The discovery of a 16-million-year-old tardigrade preserved in amber was an extremely rare find. In fact, it is only the third ever tardigrade that was found in amber to be completely described and named. The seemingly indestructible creature is incredibly tiny but exceptionally mighty and obviously couldn’t escape the amber that trapped it so many millions of years ago during the Miocene Epoch.
The new tardigrade species, which has been named Paradoryphoribius chronocaribbeus, belongs to a modern tardigrade superfamily called Isohypsibioidea. The new species found in amber was discovered in the Dominican Republic. The other two prehistoric tardigrades that were previous found in amber were the Milnesium swolenskyi that dated back 90 million years (it was described in 2000); and the Beorn leggi that lived 72 million years ago and was described back in 1964.
Tardigrades seem to be indestructible as they can survive freezing temperatures, high pressures, no oxygen, cosmic radiation, space vacuum, being boiled, and being fired out of a gun. Furthermore, they can dry themselves out and reconfigure once their surrounding conditions improve.
Phil Barden, who is a biologist at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, noted, “The discovery of a fossil tardigrade is truly a once-in-a-generation event.” “What is so remarkable is that tardigrades are a ubiquitous ancient lineage that has seen it all on Earth, from the fall of the dinosaurs to the rise of terrestrial colonization of plants.” “Yet, they are like a ghost lineage for paleontologists with almost no fossil record. Finding any tardigrade fossil remains is an exciting moment where we can empirically see their progression through Earth history.”
As for the fossil found in the Dominican amber, it is very tiny, measuring a little more than half a millimeter in length. It was so small that the researchers had to use confocal microscopy to analyze it and it was a success as they said that it was the best-imaged fossil of a tardigrade so far.
In the image, they were able to spot the creature’s tiny claws and its foregut (mouth apparatus). “Even though externally it looked like a modern tardigrade, with confocal laser microscopy we could see it had this unique foregut organization that warranted for us to erect a new genus within this extant group of tardigrade superfamilies,” explained tardigradologist Marc Mapalo from Harvard University, adding, “Paradoryphoribius is the only genus that has this specific unique character arrangement in the superfamily Isohypsibioidea.”
The researchers went on to say that since the tardigrade that they found in the Dominican amber was exceptionally tiny, there could more examples in other amber deposits that have yet to be discovered. Pictures of the Paradoryphoribius chronocaribbeus inside the amber can be seen here.
The study was published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences where it can be read in full.