Written by
Patricia Waldron
Sept. 17, 2021

After analyzing hundreds of hours of water bears plodding along under a microscope, researchers at Princeton and Rockefeller University discovered that the steps of the tiny, ultra-resilient animals are surprisingly similar to insects, despite vast differences in their size, habitat and body type.

The new study, published online Aug. 31 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the first investigation into the mechanics of how water bears walk. Exactly how they developed this insect-like gait is still unknown, but the new understanding may help scientists develop miniature or soft-bodied robots that walk.

"We thought water bears might have an uncoordinated gait because the media has portrayed them as slow and clumsy critters, or that they would have some really wacky patterns because they are so small and needed different strategies," said Daniel J. Cohen, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and senior author of the study. "And then it turns out they happily charge along, doing something remarkably similar to creatures 500,000 times larger than they are."