weirder.
The eggs’ solid, round shape placed them in the large tardigrade taxonomic group called Macrobiotus hufelandi, and yet the surface was covered in numerous volcano-shaped structures.
Each topped with a ring of tentacle-like filament protrusions. This feature suggested the tardigrade was related to two species discovered in Africa and South America.
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Unlike other Macrobiotus hufelandi tardigrades, however, the specimens did not eat the tiny aquatic animals considered as rotifers. They were observed happily munching on algae instead.
A subsequent genetic analysis revealed that the mystery tardigrade’s DNA sequence was different from all other on record. At this point, Arakawa brought in some help: Polish tardigrade experts Daniel Stec and Łukasz Michalczyk. Together, the trio determined that M. shonaicus was indeed a new species– the 168th to be identified in Japan and the first new member of the hufelandi group to be found in East Asia.
Besides the novelty of discovering another species, the finding of readily mating tardigrades will soon give insight toward the relatively mysterious tardigrade lifecycle.
” It is an ideal model to study the sexual-reproduction machinery and behaviors of tardigrades,” Arakawa said. “We are actually already submitting another study describing their mating behaviors.”
Another takeaway from the research? Never discount the rich natural universe that exists in your own backyard.
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