Why Cockroaches Are So Difficult to Crush

It could make them excellent rescue robots in disasters.

Ever try to squish a cockroach? And ever realize that they Just. Don’t. Squish?

You’re not alone. The cockroach’s incredible resistance to flattening by shoes, books, bottoms of frying pans, and pressurized plungers (seriously, watch the video above!) may suck for those of us who want them gone from our kitchens, but it’s great news for the cockroach—and for the scientists who used these compressible little bugs as models for new robots that can scurry just as well when flattened as when not.


Kaushik Jayaram and Robert Full from University of California Berkeley called their cockroach-inspired robot CRAM, or “compressible robot with articulated mechanisms.” They published their research Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Jayaram and Full used high-speed video to watch the American cockroach as it navigated through small spaces and withstood huge amounts of pressure. They discovered that cockroaches can compress their bodies down to a third of their normal size and can survive being squished by forces up to 900 times their body weight.

The abilities that make roaches (frustratingly) hard to kill also make them great inspiration for rescue robots that need to squeeze through the wreckage of natural and human-made disasters to recover the survivors. The soft-shelled, six-legged CRAM can scuttle around even when compressed in half. And the shell, which the researchers made by laser cutting, laminating, and folding plates into an exoskeleton, stands up to pressures of up to 20 times the little robot’s body mass.