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click the link for a better picture of this cockroach family.
This is how cockroaches look in their natural environment. I would prefer them here rather than in the kitchen. Even still, they look creepy.
Cockroaches are omnivorous insects, which means they can eat both plants and meat. Their mouths are similar to the mouth of a grasshopper, with jaws that open sideways and close to the center. Cockroaches thrive when there is abundant food, but they can also get by on next to nothing; a grain of rice is enough to keep most roaches going for a month.
Cockroaches are members of the order blattodea, and have been around for a very long time. They predate the dinosaurs significantly, having been on this earth for over 400 million years. Cockroaches are close to being an ideal insect, which can eat almost anything and thrive while doing so, and also quickly adapt to environments they are not accustomed to.
Cockroaches are far more abundant in tropical climates than they are farther North, - provided you don't rent an apartment in Toronto. When I lived in Hawaii, cockroaches were part of everyday outdoor life. I remember walking down a sidewalk in the Manoa Valley on Oahu (that's at the southeast corner of Honolulu) at night and getting creeped out by all the mice running across the sidewalk in front of me. I was surprised at how fast they were. But when I was under a street light, one of the "mice" paused in the center of the sidewalk and it was then that I could see that it was a giant cockroach, not a mouse. It was very similar to the roaches in these photos.
Cockroaches can defend themselves and recover from injury if attacked. When attacked by another insect, a cockroach can deliver a fierce kick with its hind legs forcefully enough to injure the attacking insect. While doing so it will try to dig into the insect with the numerous leg barbs you can see in the photos. If the roach happens to lose a leg or antenna, it will get a new one when it molts. Cockroaches replace their skins on a regular basis and when they do, all old injuries get left behind with the old skin and they start over again, good as new.
This magnified view of the rear leg of an adult cockroach shows the spines they use to defend themselves.
Though almost all roaches have wings, they seldom fly, and the most common home invader in the U.S. does not fly at all.
All cockroaches are fast running and alert insects. A cockroaches response to it's environment is among the fastest, - at o.o4 seconds - if not the fastest of any living thing. That is not just an awareness response time, that is the time it takes them to make the decision to start running when you hit the lights. Many people who have had a roach infestation can attest to this from the experience of turning on the lights at night, I'd be willing to bet they are going full speed before the filament gets warmed up to operating temperature. For some reason the roaches in my photos did not respond to the camera strobe however, which surprised me; I thought I would get only one shot. But that could have been because a camera strobe returns the environment to darkness almost immediately and they may have quickly thought "false alarm".
Cockroaches can hear extremely well, not just in amplitude, the frequency bandwidth they can detect extends down into the extreme subsonic range. They can know you are arriving at home just by the vibration from your footsteps as you approach the house. This ability is afforded them by the fact that their ears are in their knee joints, which causes their body to be a counterweight that amplifies the effect of low frequency vibrations.
Cockroaches can climb just about any surface. This is because they have feet that can operate two different ways. One way is obvious from the photos - their feet have little claws. But another is not so obvious - they also have suction cups. So if they encounter a surface that their claws can't dig into, the suction cups pop out and the claws retract slightly and they just squid their way up the surface. I figured out a way to defeat this though, when I lived in, ahem, Toronto. If you want to prevent a cockroach from escaping an open container with a hard surface (in my case a coffee can) all you need to do is spread a layer of cooking oil around the inside of the can. They will climb up to where the oil is and fall back down.
I did this as part of a little experiment - I wanted to see if they could survive freezing tempuratures. So I gathered a few, and put them in the can. With the temperature at -10 celcius I left them outside for two hours. When I brought them back in, they appeared dead but before long they were getting better at escaping the vegetable oil lined can. So you can forget about trying to freeze them out; your pipes will go first.
click the link for a cockroach picture that makes a great desktop image.
During mating, some male cockroaches produce an edible substance on their bodies that the females nibble on while mating. So I guess it is safe to assume that food is a major part of cockroach culture. After mating, females will produce a pouch called an ootheca which most species either bury in the ground or leave laying somewhere. A few roach species carry it until the young hatch. The ootheca often stays intact all the way through the hatching process, and remains as an empty shell after up to 30 small roaches start hunting for new places to hide when the lights go on.
Unlike many insects, roaches do not have a larval stage. Young roaches are born with everything they need to survive, and simply mature and molt, looking more like an adult everytime they shed their skins until they are adults, usually with wings.
click for a better look at these young roaches
In Hawaii, roaches would infest cars, and most people who live there have been greeted by one on the steering wheel or shifter. Another thing roaches were famous for was getting into electronics and leaving droppings behind that would cause failures. They would go into electronic devices because inside it was dark and warm. When I lived in Hawaii I was an electronics engineer, and determined that most of the electronic failures in electronic items were due to droppings left on the circuits by roaches.
Roaches seem to be able to travel anywhere. If you had an infestation when you left a place, you will probably carry it with you to the new place. One egg bearing female is all it will take to bring them to a new place. So it is important to go through everything and do your best to make sure that no live females or oothecas are anywhere in what you take with you, which can be a near impossible task, especially when they can hide inside a television set or other electronic device.
Roach control can be extremely difficult, because they produce large numbers of offspring with a high survival rate. Females can lay eggs many times, unlike most insects which do it once and then die. Many species of cockroaches have a weakness however - if they are in an area that has low to moderate humidity and good air circulation they will dry out and die. One reason why they live behind the cupboards is because the air is still back there, so they can resist losing water.
Not all roaches are pests however, there are many which live outdoors. One such roach is the brown hooded roach (cryptocercus punctulatus) which is one of the few species that has no wings. It is a North American species that usually lives inside of rotting logs. It has digestive bacteria similar to those that termites have, which makes it able to digest the cellulose that the log is made of. The bacteria is passed on to the young roaches directly by the adult female roach, which leaves special droppings specifically so that the young roaches can eat them and get the bacteria into their systems. Wood roaches are seldom pests.
Cockroach species, both fossil and living, are still being discovered to this day - at a rate of 40, that's right, forty species a year. So there are still lots left to find, as logic would have it. By far the best preserver of cockroaches is amber, which is found mainly in the tropics where trees produce it in response to being injured. Amber has unique qualities which enable it to preserve insects very well; cockroach specimines have been found more than 40 million years old with intact DNA, just like in that dinosaur movie. So it's not at all a far reach to think that someone might try to bring one back to the future.
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