New species of tardigrade discovered in ancient amber

When it comes to preserving ancient specimens like bugs and other small creatures, amber is one of the best methods. Amber completely encapsulates and protects the fossilized creature allowing scientists to study it in ways that are impossible with other types of fossils. Researchers have confirmed the discovery of the third-ever tardigrade fossil.

The new fossil is a new species of tardigrade and was discovered in amber dated to 16 million years old. For those who might be unfamiliar with the tardigrade, it's an incredibly robust microscopic creature able to survive some incredibly harsh conditions, including the vacuum of space and being frozen for decades. Despite the creatures being incredibly robust, it's extremely rare to find them in fossil form.

The amber fossil here is only the third tardigrade fossil ever discovered. The tiny creature is only about half a millimeter long and has been identified as a relative of the modern tardigrade superfamily Isohypsibioidea. The fossil is the first of a tardigrade discovered from the Cenozoic era, the current geological era that began 66 million years ago.

Since the new specimen was so well preserved, it has become one of the best-imaged tardigrade fossils ever discovered. Scientists were able to capture micron-level details of the eight-legged invertebrate, including its mouthparts and claws. Those claws are 20 to 30 times finer than a human hair.

The fossil is at the American Museum of Natural History Division of Invertebrate of Zoology. Researchers say the fossil appears similar to modern tardigrade due to its simplistic external morphology. However, this discovery is the first time researchers have been able to visualize the internal anatomy of the foregut in a tardigrade fossil. That visualization allowed the team to determine the tardigrade was part of a new genus.