The world of entomology is as vast as it is wild. One of the most notable insects around is the cockroach. This tiny creature has been causing havoc in our homes for as long as man has been around. We’ve been through thick and thin with these insects, so it may be a good idea to get to know them! The following are facts about cockroaches, that not only have you never wondered about, but forgot to ask!
Cockroaches Can Live Without Their Heads
Yes, it is true that cockroaches can live without their heads. But they can’t survive forever like this. We, as vertebrates, think about our bodies in much the same way as we think of every other creature. This is simply not the case. We have centralized nervous systems, but cockroaches do not. Their nervous system is spread out in their bodies, and can function separately.
In the insects bodies are masses of nervous system tissue called ganglions. These ganglions are placed around their bodies and each control different bodily functions. For instance, flying is controlled in the thoracic ganglia, and reproduction is in the abdominal ganglion. This means that if you cut off the head of a cockroach, it will still live on. The only issue that it would have, is that without a head, it can no longer drink and will die eventually of dehydration.
Some Cockroaches Can Hiss
The Madagascar Hissing Cockroach can do exactly what its name implies… it hisses. These cockroaches are very large and use their spiracles. Spiracles are small openings in the abdomen that all insects use to breath. The hissing cockroach has a pair of modified spiracles that it can force air out of and create the hissing sound. These cockroaches are also quite large. They are about two to three inches long.
Why do they hiss? Hissing is a form of communication for this cockroach. The males of this species have horns and use them to fight other males for superiority and mating rights. They hiss extensively while fighting, and when one wins, it hisses louder than the loser. They also use their hiss as an alarm to alert other cockroaches of danger. But don’t worry, these large scavengers don’t live in homes. They live on the jungle floor, cleaning up organic waste. A colony of hissing cockroaches can consume an entire carrot in a day!
Cockroaches Are Built to Survive
Their are many facts, and myths, surrounding a cockroaches survival ability. They have an amazing ability to survive without food. They can go up to a month before starving. This is possible because the cockroach, like most insects, are cold blooded. This means that as their temperature rises, so does their activity. So when a cockroach has had nothing to eat for a long time, it seeks out a cooler spot to stay. Here, its bodily functions slow down, and it can stretch out its food reserves.
Unfortunately, water is a different story. Roaches can only go two weeks without water. This is still pretty good all things considered. Water is an important requirement for all insects and animals, and cockroaches are no different. Speaking of water, cockroaches are pretty good swimmers and can hold their breathe for up to forty minutes.
They Enjoy an Adult Beverage
Like many of us, cockroaches like to enjoy a cold beverage from time to time. The American cockroach has been found to have an affinity for beer. It’s believed that they are attracted to the hops and sugar in the beer. I have yet to find a study showing if they can get drunk or not…
They Communicate with Poop
Many insects use chemical hormones called pheromones to communicate. The cockroach is unique in this regard. We have not found any pheromones used by these insects, but we have found a connection with their feces. The connection lies in the bacteria in their dung. It appears that cockroaches can sense this bacteria and follow its “trail” until it unites with the previous owner. In this way, cockroaches will gather together in large groups.
This important discovery has lead scientists to find other animals with bacterial communication. It is now believed that hyenas have a bacteria in their scent gland that can differentiate between other kin and nonkin hyenas. Certain desert locust also use this to induce crowding behavior.
Cockroaches are Cannibals
Cockroaches are omnivores. That means that they will eat just about anything. And another cockroach is fair game. But cockroaches aren’t just mean spirited, there is a reason for this practice. When population becomes excessively large, food becomes scarce because there are too many mouthes to feed. So when a cockroach starts eating another one, not only are they feeding themselves, but they are also controlling the population.
When roaches do eat each other, it is usually the strong consuming the young. Entomologists find that these strong cockroaches will target molting roaches first. In order to combat this, some nymphs will go out foraging for food during the day, when most cockroaches are dormant. These nymphs will also secret a pheromone that repels adult roaches from them.
Cockroaches have been around a long time. In fact, fossil evidence proves that they were around with the dinosaurs. During this time, they were about twice as large as they are now, and even more prolific. There are three major cockroach species called the german, American and oriental roach. Despite their names, all three of these cockroaches originally came from north and west Africa. They made their way around the world by hitching a ride on merchant ships.
On these ships, rations were very limited, so these scavengers were hated by sailors. Often, captains would have “roach hunts” the winner getting a bottle of brandy. One of these hunts in the Dutch Navy yielded over 32,000 roaches. That’s a lot of brandy!