- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
But have you heard of the "other" bear flag that's on a hooded sweatshirt at the Bohart Museum of Entomology at the University of California, Davis? It's lettered with "Bohart Republic."
The Bohart flag features a water bear or tardigrade, the creative work of UC Davis entomologist/artist Charlotte Herbert Alberts.
Besides living on the Bohart sweatshirts, the tardigrade is a microscopic, water-dwelling animal that lives just about everywhere: "from the mountaintops to the deep sea and mud volcanoes; from tropical rain forests to the Antarctic," according to Wikipedia. German zoologist Johann August Ephraim Goeze, who first described them in 1773, called them "little water bears."
The name stuck. "Water bears."
"Tardigrades are among the most resilient known animals, with individual species able to survive extreme conditions that would be rapidly fatal to nearly all other known life forms, such as exposure to extreme temperatures, extreme pressures (both high and low), air deprivation, radiation, dehydration, and starvation," Wikipedia says. "Tardigrades have even survived exposure to outer space. About 1,150 known species form the phylum Tardigrada, a part of the superphylum Ecdysozoa. The group includes fossils dating from 530 million years ago, in the Cambrian period."
How did she get the idea? "I came up with the tardigrade flag idea in my sleep!" she said. "The next morning I told Lynn and she loved it."
Then Alberts and Kimsey conferred with Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator, and Bohart associate Fran Keller, assistant professor at Folsom Lake College and a UC Davis alumnus (she holds a doctorate in entomology) "to figure out the details"--like the entomologist holding a net and riding the tardigrade, and the name, "Bohart Republic."
"The entomologist is no one in particular," Alberts said, "but she's a female because I think it is important to encourage more women into the field of entomology."
"So far, the reactions have all been super positive!" she commented. "My family and friends are all asking for one!"
Located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, the Bohart Museum, home of a global collection of some eight million insect specimens, is open to the public from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday.
A bright blue stuffed animal tardigrade in the gift shop also sells well.
"I do not have a stuffed tardigrade but often gaze fondly at the ones for sale at the Bohart," Alberts commented. "I would love to adopt one... but am worried that our sweet puppy will think it is for him."
As for the real tardigrades, they have always fascinated her, especially "their ability to survive in any environment--even space!"
Tardigrade enthusiasts love them more than they can "bear."
- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
There's a new bear in town.
Stuiffed toy animals resembling tardigrades, aka "water bears," are all the rage at the Bohart Museum of Entomology's year-around gift shop at the University of California, Davis.
The bright blue plush toys are just as cuddly, fluffy and pudgy--if not more so--than the traditional teddy bear.
Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, 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.
They belong to their own phyllum, the Tardigrada (meaning "slow steppers"), and 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," Kimsey related. "They can tolerate 1,000 times more ionizing radiation than other animals."
"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.
What's the water bear look like? It has a barrel-shaped body, eight pudgy legs, and 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're easiest to find on lichens and mosses, Kimsey says, but they can also be found on beaches, in the subtidal zone, freshwater sediments, soil, hot springs and even on barnacles. They've been found "high in the Himalayas to down in the deep sea." They've even been found in the interior of Antarctica.
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.
Bottom line: the real "water bear" is definitely less destructible than its huggable, plush counterpart in the Bohart gift shop.
(Editor's note: The Bohart Museum of Entomology will host an open house, themed "Extreme Insects: Fire and Ice," from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 19 in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus. It is free and family friendly. More information is available on the website or by contacting (530) 752-0493 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. UC Davis student and Bohart associate Emma Cluff, pictured, is helping coordinate the event.)