Cockroaches can seemingly intrude everywhere by exploiting their soft-bodied, shape changing ability.

We discovered that cockroaches traversed horizontal crevices smaller than a quarter of their height in less than a second by compressing their bodies’ compliant exoskeletons in half. Once inside vertically confined spaces, cockroaches still locomoted rapidly at twenty body lengths per second using an unexplored mode of locomotion – body-friction legged crawling. Using materials tests, we found that the compressive forces cockroaches experience when traversing the smallest crevices were three hundred times body weight. Cockroaches withstood forces nearly nine hundred times body weight without injury, explaining their robustness to compression!

Cockroach exoskeletons provided inspiration for a soft, legged search-and-rescue robot that may penetrate rubble generated by tornados, earthquakes or explosions.

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