Scurrying out of sight at the slightest light, cockroaches cause us both fear and revulsion. As houseguests, they are unwanted, and with good reason. Few of us can say why, but the revulsion they cause is alone enough reason to banish them. And yet, the cockroach, La Cucaracha, is an ancient and remarkable insect-and in some countries, a nourishing and enjoyable snack.
Cockroaches are pests simply because they introduce bacteria and allergens into our homes and are difficult to get rid of. Nothing unnerves us so much as a threat we cannot see. We might catch sight of the cockroach scurrying away, but what it contaminated is impossible to know for sure.
Most cockroaches like dark and damp places where bacteria and fungi harmful to humans often thrive. Roaches spread these bacteria and fungi when walking on household surfaces and food left lying open. And cockroaches leave chemical trails on these same surfaces and spray pheromones in the air to alert other roaches to their presence and to any available food. These chemicals contain or nurture bacteria that are harmful to humans.
Cockroaches molt, shedding their skins and replacing them with larger ones as they grow. These discarded, broken-down skins, along with feces, are found in household dust. Both skins and feces contain human allergens, proteins that trigger allergic reactions and can cause asthma. Developing children are particularly prone to such reactions and may develop lifelong complications.
Ridding our buildings, especially hospitals and eateries, of cockroaches is important. But it isn't always simple: cockroaches are generally omnivorous and eat most anything we and our pets eat; they like the warmth our homes provide; and they multiply in places difficult for us to see and reach. In short, cockroaches are a lot like us. Once they move in, roaches have little reason to move on, so they settle down to raise a family. The female roach can produce a host of eggs over her life, and pretty soon things appear distinctly family-like as roaches of varying sizes scurry away from the light.
Cockroaches go back over 50 million years, so it's natural for such hardy creatures to be remarkable in some ways, and they are! Cockroaches are considered very likely to survive intense nuclear radiation. Their leg spikes, with spines for balance and control, inspire engineers in the design of new robotic legs. Decapitated cockroaches can live for days and only die when they cannot consume the water necessary for their survival. They have been immortalized in the song, La Cucaracha, and taken on movie roles. The cockroach Hal, Wall-E's only living friend in the Pixar movie, Wall-E, shows off his amazing survival capabilities and his incredible tenacity, a quality anyone who has had to rid their home of roaches knows all too well.
As for the delicious, nutritious snack, you'll have to travel to Cambodia, Laos, or Australia to try it. Cockroaches definitely aren't on the menu in America.