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Tardigrade Mating Finally Caught on Camera, Is Suitably Weird

Tardigrade Mating Finally Caught on Camera, Is Suitably Weird Phineas Jones/Flickr
Tardigrade Mating Finally Caught on Camera, Is Suitably Weird Phineas Jones/Flickr

There are a lot of celebrity sex tapes out there, but the one that has a lot of scientists excited these days is the one that finally catches the tardigrade, the toughest animal in the world, in the act. Unsurprisingly, tardigrade sex is a bit unconventional, and, according to a new study in the Zoological Journal, it involves an awful lot of foreplay.

Tardigrades, all the rage on the internet and sometimes called water bears or moss piglets, rarely do anything the standard way. For instance, they live everywhere, from the highest mountains to the deepest oceans, and it's unbelievably difficult to kill one of these microscopic creatures. You can dry them out, starve, freeze, burn, irradiate, poison them, or stick them down in the deepest, most pressurized ocean trench. You can expose them to the vacuum of space!

Subjected to any of these trials, a tardigrade will transform into a desiccated little husk, but when it's over, you just add a little water to that corpse, and it will plump back up and be on its way, munching on algae like usual. When brought back to Earth after spending 10 days blasted by space radiation, a tardigrade will happily revive and lay a clutch of viable eggs.

Since discovering them in 1773, we've learned amazing things about these indestructible creatures, but their mating behavior has remained a mystery. Of course, there are around 1,200 species of the phylum Tardigrada out there, and not all of them mate in the same way — some are bisexual, some are hermaphroditic, while others reproduce asexually. But new video footage captured by a team of researchers at the Senckenberg Museum of Natural History in Görlitz, Germany provides some insight into how the deed is done in one bisexual species of tardigrade called Isohypsibius dastychi. And though it might not look like much to the untrained eye, the researchers assure us that things gets weird. If you're up for some microscopic copulation, you can check it out for yourself right here: 

 a male around, he sort of wraps his body around her head, and the two engage in an hour-long mutual stimulation marathon in which he might ejaculate several times into the space between her old skin and her new skin, fertilizing her eggs in the process.

why so much foreplay for such a tiny beast?

But with all the surprising dimensions to the water bear, did anybody think tardigrade sex was going to be unremarkable?

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