3D rendering of a tardigrade water bear 3D rendering of a tardigrade water bear Ain't he cute, in a sci-fi-villain-in-disguise kind of way? (Photo: 3dstock/Shutterstock)

The most resilient animal in the world is a tiny species you've probably never heard of

Count on this guy when times get tough. Like, apocalypse-level tough.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, creatures great and small ... we have found the last great hope for survival in the event of apocalyptic-level disaster.

And it is ... this weird-looking guy.

black and white image of tardigrade water bear, also known as the moss pigletThe microscopic tardigrade has long been regarded as one of the world's strongest animals. Now, scientists are putting that strength to the test. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

No, that's not an otter in a hazmat suit. (Just got a really good Halloween costume idea, though.) It's called a tardigrade water bear (Milnesium tardigradum) and, thanks to the magic of mathematical modeling, it's just been named the world's most resilient animal. Should some cataclysmic event befall us, these guys are the ones you want in your corner.

How do we know? Science, of course. A group of astrophysicists from Harvard and Oxford – including Avi Loeb from Israel, David Sloan from the U.K. and Rafael Alves Batista from Brazil – conducted a study where they simulated three events that would literally mean the end of the world as we know it: killer asteroids, supernovae and gamma-ray bursts. They examined the impact each would have on different species, including these bizarre creatures, which scientists already knew had been around since dinosaurs roamed the Earth.

What they found, though, was that not only can tardigrades find sufficient shield from even the most devastating disasters, they can also withstand extreme highs and lows in temperature and highly varied terrain like no other creature can. They also don't depend on light for survival. And, despite their rotund appearance in photos, they're actually tiny – less than a millimeter long.

So in the event of, say, a large asteroid strike – which would pour copious amounts of dust over the Earth that would block the sun and set off an unnaturally harsh winter – these little buggers would just keep on swimming.

"Although near supernovae or large asteroid impacts would be catastrophic for people, tardigrades could be unaffected," said Oxford's Sloan, who co-authored the study in the journal Scientific Reports.

This finding could even widen the scope of our exploration of other planets. Just think: If the hardy tardigrade can survive despite monumental odds on this planet, perhaps there are others like it elsewhere – indestructible creatures thriving in the most hostile of conditions. Come to think of it, those water bears do give off an air of Martian sophistication.

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