The Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis boasts one of the world's largest tardigrade (water bear) collections, and what Lynn Kimsey wants to do, will certainly add to that point.
Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and UC Davis professor of entomology, plans to grace the entrance with a tardigrade sculpture, a concrete sculpture that will measure about 4 feet by eight feet.
"I've been in touch with the sculptor Solomon Bassoff (Faducciart) in Roseville," Kimsey said. "He did the caterpillar in the Davis Central Park."
"The reason for this is that we have one of the world's largest tardigrade collections, which was compiled by (senior museum scientist) Steve Heydon's predecessor, Bob Schuster," she said. "Tardigrades are really popular with kids in part because of their representation in the movies Ant-Man and Ant-Man and the Wasp, Star Trek and Family Guy."
Kimsey wrote about the tardigrades in her newsletter several years ago. The water bear "has to be one of the most peculiar and indestructible groups of animals known," she wrote. The microscopic and nearly indestructible tardigrade can survive being heated to 304 degrees Fahrenheit or being chilled for days at -328 F. And, even if it's frozen for 30 years, it can still reproduce." See video on EurekAlert.
The Bohart collection includes some 25,000 slide-mounted specimens. Kimsey and collaborator Carl Johannsen work on a National Science Foundation grant "to database and conserve" the collection.
"This collection is the result of years of collecting, mounting, imaging, and identifying by former collection manager Bob Schuster and emeritus professor Al Grigarick and their collaborators," she noted.
In appearance, the pudgy water bear seems as cuddly as a teddy bear. It has a barrel-shaped body and eight pudgy legs. The adults usually range from 0.3 to 0.5 mm in length.
German zoologist Johann August Ephraim Goeze (1731-1793) first described the critters in 1773, referring to them as "kleiner Wasserbär," or "little water bears."
They mostly feed on plants or bacteria "but some are predators on smaller tardigrades," Kimsey says. They use the stylets in their tubular mouth (snout) to pierce "individual plant or bacterial ells or small invertebrates."
Why is the water bear so indestructible? In research published in 2016, geneticist Takekazu Kunieda and his colleagues from the University of Tokyo found that the water bear expresses a tardigrade-specific protein that binds itself to DNA. This acts like a "shield against x-ray radiation, preventing the DNA from snapping apart," according to an article published in Gizmodo.
"Tardigrades are awesome," Kimsey said. "They can dry out completely and then become immortal. In fact, SpaceIL may have left thousands of dried tardigrades on the moon when it crashed earlier this year."
Stuffed toy water bears are also popular in the Bohart Museum's gift shop, which also includes insect-themed books, posters, t-shirts, jewelry, candy, and insect collecting equipment.
The museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, houses nearly 8 million insect specimens, collected globally. It also maintains a live "petting zoo" featuring Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas.
And soon, there may very well be a tardigrade out front. The Bohart Museum Society has set up an account on Go Fund Me; see https://www.gofundme.com/f/waterbear-sculpture
Comments on Go Fund Me include:
- Great initiative that I am happy to support!
- Tardigrades were some of my childhood friends
- Favis seems like a great place for a tardigrade sculpture! I'm inspired by the tardigradologists & nematologists I've admired there. A eutardigrade seems like it'd be less prone to causing injuries, but I can support a heterotardigrade :)
- Robert Schuster, UCD Bohart Museum, was instrumental in my career studying tardigrades. He taught me how to identify the species (known at that time) and how to use the SEM. His tardigrade collection is housed in the Bohart Museum.
The Bohart Museum entrance may be "bare" today, but when a water bear arrives, one thing's for sure: kids and adults alike will love it "beary" much.
The 21st annual Halloween party at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis, drew scores of entomology enthusiasts dressed as caterpillars, dragonflies, butterflies and assorted other critters--chased by the bug catchers.
The event, open to Bohart Museum Society and special guests, was all that it was quacked up to be, thanks in part to forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey. Kimsey arrived dressed in his ghillie suit, and virology major Andrew Poon arrived with his pet duck, Quack. Kimsey and Quack became instant friends (ah, the warmth of a ghillie suit) and quacked up the crowd.
Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum, wore her LED tennis shoes hand-painted by entomologists Charlotte Herbert and Nicole Tam with cuckoo wasps (family Chrysididae), the group that she studies. Her shoes lit up the night like the legendary fireflies do. (See previous Bug Squad blog)
Among the other stars:
- Charlotte Herbert, a doctoral candidate in entomology, came dressed as a venomous slug caterpillar (family Limacodidae), much to the delight of bug catchers Wade Spencer and Brennen Dyer, who arrived nets in hand.
- Tabatha Yang, public education and outreach coordinator, came dressed as a wet blanket and carried a sign that said “Nope.”
- Dragonfly enthusiasts Jeanette Wrysinski and son, Aren Scardaci, and friend Eva Butler of Sacramento arrived in their matching dragonfly t-shirts. (Dragonfly expert and Bohart Museum associate Greg Kareofelas declared the insect a new species.)
- Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology, buzzed in as a yellow-faced bumble bee, complete with a yellow head and face and a yellow abdominal stripe. (The bug catchers gave chase.)
- Graduate student Jessica Gillung padded in as a cat lady, with pinned stuffed animals on her costume. (The bug catchers declared this the wrong species.)
- Fran Keller, assistant professor at Folom Lake College who holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Davis, came dressed as a graduate student. (She carried no net and proved no competition for the bug catchers.)
