By Any Other Name ...

American cockroachThe word "cockroach" conjures up an unpleasant picture in the minds of many people. In warm climates where pest species are especially abundant, they are often given different names, perhaps to take away some of the stigma that may be attached to having them in one's house. These names include waterbug, palmetto bug, and other euphemistic terms. Of course, a cockroach by any other name is still a cockroach. Anyone who has lived with one of the pest varieties knows how annoying and unnerving (though harmless) they can be. However, consider these roachy facts:

  • There are over 4,800 species of cockroaches worldwide, but less than one percent of them are domestic pests.
  • The other 99.7% are usually shy creatures that live in areas well away from humans. They may even be rare, and are often quite attractive. Even the American cockroach, Periplaneta americana, a large and common pest species, would be considered very attractive if it didn't hang around people's homes.
  • Those few pest species can live for days without food once they have had a good meal. They can also live on things like book glue, postage stamps and soap scum.
  • Many roaches are detritivores (even some of the pest species) and live on decaying vegetation and the like. They can play an important role in breaking down decomposing organic matter and cleaning the environment.
  • Roaches are useful to us in many ways:
  • Today cockroaches are considered to belong to the group Dictyoptera, along with mantids and termites. Yes, termites, long thought to be more closely related to ants (Hymenoptera) because of their social lifestyle and digging habits, although they were placed int heir own order, the Isoptera. (In fact, the name Isoptera has been used for so long that it ws kept even when termites were re-located in the Dictyoptera.)
  • Cockroaches can look like other insects such as beetles, wasps and flies; they can resemble pillbugs and even limpets. They can be hairy; they can chirp; and many are devoted parents.
  • Cockroaches have been around essentially unchanged since even before the dinosaurs, and it is often said that they will be around long after humans are gone. Surely this is a tribute to their adaptability!

Old engraving of roaches by a harbor