Many of us learn in school about the magnificent woolly mammoth that roamed the earth during the Ice Age, but there were other incredible creatures that lived during those tens of thousands of years ago, and one of them is still around today.
It is known as a northern pseudoscorpion (Wyochernes asiaticus), and it is a tiny arachnid that calls Canada’s Arctic Circle its home. It can be found nestled away under rocks that are located in the frosty river banks of the Yukon Territory.
There isn’t just one type of pseudoscorpion. In fact, there are some 3,000 varieties of them living today. To most people, the pseudoscorpion looks like a tiny scorpion but with a rounded hind end. These micro creatures have eight walking legs and two very long, armlike pedipalps ending in pincers. The pincers resemble those of a scorpion.
What makes the Wyochernes asiaticus stand high above other arachnids is its phenomenal survival instincts. Believe it or not, this wee arachnid can forego breathing for up to 17 days while underwater. Apparently, these survivors are able to trap a layer of air around their bodies during submersion.
Its scorpion big cousin has nothing on the northern pseudoscorpion. It can only survive submerged in water for up to six days.
The good news is that these amazing arachnids are harmless, and the Ice Age Wyochernes asiaticus is so small measuring in at about 1/100 inch or 0.01 inch (2.5mm). Also, this scorpion-like invertebrate is missing the famous scorpion stinger or tail that scares many people. These creatures will not bite or sting humans.
In the ecosystem food chain, the pseudoscorpion is considered a tiny predator of extremely minute insects and other invertebrates.
So, how did the northern pseudoscorpion grab science headlines in this day and age?
You can thank McGill University’s Christopher Buddle. He is a researcher there who was fascinated with the pseudoscorpion, especially the northern species, and he wrote a paper published in 2015 about the tiny arachnid and its natural history.
Buddle and his research team happened to be driving along the Arctic Circle for another project when they decided to go explore some river rocks to see if the Ice Age creature could be found hiding there.
Indeed, the scorpion-like invertebrate was there, and he collected a few specimens in order to study their natural habitat. Two years later, and Buddle was impressed with how a tiny arachnid could survive in a rocky area with extremely cold temperatures.
The research continued with the collection of 200 specimens. He and his team began placing the creatures underwater to see how they could live without breathing for days. These experiments showed that the Wyochernes asiaticus, like other arachnids, perform super-cooling. That instinct is put to use as the creature lowers its body’s freezing point.
Buddle concluded that somehow, the northern pseudoscorpion is able to shut down its metabolism for weeks at a time. Seventeen days without breathing is quite unique because he says that this time period is “much longer than the average flooding period in that part of the Yukon Territory.”
\Buddle believes that the world can benefit by learning more about amazing creatures like this Ice Age survivor. He says that we can eventually solve human problems by looking at creature survival. Buddle hopes that the northern pseudoscorpion that can someday provide an answer when it comes to developing longer storage times for organs used in transplants.