Give Cockroaches A Break
February 21, 2014

Give Cockroaches A Break

The UK paper Metro published an article talking about the fascinating diversity of cockroaches, and suggested that our fear and distrust of them is unreasonable. Irrational, one might say. I am inclined to agree.

Who knows why many of us dislike creepy crawly things so much? It is maybe because we think they spread disease, but this is no more so the case than other much bigger animals, which we like or at least are not suspicious of (including ourselves!). Possibly it is because we can’t see their eyes, a simple case of lack of emotional connection.

Maybe it is because they are generally hard rather than soft, another simple but irrational emotional response to physical attributes. Perhaps the most understandable is that they are small and hang around in large numbers, so we can’t control them. We can’t prevent them from getting into our house and potentially our ears, noses or mouths.

But cohabiting with cockroaches (in our houses or bodies) aside, they are pretty interesting creatures. There are 4600 named species of cockroach, only 30 of which are considered pests. They live in all parts of the world except for the polar-regions and anywhere above 2000 meters. There is great variation between different kinds of cockroaches. Some are solitary while others are societal. Some feed their young through a suckling process similar to that found in mammals. They have complex and impressive bodily workings, and are extremely adept at retaining nutrients.

One thing that people like to mention in reference to cockroaches is their ability to survive a nuclear bomb. It is true that they are not nearly as negatively affected by radiation as other creatures, and they are very resilient in other ways; for example they are able to survive without a head for several weeks! (Okay, I admit that is creepy.) However, cockroaches are adapted to their own environments, whatever they may be, and would struggle with change. In many cases, that environment is a manmade one and the cockroaches depend on the warmth created by human development.

Some people think that cockroaches’ creepiness comes from their resilience, but, in fact, they are as vulnerable as a little fluffy kitten or a frail grandmother. Almost.

For those of us who do fear that one day cockroaches will begin to grow in size, like teenagers who increasingly tower over menaced older generations, and maybe eventually develop weaponry and take us on and win, there is recent evidence to add to the resilient rather than fragile view of them. Cockroaches that can survive the cold have been found in New York. Originating in Japan, the Yamato cockroach can withstand freezing temperatures, snow and ice.  The findings were published in the Journal of Economic Entomology by Rutgers University insect biologists Jessica Ware and Dominic Evangelista.

“We’re screwed now,” one eminent New York biologist said after reading the news. “This is going to be like taking on the Red Army in winter.” Okay no one said that, the consensus according to Metro is that “a hybrid ‘super roach’ population isn’t expected.” There is too much competition from existing species in the area, and not much chance of interaction.

There is, however, plenty to be in awe of about cockroaches, if not in fear of.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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John is a freelance writer from the UK, currently living in Japan and thoroughly enjoying their food and whiskey. His first novel, Three Little Boys, and his travel book, Following Football, are currently available on

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