NOVEMBER
1994

 

 

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

 

 

 

 

11-24-94

For The Love Of Cockroaches

Most people hate cockroaches and assume no one could love these insects. It's not true. There are people who recognize the value of cockroaches.

Cockroaches are favorite laboratory animals in both research and teaching. This is partially due to the ease with which cockroaches can be maintained. A large colony of cockroaches requires little space and minimal care. This probably comes as no surprise to anyone who has had a cockroach problem in their home. In fact, one scientist once wrote, “The laboratory investigator who keeps up a battle to rid his rat colony of cockroaches may well consider giving up the rats and working with the cockroaches instead.”

Cockroaches have been used widely to introduce students of all ages to the study of entomology. The cockroach serves as a model animal from which to learn the anatomy and physiology of insects. In many biology classes, students care for live cockroaches and, in the process, learn about the life habits of the insect. There is probably no greater spectacle in nature than the molting process in the insect world. Many students are first exposed to this biological phenomenon when caring for a cockroach. You can imagine their surprise when they find a newly molted white cockroach in their insect cage.

The American cockroach, Periplaneta americana, is used widely in teaching because of its large size. P.B. Cornwell, in his book “The Cockroach,” concludes that there probably have been more cockroaches dissected in search of insect nerves and digestive systems and more cockroach mouthparts drawn under the microscope than those of any other insect. He is probably correct.

Many years ago, an entomology teacher at a major university was very fond of using cockroaches in his teaching. So much so that his students branded him “Old Blattidae” — Blattidae being the family name of the cockroaches.

Cockroaches also are employed widely as research animals and have been used to make significant contributions to our understanding of how insecticides work and how insects become resistant to these chemicals. There are very few major research institutions, either public or private, that don't maintain a colony of American cockroaches. In fact, one of the first tests used to determine if a chemical will kill insects is probably on a cockroach. Such a test just might be the beginning of the development process to bring a new insecticide to the market.

Now there's a test that will bring a smile to many people's faces. After all, to most folks the only good cockroach is a dead cockroach.

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Andrea McCann