Researchers found a new species of water bear fossilized in a hunk of ancient amber

Researchers discovered a new species in water bears, fossilized in an ancient amber hunk
Enlarge this image toggle caption Holly Sullivan/Harvard/NJIT Holly Sullivan/Harvard/NJIT

Scientists are learning more about the microscopic tardigrade, an ancient and resilient species of Earth thanks to the discovery of a rare fossil.

Eight-legged micro-animals known as water bears and moss piglets, modern tardigrades are eighteen-legged tardigrades. Despite their long evolutionary history, and ability to survive in extreme environments including space, they are almost entirely absent from the fossil record.

Scientists claim they have discovered a new species in tardigrade, suspended in amber 16 million years old. This is only the third clear tardigrade fossil.

They found

Researchers from Harvard University and New Jersey Institute of Technology discovered the fossil. They published their findings in Proceedings of the Royal Society, B on Wednesday.

The fossilized amber from La Cumbre in Dominican Republic is where the tardigrade was trapped. This region is well-known for its amber deposits. The amber also held a variety of insects and flowers, including three ants.

Toggle caption Phillip Barden/Harvard/NJIT

This fossil is the first to be found from the Cenozoic Era, which began 66 million years ago.

Phil Barden, senior author of the study, described the discovery as a "once in a generation" event in a statement about the research.

Barden stated, "What's so amazing is that tardigrades represent an ancient lineage that is ubiquitous and has seen it all on Earth from the fall of dinosaurs to rise of terrestrial colonizations of plants." They are a ghost lineage that paleontologists have almost no fossil evidence for.

Why it is important

This fossil is exceptional for its clarity and age. It could also be a valuable resource in future evolutionary research.

According to the New Jersey Institute of Technology, the fossil tardigrade was the most well-known. Scientists can now see micron-level details such as the mouthparts of the invertebrate and its claws that look like needles, which are 20-30 times more detailed than a human's hair.

Scientists were able to identify this new species of tardigrade by using the fossil. They call it Paradoryphoribius Chronocaribbeus. Its name includes the Greek word "chrono" for time and "caribbeus", which refers to the area where it was discovered.

The American Museum of Natural History will be the home of the fossil for the remainder of its life.

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