What’s your first reaction to the word “cockroach”? Is it fear? Disgust? Repulsion?
If you said “yes” to any of the above, then we’re in the same boat. I’ve tried time and again to like cockroaches, but let me tell you – you have not experienced true fear until you lose track of the roach you were chasing around your house and wonder if it’s going to emerge again or if it will stay hidden and come out to crawl on you while you sleep. I can remember at least two separate instances when I’ve accidentally chased a roach under my bed minutes before I planned on getting into bed, and then refused to go to sleep until the roach had been flushed out and disposed of. I have a friend in Pennsylvania who has never seen a cockroach in person, which implies that they’re a southern bug and it’s time for me to move.
Perhaps my disgust with roaches comes from repeatedly seeing them get smashed with flip-flops and flushed down the toilet whenever they showed face in my house growing up. Maybe I’ve just been Pavlov-ed into associating the presence of roaches with the smashing of roaches, and thus my disgust with the insects themselves should actually be directed towards hearing the crunch of their exoskeletons under a variety of footwear.
Besides, not all of my experiences with cockroaches have been negative. I can remember one time in particular when an encounter with a roach ending up being hilarious:
A friend and I were rooming together at an FCA camp at Black Mountain, NC and came across a cockroach in our bathroom. While it was flying. Neither of us knew cockroaches could fly until that night, but we were horrified to learn the truth. We slammed the door shut and promised each other than the first person to spot the roach again would kill it for the other person.
My friend ended up finding the roach in the bathroom again the next day while we were getting ready for our sport clinics. Knowing what had to be done, she grabbed a shoe and began to narrate the situation to herself to calm down. I remember her saying something along the lines of “It has legs!… it’s ok I have legs too.” She even sang one of our camp songs with the lyrics changed to motivate herself to kill the cockroach, and I’m so sad that I can’t remember which song it was or the adlibbed lyrics because it was fantastic.
Eventually she did emerge triumphantly from the bathroom with the roach dead and flushed down our toilet, only to find me cracking up on my bed. There had been a fan on in the bathroom, so she couldn’t hear me but I could hear everything she’d been saying. I tried calling to her several times when she first found the roach, but when it became obvious she couldn’t hear me and the motivational speaking kept getting funnier, I sat back and enjoyed the show. Not my best moment as a friend, but we still laugh about it and she gave me permission to put this story in the blog, so I guess I’m forgiven.
I’ve been trying to like cockroaches for a long time now, and maybe this post will help you and me do just that. It’s time to learn why we should adore roaches rather than smush them:
For one, cockroaches are crazy resilient, and that deserves some respect. You’ve probably heard about how hard it is to kill a roach, how they can live for days with their heads cut off, blah, blah, blah, but you don’t know that half of it. In addition to their headless shenanigans, roaches can survive for about seven days without water (that’s three days longer than most humans can), a month without food, and over half an hour without oxygen! They have been known to withstand intense levels of radiation and they have survived and thrived since the Carboniferous Era, meaning they outlasted the dinosaurs. They’re basically indestructible (their one weakness being shoes, of course).
Secondly, cockroaches are kind of important to our existence. Not only are they a critical staple in many food webs as prey for small birds and mammals, but they play a vital role in the nitrogen cycle and the health of many plants as detritivores, much like our friendly neighborhood mulch lobsters.
Last but not least, cockroaches are much cleaner than we give them credit for. We usually find them in dirty spaces simply because they can hide better amongst clutter than in well-kempt areas. In fact, roaches self-groom more frequently than your cat does, carefully cleaning each of its appendages with its mandibles throughout the day.
I’m not saying that distaste for cockroaches is entirely unfounded: cockroach allergies are common, and the big insects will eat almost anything, even if that means damage to your personal belongings or stealing your food. Despite their regular bathing, roaches can still bring bacteria into your home, and they can cause problems for people with asthma. However, cockroaches as a whole aren’t as obnoxious as you’d think – only a handful out of the thousands of roach species on our planet are actually considered pests, the familiar American cockroach unfortunately being one of them. The rest of the roaches, however, tend to leave us alone.
As it turns out, some of the common, pesky cockroaches may be the only roaches that really bother me. I pet hissing cockroaches when volunteers from the science museum brought the animals to my school and never thought anything of it. They weren’t slimy or gooey, but rather hard and smooth. They didn’t try to jump out of the volunteers’ hands or bite anyone (not that I’ve ever heard of roaches attacking people anyway), but calmly waved their antennae as the volunteers secured them between palm and thumb and carried them from student to student to be admired.
Cockroaches have gotten a lot of hate, so much so that the word “cockroach” puts a bad taste in our mouths. I think these poor insects deserve a name change more than any other arthropod we’ve discussed so far – so, for the sake of our big insect friends, I now dub these creatures “beetle cats!” Because they’re beetle-sized and they groom themselves like cats!
I know, I’m a taxonomy genius. No need to thank me for ridding your katsaridaphobia; it’s all in a day’s work for the ArthroBlogger.