[Title fragment 1.1] [Title fragment 1.2] [Title fragment 1.3]
[Title fragment 2.1] [Title fragment 2.2] [Title fragment 2.3]
[Title fragment 3.1] [Title fragment 3.2] [Title fragment 3.3]

Some of the earliest historical texts which describe the water bears are written in German language. We have tried to translate two of those original texts into English language without destroying their unique character. Nevertheless those readers who are able to read and understand German might better have a look at the  original texts   in order to avoid any loss of primary information due to the translation.

The two authors of those early articles were:

J.C. EICHHORN  who reported that the he had found a water bear already in 1767 but failed to drop a line for the public about his discovery.


J.A.E. GOEZE  who was the first person to publish the discovery of a water bear in 1773. Let us begin with the too-late report by Eichhhorn which includes the illustration shown below:

[Eichhorn's water bear]

"... the water-bear: I found this animal in 1767, June 10th, in an amount of water that had been allowed to stand for some time over vegetable material and which had formed a green slime on its surface. In this water the animal lived, it had eight feet, four on each side and two behind which were armed with strong claws. In contrast to other insects with their nice and artistic shells and movements there was nothing which might have made it appear attractive to the eye of the observer. It is invisible for the bare eye, a magnifying lens has to be used in order to see it."

Johann Conrad Eichhorn: Contributions to the science of the smallest water animalcules - which cannot be seen by means of the bare eye and which live in the water around the city of Danzig (in German: Beyträge zur Naturgeschichte der kleinsten Wasserthierchen - die mit blossem Auge nicht gesehen werden und die sich in den Gewässern in und um Danzig befinden). Berlin and Danzig 1781.

So Eichhorn reported that he had found a microscopic being with 10 legs in unspecified water with water plants. At that time microscopes were not that far elaborated and we should not blame Eichhorn that he had to correct the number of legs in a later publication to 8.

Whereas Eichhorn apparently was not amused and not at all impressed by the water-bear the pastor of Quedlinburg, Goeze, must be considered as the first water bear enthusiast:


Monsieur Karl Bonnets reports on zoology.
from the French language
provided with some supplements
Joh. August Ephraim Goeze,
Pastor of the church St. Blasii at Quedlinburg.

printed by J. J. Gebauer's widow
and Joh. Jac. Gebauer, 1773.

with some investigations
by the translator
concerning various important
microscopic subjects.

[Goeze's water bear]

  Fig. VII. the little water-bear,
  a, the head and mouth.
  b,b, the eyes.
  c,c,c,c, the four legs on each side.
  d,d,d,d, the three claws on
  each leg.

Second Investigation.
About the little water bear.
Tab. IV. fig. 7.

