Beetles with antifreeze blood, ants that sprint on scorching sand and spiders that live high up Mount Everest.
These incredible creatures are the extremophiles: animals that survive some of the most inhospitable conditions on Earth, and sometimes even further.
Scientists are amazed by the survival abilities of this motley crew and are currently researching their peculiar adaptations to find out whether they can be transferred to our own species.
In northern Alaska, the red flat bark beetle (Cucujus clavipes) survives arctic conditions using a cocktail of internal chemicals.
The formation of ice crystals in internal fluids is the biggest threat to its survival, but the beetle produces antifreeze proteins that stop water molecules from grouping together.
They also fortify their blood with high concentrations of glycerol, which means that the water in their bodies will not form the ice crystals that would kill other species, even at much milder temperatures.
Professor John Duman from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, US has documented examples of larvae surviving at temperatures of -150 C, for which the antifreeze proteins alone would not be enough.
He explained that what makes these beetles unusual compared with similar species is that they deliberately dehydrate their internal tissues when temperatures fall.
“This concentrates the antifreezes several fold, such that if they’re exposed to really low temperatures their body water then vitrifies [- forms a glass-like substance -] rather than freezing,” Prof Duman told BBC Nature.
So why do red flat bark beetles live in these conditions?
“This is the case with any organism able to adapt to extreme environments of any sort: low temperature, high temperature, low oxygen, polluted environments,” explained Prof Duman.
“Competition with other species is much reduced, because most species simply can’t live in such extreme conditions.”
This is the reason extremophiles thrive in hostile environments: they are exploiting an ecological niche for which they are supremely well-adapted, and face little or no competition within it.
Prof Duman said that the antifreeze proteins in red flat bark beetles are now being investigated for potential applications in cryopreservation and agriculture.