10 Superhero Powers of the Animal Kingdom

The Reluctant Superhero
Isn't that the cutest microscopic invertebrate you've ever seen? Tardigrades are also way tougher than you'll ever be. © Science Picture Co./Corbis

Tardigrades, otherwise known much more adorably as water bears, are plump, little animals about a quarter to half a millimeter long [source: Goldstein and Baxter]. In fact, they even have their very own phylum. These microscopic invertebrates might live in your backyard; they love moss and beach sediment. They'd prefer to stay away from extreme climates, thanks very much. So what makes these tiny, quiet guys so super?

They've got a superpower they'd rather ignore. While they don't like extreme climates, tardigrades are shockingly adaptable to the craziest environments on the planet -- and off. We're not talking "can survive at the bottom of the ocean" here: We're talking can survive pressures more than six times those found in the deepest ocean. We're not just talking boiling temperatures; we're talking water bears surviving 300 degrees F water (149 degrees C). Their biggest accomplishment? Tardigrades can survive in space, a place not known for its abundant life [source: Simon].

How do they do it? A superpower called cryptobiosis, wherein the water bear dehydrates and can live for years with very little metabolic function [source: Clegg]. When in contact with water, the little guy rehydrates and comes back to life.