AMNH Highlights Species Living at the Limits

Tartigrades rule the show -- the micro-animal can survive at high heat, high altitude, high pressure, inhospitable climates, without water, and even outer space.

Tartigrades rule the show — the micro-animal survives high heat, high altitude, high pressure, without water, and even outer space.

If you’ve ever wanted to take a magic carpet ride to visit all the animals, plants, and environments you’ve ever seen on National Geographic or Nova, spend some time inside the special exhibition Life at The Limits: Stories of Amazing Species, running through January 3 at the American Museum of Natural History.

The curators and exhibition staff take you to the absolute limits of life on Earth in a “wow factor” show, organized into topics sure to astound.

How high into the atmosphere do animals live? How deep in the ocean? Who is the world-record holder for bite force? Who makes the longest migratory journey? Who is the award-winner for survival in the extreme?

The show will take you into deep caves, to life among the black smokers in ocean depths, to high altitudes, and even into outer space.

A deep-sea diving champion -- the Southern elephant seal can hold its breath for 2 hours and dive to 5,000 feet

A deep-sea diving champion — the Southern elephant seal can hold its breath for 2 hours and dive to 5,000 feet

And they’ve even thrown in some live creatures, too – the popular Axolotls, who retain their juvenile amphibious form into adulthood, and swimmers using the jet-propulsion method – chambered nautilis. Check out a few views on our Flickr feed.

Not to give anything away, but you’ll find out that vultures have been known to fly at 37,000 feet and beaked whales have been known to dive at least 10,000 feet below the ocean’s surface.

Live Chambered nautilis demonstrates jet propulsion

Live Chambered nautilis demonstrates jet propulsion

Crocodiles have a bit force of 3,700 pounds, electric eels and hammerheads can deliver 600 volts, and eagles can subdue animals of up 20 pounds in weight using only their claws. Arctic Terns may migrate 25,000 miles.

There’s no doubt that the stars of the survivalist show are miniscule tartigrades (better known as “water bears” or “moss piglets”). These miniature eight-legged water creatures inhabit climates that no human could. They are able to survive at temperatures colder than Pluto and hotter than boiling water and have been known to survive in the void of space for up to 12 days.

Moreover, tartigrades are prolific: nearly 1,200 species inhabit Earth in lichen, moss, beaches, and dunes and hold the distinction of residing at the International Space Station and being part of Space Shuttle Endeavor’s final flight.

Artist recreation of tube worms absorbing chemicals from ocean vents three miles under the sea – an environment unknown until 1977

Artist recreation of tube worms absorbing chemicals from ocean vents three miles under the sea – an environment unknown until 1977

How did life evolve to adapt to such extremes? Darwin explains it in his theory of natural selection, which leads to gradual adaptations within animal populations.

But you are left to wander and wonder at the engaging displays, animals, specimens, and movies.

Glimpse some of this fascinating exhibition in this video with co-curators John Sparks and Mark Siddall. By the way, the cover photo below is the Axolotl featured in the show:

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