It is fully justified to consider this being as one of the most rare and most strange creatures. I call it rare because I have found it only a few times in winter and not at all in summer.
------------------------ Page 368 -----------------------------
Furthermore I consider it as rare because I was unable to trace it in the lists of the most famous scientists, whose eyes have seen much more than mine. Even Mueller, this intelligent investigator, apparently hasn'nt found it. o ) .
Strange is this little animal, because of its exceptional and strange morphology and because it closely resembles a bear en miniature. That is the reason why I decided to call it "little water bear". p ) .
But one shouldn't be afraid to watch those beasts of prey of the invisible world. Nevertheless they are beasts of prey in relation to the other animalcules of their worlds, similar to the tigers and the lions of the African deserts. Nature has always put things into perspective to each other. In this way our (big) world is organized. In the small world as well one animal eats another animal because they are linked to each other in a chain.
Also among the infusoria are animals of various appeal. So it seems highly probable that they are analogous not only in the visual appearance but also as far as their other properties are concerned. Their behaviour proves that also in the small world beasts of prey do exist. The voracity of some species is as enormous as that of the real bears and
------------------------ Page 369 -----------------------------
the hyenas. The tools and weapons of some of those infusoria are further proofs of their carnivorous character. q ).
There is by sure no greater pleasure than to watch the polyps, the rotatoria and the other beasts of prey under the microscope, how they get hold of their victim and how they devour it.
All this is possible without travelling to distant countries, without risking one's life and without enormous costs. A single lens is sufficient to reveal a new world, and I know from own experience that one is beside of oneself in amazement when seeing all this for the first time. r ) .
------------------------ Page 370 -----------------------------
Perhaps I have been diverging a little bit too much. So I will return to my bear. Everybody who will have seen it under a microscope will attribute this name to the animal. The first time I have perceived those worms on the 10th of December in 1772 on duckweed over standing water. It is very strange that, what I would like to mention at this point, during this month of December, when the chill has become overwhelming elsewhere, the infusoria begin to increase in number.
Spallanzani has maintained for the insects that they mate in autumn. s)  
Because of this one will always find more and more various animalcules in
------------------------- Page 371 ---------------------------
duckweed water during those winter months than at the hottest days in summer. This fertility remains until spring when the old duckweed plants die and the young ones substitute them. I have noticed that the number of animalcules decreases at the moment when the new duckweed plants come up and build their intermingling roots. In contrast the number of animalcules is highest in late autumn when the duckweed looses its roots and only the green leaf of it floats on the water surface. When dipping one of those leafs on a slide one will observe whole colonies of water animals of various species which inhabitate this small insula. An experience which I think is reproducible, as I have repeated this experiment so often. In science often minute details turn out as important. This has caused me to diverge. I will return to my investigation of my little water bear now. It is not possible to investigate the animal by means of the weaker microscopic lenses. One will need stronger lenses in order to perceive its shape and details.
Most of times I have used the second lens of my microscope. When I saw the water bear for the first time I found it lying on its backside. I have found it in this position later again and again. I was lucky to find it several times.
Its body is not as transparent as those of other water animals. The skin which covers the inner organs appears greyish and is covered by
------------------------ Page 372 -----------------------------
black grains (granulosum) so that it has the appearance of a scarred leather. In the inner volume there is a completely non-transparent, oval black spot oriented towards the upper part of the head.
The head itself t) is very short and thick and it has greatest resemblence to a frog head, at least as far as the throat is concerned. On both sides are eyes, slightly prominent, and clearly discernible.
The hind part of the body is roundish and there is neither a hair, nor a tail which are also absent all over the body. On both sides there are six to eight incisions which I consider as air tubes.
The most strange property of this little worm animal are eight short legs each of which armed with three curved and very sharp claws  u).
Its movements were always the same. It lay on its backside and stretched its feet, retracted them as if it wanted to grip something with them in order to come an upright position. But when it grasped a moss leaflet or another particle it was nevertheless unable to stand up.
I have often tried to help with a fine needle; nevertheless it always fell back on its backside. I flooded the droplet with the water bear on a watch glass to see whether it was able to swim when it had more water under its body but was not successful.
I have seen a funny spectacle which was a clear proof for me that its claws perform not in the soft way,
------------------------ Page 373 -----------------------------
when it grips a living object. One of the oval animalcules which can be found in any of the infusoria waters approached my water bear and was not very lucky in that the water bear caught it with one of his legs.
The animal did an enormous jump, apparently sensing a severe hit. But the bear didn't loosen its grip. Instead it took the smaller animal along a considerable way along the droplet.
But it didn't try to grab at it stronger by means of its other legs either. As the smaller animal was apparently caught in its claws it seemed not to care about it, even when the smaller animal regained its freedom. The water bear remained in its usual position and movement lying on its backside and continued to jiggle around with its feet. I followed the freed animal and had the impression that there was a crack on its backside and that it moved slower than before. It moved towards the edge of the droplet and died there. From this I have concluded that also the smallest animals have sensory feelings and are able to feel pain. Their body seems to be different from those polyps and other worms which even seem to take profit from cuts and mutilations as they increase better under these conditions.
Creator of the elephants and atoms, of the whales and small living points in water! I'am astonished by the endless variety of designs, according to which your wisdom has formed in a different way the body of each animal, the bird, the frog, the insect and the worm!
------------------------ Page 374 -----------------------------
By the way, I am unable to tell how my water bear reaches its prey and what actually its food consists of. Its way of living doesn't appear to be more than clinging to the duckweed as it cannot make use of its feet for swimming. Whether its 24 claws are given to it by nature for clinging to a substrate or for other purposes, I cannot tell yet. But by sure you couldn't imagine a more horrible scenario than to meet this animalcule in the size of a real bear.
I have dissected one of those animals by means of a fine needle. The inner parts emerged as grains. Also the black spot mentioned above came out, I think it must be some kind of ovary. The grains floated around in the water and looked like transparent bubbles. I was not able to discern further details from the interior parts.
At another time, I found in a droplet of duckweed water, which had been standing for at least six weeks, some skins or shells of those dead water bears ,v ) at which the claws of the eight legs were still visible. Within one of those skins were eleven brown oval corpuscules, with black spots, with the young animals included in them, some of which were still moving, as myself and some of my friends noticed without doubt, after having suspected a deception first. They looked very similar to the habit and shape of the so-called volvox (globular) animals
------------------------ Page 375 -----------------------------
which are enclosed in a similar manner within their parent organisms. y )
At the end of this chapter I would like to remark that this animal is not an object suited for the sun microscope. It is not transparent enough to show sufficient detail.

