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Time Of The Tardigrades: The Village

25 Sep 2017

On the small, green planet called Earth, it was Thursday, a completely irrelevant 8-letter word that had no meaning to anything except the dominant species on the planet, the Humans. Thursday was one of the seven words that make up a "Week", a seven day cycle that repeats itself. There were 52 Weeks in what was known as a "Year", which is, in itself,  was a 365 day cycle, which became 366 every four years. This type of Year was called a leap year. A group of ten Years was known as a "Decade".  None of this was relevant either, but when in Rome... This was a saying developed by Humans, which is too hard to explain the meaning of.  Also, the saying itself had absolutely no relevance to the city named "Rome".


The single sun shone pinky-orange shards of light through grey clouds, the clouds not circular and fluffy pillows, but menacing blocks, the colour of a substance known as "Concrete". Tiny droplets of liquid clung on to steep reeds, a precarious drop to the swampy ground below. An hour or two passed, and when high shrieks erupted through the foliage, the sky was clear and bright, the sun as yellow as a lemon. This morning chorus is what made the Tardigrades stir. Having eaten enough to last them a month, they had slept like rocks.


What happened next would change the course of not only the next hour, but the whole day. A single drop of crystal clear water lost its grip on a reed, slowly rolling down, plopping from leaf to leaf, gathering volume and momentum until it reached the end of the last reed, rolled over the side, hung onto the bottom of the sun-collector that was growing on the simple green life form and dropped down. Falling. And falling. Gravity did its work and the droplet of water made impact with what would have looked like a tiny portion of pink sand. These were called Tardigrades, and they were microscopic beasts. The water was a tidal wave, carrying the 'Grades away. But they fought back, fought against the tsunami that pounded them. They powered to the brown, low lying seed-pods of the reeds and clung on, nesting themselves inside. It did indeed, in a way, change the course of the day.


The Tardigrades brushed themselves off, the water having already died away leaving some micro-morsels for them to snack on. At one point, after snacking on the microscopic bacteria flipping and flopping in dying puddles of water, turned murky brown by the mud on the ground, it was someone's bright idea to start fashioning a shelter out of the reeds. The 'Grade bit away at the reeds, tearing strips off and slowly weaving them together, creating a  green and brown dome-like shape. The others promptly followed suit. The Tardigrades munched away at the reeds, weaving obscure shapes out of the leaves. If you were looking through a small piece of glass, used to magnify an area to see small objects, known as a "Magnifying glass", or with the naked eye in the right light, you could see a little cluster of green shapes. You would see around 130 objects, a few Domes, some Pyramids and even the odd Dodecahedron.  A microscopic village. The 'Grades had shelter now.


Suddenly, a large shape blotted out the sun, falling, falling, and SPLAT, a six legged monster fell on the ground, twiggled its legs in an awkward upside-down death spasm, and ceased to exist as a living animal on Planet Earth. The thing was brown, the colour of dark amber, with four pods connecting its head to its rear end. It was one of tens of thousands of species classified as an "Ant" and was completely unremarkable to just about everything on the planet. To the Tardigrades, it was a beast, slashing with its razor sharp teeth, tearing with its 6 limbs but most importantly, it was a meal when dead. And a tasty one at that. Once again, the 'Grades snacked on the huge meal, ripping away soft flesh under the hard exoskeleton.


The shattered Tardigrades dragged themselves over to their little homes, the pink sun dancing over waves, just visible over the bush encasing the village. Another fruitful day. Who knew what the next one held?


Thanks for reading episode three of my series! Next time: Hijacking Nature: The Tardigrades use insects, leaves and the power of the sun to evolve in this dangerous world. 



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