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EUREKA! WATER BEARS SIGHTED!

2017 May 1
by Linda

tardigradeBack in 1873, yes 1873, our minister, the Rev. Wellington R. Cross, sent some samples of lichen or moss from New Gloucester to his Bowdoin College friend Asa Packard, a noted biologist.  Mr. Packard published his findings–the first tardigrade (water bear)  identified in the United States.

What, you ask, is a tardigrade?  They’re almost transparent invertebrates, about .5 mm in size, that look sort of like little bears(thick trunk, head, stubby legs with what look like claws on the end).  They have another nickname, and that is “moss piglet” because they live in moss and have a snout sort of like a pig(except it’s their mouth, not their nose).  The name tardigrade means “slow mover.”

But these aren’t even the most odd features of tardigrades.  They are tough little cookies.  If where they’re living dries up, they dry up, too, shrinking down and folding up until it rains again—which can be as long as 100 years.  They have been into space and back–alive, without space suits!  Google them.  They’re fascinating.

Here’s the thing.  Prof. Emma Creaser of Unity College contacted us a few years ago, hoping to interest a few of us in gathering some samples of tardigrade habitat from New Gloucester–140 years since they were first ID’d here. One hot Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago, Leslie Weeks and Rev. Gard gathered 20 samples from areas of Gloucester Hill that have not changed much since Rev. Cross’s day.

Prof. Creaser picked them up on a Wednesday morning, regaling the Blockhouse Stitchers with tall tales of tardigrades….and a few months later we received an email from her, announcing that in the first sample, yellow lichen from the top of a gravestone in the old part of the cemetery, she found 50 tardigrades of at least 3 species–and some eggs!    Since then, “our” New Gloucester tardigrades have made national and international news!  OK, we’re counting slow news days and science journals, mostly, but…better than a litter of puppies…and a whole lot of fun for us!)

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