Phylum Tardigrada

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A sister group of the Arthropoda, the Tardigrada are micrometazoans that occupy a diversity of niches in freshwater, marine, and terrestrial habitats. Commonly called water bears because of their slow, lumbering gait, these molting lobopods have four pairs of legs, usually terminating in claws. Most are less than 1 mm in length, with a complete digestive tract, a dorsal gonad with one or two gonoducts, and a dorsal lobed brain with a ventral nerve cord and four bilobed ganglia, one per leg-bearing metamere. The body cavity (hemocoel) functions in respiration and circulation. Over 1200 species have been described based primarily on the morphology of the claws and buccal-pharyngeal apparatus. Individuals may be either gonochoric, unisexual, or hermaphroditic, with fertilized or unfertilized eggs deposited either freely or within the shed exuvium. Parthenogenesis occurs frequently in limnic and terrestrial tardigrades, allowing them to colonize new territories by passive dispersal of a single individual. Cryptobiosis (anhydrobiosis, anoxybiosis, cryobiosis, and osmobiosis) and diapause (encystment and resting eggs) occur during the life history. Active adults (surrounded by water) and cryptobiotic adults and eggs are primarily dispersed passively, but some active dispersal can also occur. Due to the characteristic patchy distributions of tardigrade populations, little is known about their population dynamics and trophic relationships. Improved methods for collection, microscopy, culturing, and molecular analyses have been have contributed much to our knowledge of tardigrades.