On Ice

Scientists don’t know much about these tiny creatures that surround nothing remarkable in short. There may be more of them, but so far only two species of dragon bugs have been identified: Willinki and Moranensis Andiperla. These bugs only live on the frozen glaciers of Patagonian ice fields in South America and they have adapted to life on the ice. It is an insect of the stonefly type that measures just over an inch. It’s not really a dragon, of course, but it is the dragon of the Patagonian ice.

What might these tiny beings have to teach us about withstanding the most severe conditions in the world? Although it is unclear why, biologists discovered that they are also able to withstand temperatures boiling in addition to frozen ones when studying them accidentally. Scientists believe that their bodies contain natural antifreeze, which stops their blood from turning solid amidst the piercing cold. The dragon ice is known as an extremophile, a term reserved for organisms that have adapted to survive in Earth’s harshest environments.

It’s no wonder that little is known about these insects, as their entire life cycles play out on the ice. Young dragons have particularly difficultly finding a good reason to lay their eggs outside, as they are almost fully formed within translucent envelopes that resemble them so much. Only when they mature into adulthood do their exoskeletons take on a slightly darker hue, making them slightly easier to spot. They have the ability to be invisible, envy of others, but they are safely surrounded by walls of ice.

Ice dragons play a role in the melting of glaciers. These mythical creatures inhabit castles that are neither seen nor heard. As I sent a silent prayer past them, we floated by as vulnerable and valuable insects, making these glaciers among the most rapidly melting on Earth. Powdered particles and other tiny organisms, known as cryoconite, can cause the glaciers to melt quicker and become less reflective. This thin layer of dust rests atop the ice and serves as a seemingly void of life, feeding the glaciers.

When we think of dragons, we imagine towering beasts with fire-breathing capabilities and winged behemoths. We can remember the courage of small creatures living in extreme and uncertain climates, and we may feel tempted to encase ourselves in ice and make ourselves invisible. These are not the only treasures that Earth guards, but they are truly awe-inspiring and of unimaginable proportions.

It is a wonderful experience to allow ourselves to be vulnerable to the degree that we allow ourselves to be close to the riches of life’s trials. I have learned that if there is anything I have never navigated before, it is how vulnerable I feel when embarking on traveling. It was a few years ago that I felt very different from now, and the experience of traveling to Patagonia has been a great inspiration for me, evading the mentioning of fear.