- Entomologist Joel Hernandez and UC Davis Arboretum outreach coordinator Melissa Cruz paired up as a scarecrow and a pumpkin. Hernandez added a mouse to his pocket--scarecrows, you know, attract mice. Another mouse--and yes, a stuffed one, too--graced the cheese table.
- Steve Heydon, senior museum scientist, wore his sailor outfit and carried a mop. When folks inadvertently spilled chocolate from the chocolate fountain or food from the buffet table (prepared by entomologist Ivana Li), he obliged.
- Entomologist Danielle Wishon and her eye-popping, spider-webbed face drew "oohs" and "ahs." (The bug catchers seemed quite interested in the web.)
- Chemical ecologist Steve Seybold, his wife, Julie Tillman, and their daughter, Natalie, came dressed as a Halloween family. Natalie dressed as a black caterpillar. That's the spirit! (Oh, where'd the bug catchers go?)
You could tell it was an entomological party by the games played. For the occasion, Charlotte Herbert and her fiancé, George Alberts, crafted a piñata shaped like a tardigrade, aka water bear, and filled it with candy. Blind-folded participants took turns swatting it. Another popular game: "Pin the Pin on the Beetle." Blind-folded participants attempted to poke a pin in a paper beetle mounted on a wall.
Carved pumpkins with butterfly and spider motifs, all made by the Bohart staff, glowed.
In keeping with the presidential campaign, Donald Trump and Hilllary Clinton appeared to "party hardy" in the form of pumpkins portraying political candidates.
The bug catchers, nets in hand, seemed more interested, however, in the venomous caterpillar.
"The slug caterpillar," said Lynn Kimsey, "is very venomous."
You're microscopic but you're nearly indestructible. You can survive being heated to 304 degrees Fahrenheit or being chilled for days at -328 F. And if you're frozen for 30 years, you can still reproduce.
The water bear "has to be one of the most peculiar and indestructible groups of animals known," writes Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis, in her current Bohart Museum Society newsletter.
They belong to their own phyllum, the Tardigrada, and "today they are thought to be most closely related to arthropods and velvet worms (Onychophora)...although for many years, tardigrades were thought to be related to nematode worms because of the structure of the mouth."
To date, there are some 1,500 described species throughout the world.
"Tardigrades can survive high pressures of more than 1,200 atmospheres found in the bottom of the abyss," she points out. "They can tolerate 1,000 times more ionizing radiation than other animals."
Kimsey doesn't have to go far to see or study tardigrades. The Bohart Museum houses one of the largest collections of tardigrades in the world, with about 25,00o slide-mounted specimens. She and and collaborator Carl Johannsen work on a National Science Foundation grant "to database and conserve" the collection.
"This collection is the result of years of collecting, mounting, imaging, and identifying by former collection manager Bob Schuster and emeritus professor Al Grigarick and their collaborators," she says.
What's the water bear look like? It has a barrel-shaped body, eight pudgy legs, and the adults range from 0.3 to 0.5 mm in length, but the largest is...ready for this...only 1.2 mm long.
Five segments make up the body, including the head. "The last four body segments each has a pair of legs," Kimsey says. "Their legs are short and wide, lack joints and end in our to eight claws.'
Definitely not your average teddy bear.
Where are they found? They're easiest to find on lichens and mosses,Kimsey says, but they can also be found on beaches, in thesubtidal zone, freshwater sediments, soil, hot springs and even on barnacles," the professor says. They've been found "high in the Himalayas to down in the deep sea." They've even been found in the interior of Antarctica.
What do they eat? Most feed on plants or bacteria "but some are predators on smaller tardigrades."
How do they eat? They use the stylets in their tubular mouth (snout) to pierce "individual plant or bacterial ells or small invertebrates."
The New York Times published a piece on the unique water bear in its Feb. 22 edition: Even 30 Years of Deep Freeze Can't Stop the ‘Water Bear'
Reporter Cathy Gulli described a tardigrade and a tardigrade egg surviving after being frozen for 30 years. Scientists recently published that work in the journal Cryobiology. It was featured in EurekAlert.
"The tardigrade and egg were retrieved from frozen moss in Antarctica in November 1983, and remained in a state of 'cryptobiosis'—in which metabolic activity is temporarily shut down—until May 2014," Gulli wrote. Then the researchers defrosted and rehydrated the moss. The adult survived and it promptly laid 19 eggs and most of those eggs hatched. The frozen egg also survived and as an adult, laid 15 and about half survived. See video on EurekAlert.
How can they survive such extreme temperatures?
Kimsey relates that Thomas Brooby, writing in the Publications of the National Academy of Sciences, suggested that one of the reasons may be due to "horizontal gene transfer," that they acquire foreign genes. About one-sixth of the tardigrade genes were acquired from other organisms, such as bacteria.
And the origin of the tardigrades (some of which have been found in the interior of the Antarctica continent and may have been cryptobiotic for thousands of years)?
"Carl and I have differing opinions on the origins of tardigrades," Kimsey mused. "I think they originated on Mars. Carl thinks Alpha Centauri is more likely. I'm not sure he's not right."
(Editor's Note: Stuffed animals representing the water bears are available for sale in the Bohart Museum gift shop. The Bohart Museum Society newsletter is distributed to members. A limited number of copies is available at the Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academy Surge Building on Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus.)