Introducing Isohypsibius coulsoni

Introducing Isohypsibius coulsoni

Top image: Dorsal view of the Isohypsibius coulsoni. 

Polish scientists have identified a new species of water bears in Svalbard and named it after Dr. Steve Coulson.
– I am ridiculously proud, says the UNIS  associate professor in terrestrial ecology.

12 March 2012
Text: Eva Therese Jenssen / UNIS

Tardigrades (water bears or moss piglets) are small segmented animals with barrel-shaped bodies and eight legs. Tardigrada means “slow walker” and the bear reference comes from the way they walk, which is reminiscent of a bear’s gait. They are small, the biggest adults might be 1.5 millimeters long, and there main habitat is on lichens and mosses.

Tardigrades exist in Svalbard too, but despite a century of research done on the Svalbard tardigrades, the species are poorly known. Until now only 84 species have been recorded in the Svalbard archipelago, but scientists expect there are far more.

Two new species
In the summer of 2010 Polish scientists from A. Mickiewicz University, Polish Academy of Sciences and the University of East Anglia, did field work in Revdalen, a valley north of Hornsund in Spitsbergen. They collected 41 moss and lichen samples, in which 25 tardigrade species were found. Among these, they found two new species never before identified: Bryodelphax parvuspolaris and Isohypsibius coulsoni. The latter species the scientists named in honour of Dr. Steve Coulson at the Department of Arctic Biology at UNIS, as he helped his Polish colleagues collecting the tardigrades.

infrared Isohypsibius coulsoni

Dr. Steve Coulson with an infrared image of Isohypsibius coulsoni. Photo: Eva Therese Jenssen/UNIS.

– I am ridiculously proud of it! says Dr. Coulson.

– Łukasz Kaczmarek (PI) asked me last year if he could  name the species after me, but I did not take it seriously until the paper was published in January, he says.

Water bears in space!
They might be small, but they are some amazing animals, Coulson stresses.

– When encountering hard times, they can completely dry out their body moisture and they can survive up to 20 years in this desiccated state. But as soon as you add water, they will wake up and go on with their business, he says.

In 2007 a Swedish team of scientists put the water bears to the ultimate test. They sent tardigrades into space to see if the animals would survive. Most species won’t due to the extremely dry conditions of deep vacuum and the harmful solar and galactic radiation up there.

Once in orbit they placed the animals in an open box on the outside of the space shuttle for 10 days, exposed to the vacuum and temperature of space, orbiting the earth at a 90 minute interval at a height of 258-281 kilometers. And most of the tardigrades survived the space trip!

Whether the Isohypsibius coulsoni will ever go into space, is another matter. For now, this kind of water bear is seemingly happily content in Svalbard.

Kaczmarek, Ł., Zawierucha, K., Smykla, J., Michalczyk, Ł.: Tardigrada of the Revdalen (Spitsbergen) with the descriptions of two new species: Bryodelphax parvuspolaris (Heterotardigrada) and Isohypsibius coulsoni (Eutardigrada). Polar Biology, doi: 10.1007/s00300-011-1149-0

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