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Tardigrades Can Survive Bullet-Speed Impacts

Credit: Unsplash

That’s one more check on the list of things that can’t kill a water bear.

Tardigrades, also affectionately known as “water bears,” have been a beloved pet project of microbiologists for the last decade or so. Not only are they one of the tinniest multi-celled organisms in the world, they’re also notoriously difficult to damage. Studies have shown that Tardigrades are impervious to radiation, the vacuum of space, and even pressure levels six times that of the absolute depths of the ocean. With this most recent study, I think we’re officially running out of violent instruments to throw at these things.

Researchers based out of the University of Kent in the United Kingdom wanted to see if a tardigrade could survive being shot. That is to say, they wanted to see if they could survive being shot out of a gun, not shot by a gun. They could almost definitely survive being shot by a gun. To test this mildly silly theory, the researchers froze healthy, well-fed tardigrades into a hibernation state, then loaded them into a “two-stage light gas gun,” a special projectile launcher that can shoot small objects even faster than a typical firearm.

What the researchers found is that the creatures could successfully survive being launched at speeds up to 3,000 feet per second. For reference, an impact of that speed would produce 1.14 gigapascals of pressure, which is equivalent to the pressure one would experience at around 114,000 meters below the surface of the ocean, and all at once at that. However, any higher than that, and the tardigrades were not able to recover from the impact. Even the ones that did survive the impacts took a noticeably long time to recover from their injuries, suggesting that their regenerative properties can take a little longer to kick in depending on the severity of the damage.

For the purposes of this experiment, though, we can resolutely say that a water bear could survive being shot out of a regular gun. So… now you know that.