The allmighty God said: Be it! as the earth,
this drop in a bucket, ran out of his hand. At this moment he condescended to create also the small worm animal that has been discussed here, millions of times smaller than a sand grain and kept it for 6,000 years. But for which reason as I perhaps have been the first man to see it this year?
Lord! Who has been your advisor? He has created everything, the sun, the clouds, the oceans, the depths, in the visible and unvisible world, in the big wild animals and in the worm that hasn't be seen by anybody. Let's honour him for eternity as I will honour him in my heart!
--------------------------- Annotations ------------------------
o   At least I have not noticed it in his newest publication: Vermium terrestrium et fluviatilium, seu animalium infusorium etc. succincta historia Hafn. et Lipf. 1773.4.

p  Cf. Cercaria catellus, lupus; Trichoda camelus, lepus; Vorticella felis, catulus etc.
S. Müller, Vermium etc. hist. p. 65. 67. 108.

q  I would like to remember here once that, in accordance with Mr (Kanzleyrath, a German title) Müller I understand by the term "infusoria" only those water worms which can be found in fresh water and in water containing vegetable material. S. Vermium etc. succincta historia. p . 4.
Among the wild animals of the minute water world the wildest and most voracious are those which can be found in cisterns the water of which has turned green, in storm barrels, in troughs etc. and which I have described in issue 17 of the «Hannoverisches Magazin» in 1773. They devour in a single swig myriads of other little animals. Müller Vermium etc. historia p. 131. n 142, has named them Brachionus urceolaris. Joblot (Observations d' histoire naturelle, faites avec le Microscope etc. ā Paris 1754. 4. Tom. I. Part. II. Chap. XXX, p. 68. Pl. 9.) calls them grenades aquatiques, coronnées et barbues.

r  The thoughts of Mr (Kanzleyrath, a German title) Müller about these topics are so impressive that I want to quote him word by word. In the introduction to the publication already mentioned before (Infusoria ...). Here are his words: p. 1. f.
Si quae de animalculis infusoria dici possunt, enar-
rentur, verbaque et oculorum acies sufficerent, dicendi
nullus finis esset. Paucissima magnificentiae et splen-
doris Numinis optimi maximi documenta prodere
mens humana valet, in plurimis stupet et obmutescit.
Mundus invisibilium maioribus occlusus, centum abhinc
annis, et quod excurrit, adiri coepit; monstra, forma et
vitae ratione, inaudita, alit, miraculisque aeque abun-
dat, ac remota Indiarum tellus, minori veri periculo
perlustratur, ubique enim ante pedes praesto est, nec
auri fame visitur. Utrumque multa incolarum strage
conquiritur; haec vero saepe vitae aggressorum dispen-
dio constitit, ille mera patientia comparatur. Aciculae
alterum, quae orbis terrarum hemisphaeria iunxit, al-
terum lenti, quae moleculas solares, moleculasque infuso-
rias, remotissima rerum, sub eandem imaginem sistit,
debetur. In hoc intervallo quid iam magnum, quid
arvum? Ens, quod hoc cogitat, et humana patitur.

s  Bonnets Betrachtung über die Natur XI. Th. V.
Hauptst. p. 375.

t  fig. 7. a, b, b.

u  c, c, c, c.

v  I do not want to call it a transformation, similar to the one of the insects.

y  This strange animal has its name from its globular shape. But it can adopt numerous shapes, so that one might believe to see different animals. Often it has 30 to 40 youngster animals in it, each of which has again 6 to 8 in it from what might be concluded an enormous fertility of a single adult, as it has already its child-child-child-child in it. Their birth proceeds as follows: The skin of the adult opens on one side. The youngsters emerge. But the mother which has given birth, dies and looks like a little bit of white skin. I have often been eye witness of those marvelous birth events. They can be seen within Baker's book «Beyträge zum Gebrauch des Mikr. p. 418.Tab.12.f.27. ... »

© 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.

Main Page