"It's kind of like they both found the same solution to the same problem," Stewart said.
And, unlike the paint industry, which learned that phosphate makes wet paint stick better fairly recently, "This insect larvae figured this out 150 or 200 million years ago," he added.
Like sandcastle worms, caddisfly larvae also make use of highly charged proteins in their silk. But the silk and the glue have differences, too. "The caddisfly is spinning out these sticky fibers whereas the sandcastle worm is just putting out spots," Stewart said.
Stewart has had success so far making synthetic sandcastle glue that he hopes could be used to piece together tiny shards of bones.
Now, Stewart hopes to make a synthetic material with similar properties to the caddisfly tape that could be used for applications like sticking wet tissues together during or after an operation while the tissues healed.
"Silk is sort of a hot topic in biomaterials," said Jennifer Elisseeff of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Silk is a very popular material from which to build scaffolds to grow tissue on, she said, "so this is probably going to jump out at people."