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Mercy for critters!

The Water Bear web base shouldn't become too sentimental? Or should it?

Tardigrades have become true fashion animals in those recent decades. There are rumours that they are so fashionable now that even some biology teachers might be aware of them. As a consequence much scholarly biology homework and even more student's biology projects are nowadays dwelling on tardigrades.
But, most of the topics are kind of tardigrade sadistic, like the following task:

"Go ahead and do measure the percentage of tardigrades that will survive for at least 5 minutes in 2% acetic acid. Don't forget to perform a thorough calculation of errors. Without this error calculation your work will not be truly scientific!"

Okay, this very title is fictitious, an invention by ourselves. And there can be no doubt that those more primitive tasks are resulting from distress - the scholars have to be able to compete in a world full of internet firsts and the teachers are running out of glamour topics.

So, all this is understandable, somehow. Nevertheless the fictitious task above is based on numerous real inquiries which are arriving by e-mail in our mailbox account. As a rule the pupils are starting off their research by means of a well-known internet search engine. After an estimated five minutes of thorough research they decide to ask for an enhanced clarification and support from our side. Something like this:

-- Why do I not find a single tardigrade in my garden?
-- Please send copies of the most relevant literature to my postal address!
-- What kind of project might be still done with respect to tardigrades?

And we shouldn't forget that all those people mentioned above, the avid pupils and the stressed teachers are definitely among the good ones (at least showing some interest).

Just have a look at the really bad questions:

-- What are those tardigrades good for?
-- How can I use tardigrades to fight those damned Darwinists?
-- Should I add the tardigrades to my parasites' database (feeding on moss?)
-- You are kidding! Should I really care about the death of a few tardigrades on a microscope slide?

One of our main messages is possibly buried within those many magazine issues. Tardigrades are interesting from a philosophical point of view! Just think about topics as:

-- Does body size affect the "value" of a creature?
-- How can we be so sure that only a few species have self-awareness?

With respect to the latter question we should keep in mind that the scientific proof of self-awareness in the pigeon came up in the second half of the 20th century.

We do like visual messages. Perhaps the following one might help to convince you:

[ Critter! ]

Critter! A living marine tardigrade. Active, not dried or chemically killed and preserved in some "scientific" way. Image made by means of a cheap dissecting microscope.

Some of you might think now: such a bad image quality. And yes, you are perfectly right. But even this technically poor picture, taken under a low-res stereo microscope is telling you the story of the tardigrade: "I am here and I am grasping out for the world - your world, but my world as well."

Possibly all those critters are closer to Homo sapiens than one might think at first glance. So, in case of doubt, we suggest to stay away from a primitively brute experimental biology. You needn't be a saint. In fact it is not possible to strictly behave as a saint on earth. But this is no reason to skip morals altogether.

© Text, images and video clips by  Martin Mach  (webmaster@baertierchen.de).
Water Bear web base is a licensed and revised version of the German language monthly magazine  Bärtierchen-Journal . Style and grammar amendments by native speakers are warmly welcomed.

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