Most people have had a run in with a roach or two. These tropical creatures tend to love living with us in our warm, food rich homes. And if you’ve seen them, chances are that you’ve chased one with a can of over the counter pesticide. When they die, they are mostly seen on their backs. Why do cockroaches die on their backs? Insecticides usually cause muscle spasms as they die, flipping them over. They don’t die like this in the wild.
Many people believe that if a cockroach is on its back, it will suffocate. This is simply not true. They are built to survive in the wild, not our kitchens. So if they find themselves flipped over on a tile floor, these pests may not find anything to grip on to to flip back over. If left long enough, they don’t suffocate, that die of dehydration and starvation.
THE PHYSICS OF COCKROACHES
Cockroaches are built with a high center of gravity. They have greasy, slightly rounded backs. This shape gives them an advantage in the wild and in your kitchen… the ability to hide in cracks and crevices. But their long legs place their heavy body high in the air. So if a cockroach lives a long life, coming to a natural end, its legs will become weaker. So, on a slick floor, they will tend to slip and flip over.
The insecticides that are used against cockroaches are usually neurotoxins. These poisons attack the central nervous system, weakening muscle movements, and causing spasms. This will eventually cause the bug to flip over on its back. A healthy roach can easily right itself if it can get a grip, but with the intoxicating effect of the pesticide, they are unable to and die on their back. This is why cockroaches die on their back.
WHAT ABOUT IN THE WILD?
Cockroaches, like many other insects, find themselves at the bottom of the food chain. They are prey for many animals including hedgehogs, lizards, toads, some birds, rats and mice. Some insects like to use them as a food source for their young. The jeweled cockroach wasp will grab a roach by the thorax and sting it multiple times. The roach becomes a zombie of sorts, and is then led to the nest of the wasp. Once here, it will lay its eggs between the legs of the cockroach, and the hatched larvae will eat the roach.
If a large enough group of imported red fire ants can trap a cockroach, he can feed the colony for a long time. The roach is much larger, stronger and faster, so the ants have to have numbers on their side. The cockroach has to have no real room to escape, either. Needless to say, this doesn’t happen often, but it is impressive that an ant can, in the right situation, pull this off.
DO ROACHES PLAY DEAD?
Yes they do. Many people have seen a roach on its back and motionless, only to come back minutes later to find that it has flipped over, and is trying to flee. This is a protection tactic that can be very effective for the cockroach. They have the ability to hold their breath for up to forty minutes, so this can aid in the act.
Its also been seen that they tend to come out to the middle of a room to die. Are they being over dramatic? Probably not. While its not known exactly why they do this, we do find it in other species. Dogs and whales will search a specific location out if they know that their time is short. In the case of the cockroach, it is probably more likely that the cause of death, usually insecticides, are messing with the mental state of the roach. They are probably disoriented, among other things, and stumble their way out into the open before dying.