OCTOBER
1989

 

 

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

 

 

 

 

10-26-89

La Cucaracha, La Cucaracha

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind.
La cucaracha, the cockroach!  Probably no insect conjures up more unpleasant thoughts in human minds than the cockroach. 

Cockroaches are a very old type of insect.  Some scientists estimate that roaches have been on earth for over 300 million years.  During most of that time, roaches have devoted their considerable energies to breaking down dead plant material.  From an ecological perspective, that is a very noble thing to do.

However, at some point in history, some of these six-legged scavengers took up abode in our dwellings.  That, in the humble opinion of humans, was a downright unfriendly thing to do.  So we devote a lot of time and energy trying to keep roaches from our homes.

There is nothing inherently bad about sharing our domicile with roaches.  To be sure, they have been implicated in disease transmission.  And, without question, they are common in unsanitary conditions.  But mostly it is just plain socially disgraceful to share quarters with them.

To the modern housekeeper, having roaches is akin to being placed in the public stocks on the town square.  For that reason, we have developed ways to overcome the shock of finding roaches in our kitchens.  We call some roaches “waterbugs,” because somehow it is easier to report to neighbors that the exterminator only found waterbugs.  And some pest control companies will make housecalls in unmarked automobiles.  That, of course, is so the neighborhood will be unaware of the nature of the visit.

Cockroaches are everywhere in the world.  Many have expanded their range to include foreign soil in addition to their ancestral homelands.  But their names still betray their nationalities, for example, the German, Oriental, Madagascar and American roaches.

Some prefer to earn their fame closer to home though.  Back in 1916, columnist Don Marquis introduced a column called “Sun Dial” in the New York Sun newspaper.  “Archy,” a lowly cockroach and self-proclaimed poet, invaded Marquis' office every night to write this free-verse column.  A dedicated writer, archy accomplished his feat by diving head first one by one onto the typewriter keys, which explains why he never bothered to add punctuation or capital letters to his poetry.  Along with his friend, Mehitabel, the cat, archy provided a delightful commentary on life during those times.

In spite of our disdain for cockroaches, the wisdom of Archy is worth repeating.  Recognizing that cockroaches were not the favorite insects of people, Archy once rejoiced:

                        there is always
                        something to be thankful
                        for you would not
                        think that a cockroach
                        had much ground
                        for optimism
                        but as the fishing season
                        opens up i grow
                        more and more
                        cheerful at the thought
                        that nobody ever got
                        the notion of using
                        cockroaches for bait
                                                archy

In spite of our disdain for cockroaches, archy and his descendants need not worry.  They will be on this earth long after we are gone.

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Olivia Maddox