Image courtesy of Pexels
By Virge Randall

Researchers found a survival secret in Earth’s “hardiest animal”:
a gene in “waterbears” (a small-pond dwelling mite), which helps them survive
severe environmental conditions like boiling, freezing and radiation.


The BBC did a story about “Earth’s Hardiest Animal.” I expected to see Miguel, a big Cuban Ex-Marine/chef at the Leaf and Bean in Brooklyn Heights; he could take hot pans out of the oven, bare-handed, and moved our commercial refrigerator unaided.

Instead I saw a gelatinous creature with eight vestigial legs. It looked like a slug without the personality (though there was something about the sliminess that reminded me of a guy I met online). But honestly, when it comes to survival instincts in tough environments, the average New Yorker is part warrior, part scavenger, and part mad poet — we put a waterbear to shame.

There are times when anybody could get a little gelatinous, especially after Santacon when pubcrawlers get poured into cabs. But for the most part, New Yorkers save ‘gelatinous” for vodka shots or female wrestling events (or for Slimy Online Guy, “Tuesday”).

As for “hardiness,” the researchers should spend a week in the City for practical reality testing about survival.

So it can live 30 years in a freezer. Big deal. My grandmother lived 30 years in an apartment with no radiator. Boiling? Dehydration? Please. My brother is a mail carrier. During the hottest summer on record he walked a four-and-a-half mile route carrying 70 pounds of mail, in uniform. Daily. With a hat. That thing can’t even manage a postcard.

Severe environmental conditions? How long would it last behind a bodega counter? Or behind the wheel of a cab when it needed a restroom? Let it find a one-bedroom apartment in Wiliamsburg for under $1000; then we’ll talk. Has it ever tried to park on the street in Koreatown? How long can it stay in a subway during rush hour with a homeless person whose last wash was during the Reagan administration?

After Hurricane Sandy’s first cloudburst, a waterbear would have been swept into a sewer, where it wouldn’t even be a decent sized snack for the average sewer rat. If it had appendages that could swipe, 15 minutes on Tinder here would reduce it to a quivering pile of suicidal jelly…unless it owned a really great three bedroom.

….and if it was walking on 23rd street and 6th avenue when a bomb exploded, would a waterbear continue to walk to a deli for a bagel? I don’t think so.

It resists radiation — I’ll give it that. But if a meteor strikes or (God forbid) there’s a nuclear incident, the waterbear will survive only until New York roaches get hungry.

The average New Yorker already lives in severe environmental conditions and demonstrates hardiness and survival instincts routinely. Just consider the sang froid on 23rd street during and after the bombing (and everyone’s grateful that no one was seriously hurt).

In another typical New York survivor story, scavenger instincts kept catastrophe at bay. A pair of petty thieves thought they scored a new duffle bag, and while stealing it, disarmed the second bomb. By accident.

So, hey, scientists, if you want survivor chops, that’s the kind of gene you want — not something from some pond dweller who couldn’t lift a finger, let alone a duffle bag. You put that in a waterbear’s DNA, and you’ve got some survivor mojo. That Waterbear might steal the lab equipment and get away in your truck, but you know it will survive* –just like New Yorkers do — no matter what.

But don’t get me started about that.


*And if it comes to New York (like other small pond dwellers), it will flourish. There are many endeavors here in which sliminess, survival instincts, and larceny are job requirements. In six months it will be running a pyramid scheme or doing real estate development deals in the Bronx, or selling fake EpiPens on Ebay.