Cockroaches. You’ve likely crossed paths with one, or perhaps you were unlucky enough to deal with an infestation.
They’re filthy and notoriously hard to get rid of insects that some say will even survive the Apocalypse to outlive us all.
And oh yeah, that “myth” about them being able to live for weeks without their head… Turns out that’s true. So what’s the deal with roaches? And why are they so resilient and, well, horrifying?
There are about 3,500 species of cockroach, but the one you’re probably most familiar with is the American cockroach or, Periplaneta americana. It’s the largest species of common cockroach with an average length of 4 centimeters, and—despite its name—isn’t actually originally from America.
It hails from Africa and is thought to have come here by infesting ships in the 16th century. But cockroaches in general have existed for millions of years.
In fact, fossil evidence shows that they’ve been around for 300 million years. Which is to say these guys are a highly successful group of animals. But why exactly have cockroaches been able to stick around for so long?
Well, they kinda won the genetic lottery. In fact, they have a massive genome—that is, all the material that comprises their DNA.
American cockroaches actually have the second largest genome, after the locust, of all insects yet studied in that regard. So what does that mean exactly?
Well, it just means that they have a lot more genes than other insects, which can come with certain advantages. For starters, it’s got 154 olfactory receptors, which allow it to smell and find the crumbs of your late night pizza order. It’s also got over 500 gustatory receptors for taste, so they’ll eat just about anything.
And I mean anything.
Cheese, meat, sweets, cardboard, glue, hair, flakes of dried skin, excrement, and…. Even other cockroaches. That’s quite the menu. And for all that it can eat, it can also eat nothing for 2 – 3 months
It also has genes that code for detoxification enzymes to help it withstand toxic chemicals, like pesticides.
The American cockroach can also grow back some of its body parts in a process called regeneration.
During its nymph phase—which is between 160 to 971 days in length—the American cockroach undergoes a series of regenerative molts in which it can grow back previously lost limbs, antennae, and even eyes. But, it can’t regenerate a new head if that gets lost.
But it can survive for quite some time without one. This is because they have an open circulatory system with way less pressure than the one humans have.
Instead, when decapitated, a cockroach’s neck seals off by clotting so it doesn’t bleed out.
And no, cockroaches don’t carry human diseases like lice, ticks, or mosquitoes, but they do spread filth which can cause contamination.
You see, these guys live and eat in damp, unsanitary areas like sewers, bathrooms, kitchens, basements, and dumpsters, and they transfer filth from these areas to countertops, dishes, or food that you eventually go on to eat.
Which can cause different forms of gastroenteritis—or the stomach flu—resulting in diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, or cramps.
So, if cockroaches are nearly indestructible, how do you get rid of them if you have them? Your best means of cockroach control is prevention and sanitation.
Cockroach feces actually contains a chemical that attracts other cockroaches to a given area, so making sure cockroach-prone areas like your kitchen and bathroom are clean can help prevent an infestation.
Removal of food and water sources is another way to prevent infestations.
Things like making sure you repair leaking pipes, keeping your kitchen free of food debris, and storing your food and garbage properly can go a long way.
Now if you already have a roach infestation, you’ll likely have to turn to chemical control in conjunction with the preventative measures I just outlined. Calling a professional pest control company is your best bet, and they will most likely use baits, sprays, and dusts to get rid of an infestation.
And if you choose a do-it-yourself route with chemical control, bear in mind that most insecticides are poisons!
Read the warning labels before use and make sure you store them out of reach of children and pets. Believe me, no one wants to be the landlord of a roach motel.