Caterpillars Crawl Like None Other: Unique Means of Animal Locomotion Has Implications for Robotics, Human Biomechanics

Biologists at Tufts University’s School of Arts and Sciences studying crawling caterpillars have reported a unique “two-body” system of locomotion that has not previously been reported in any animal.

In an article published online July 22 in the journal Current Biology, the Tufts-led team reported that the gut of the crawling tobacco hawkmoth caterpillar (Manduca sexta) moves forward independently of and in advance of the surrounding body wall and legs, rather than moving along with them. Collaborating with Tufts were researchers from Virginia Tech and Argonne National Laboratory.

“Understanding this novel motion system may help efforts to design soft-bodied robots,” said the article’s senior author, Barry Trimmer, Tufts professor of biology and Henry Bromfield Pearson Professor of Natural Sciences in the School of Arts and Sciences. “It may also prompt re-examination of the potential role soft tissues play in biomechanical performance of humans and other animals.”


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