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Meet the Toughest Insect on the Planet: The Cockroach


If you’re old enough you might remember a sci-fi movie from 1997 called Damnation Alley, a somewhat ham-handed adaptation of Roger Zelazny’s otherwise readable novel of the same name. In the film version, a small group of people who have survived a nuclear holocaust drive across the resultant desolate wasteland, looking for other survivors.

In the end they do find other humans, but not before running into hordes of flesh-eating cockroaches that have not only survived World War III, but achieved enormous size thanks to the radioactive fallout.

Some believe that these insects are the ultimate survivors and, according to one reliable source, “Do indeed have a much higher radiation resistance than vertebrates, with the lethal dose perhaps six to 15 times that for humans.” In truth, they are probably no more radiation-resistant than any other insects, but they do have a knack for tolerating conditions that might spell the end for other creatures.

An Evolutionary Aversion

Which is, I suppose, why we dislike them so much. According to Jeff Lockwood, a professor of natural sciences and humanities at the University of Wyoming, “Cockroaches tap into this sort of evolutionary aversion we have to greasy, smelly, slimy things.” Plus, he goes on, “They’re defiant little bastards.” A characterization I’m sure you’ll agree with if you’ve ever had to deal with these pests in your home (or office, or deli, or retail space, etc).

You’ll be relieved to know that of the 4,000 known cockroach species, only 30 are linked with human habitats; and of those, only four can truly be regarded as pests.

However, that said, you should be aware of the fact that the American cockroach, the species you’re most likely to encounter, is a real health threat. Research indicates that they are responsible for spreading over 30 different kinds of bacteria, including Salmonella and E. coli., parasitic worms, and a number of other types of human pathogens. And, like house flies, cockroaches pick up innumerable germs as they make their way through their domicile of choice: sewers. Those germs will invariably end up on cooking surfaces and, in some unfortunate cases, on the food itself.

Signs You Have a Cockroach Problem