Planet of the Roaches


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Cockroaches may be among the most ubiquitous creatures on the planet. There are 30 species that associate humans (and hundreds that do not), and in all there are far more roaches than people on earth. Might roaches one day reign supreme?

If there’s a nuclear war, they have a shot. Roaches can withstand radiation far more than humans. Some species can go without breathing (such as being submerged) for up to 45 minutes. You can behead a roach, and the body can go on living for weeks. Some species will eat just about anything, from the glue on the back of postage stamps to ‘dust bunnies.’  When the roaches rule the world, one may be king. It turns out that roaches have individual personalities.

Scientists observed character traits as they studied the way the “gregarious insect” seek shelter when they come out into the open. If they had the same personalities they would all behave exactly the same – or at least similarly – when in the open but observations have revealed clear differences.

Some, those classified as shy, keep hidden as much as possible and seek the safety of shelter while the more adventurous are keen to explore their surroundings (likely hoping not to meet a shoe in the process).

Isaac Planas Sitjà, one of the researchers from the Université libre de Bruxelles which uncovered the personalities, said: “We have categorized the observed personalities. We call them shy or cautious and bold explorers.

Shy individuals are those that spend more time sheltered and explore very little, living hidden as much as possible. Instead, bold individuals are those that spend most part of the time exploring the surroundings and spend less time sheltered.

In a statement summarizing their findings, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the research team said that from studying the way they find shelter, showing that individuals have consistent behavior which can differ between individuals within a group. In other words, according to the researches,  cockroaches have personalities.

Different personalities are thought to help the survival of the species because by driving different behavior. increasing the chances of at least some surviving when disaster strikes. The personalities of individuals can also, the team found, affect the actions of groups of cockroaches.

Cockroaches used in the tests were measured for the speed with which they found shelter and the time they spent exploring and seeking out new supplies of food. In their natural environment the differences in personality could improve the chances of adventurous cockroaches finding extra food but simultaneously increase their chances of being preyed upon.

For the experiments researchers attached radio tags to American cockroaches, Periplaneta americana, to monitor their movements. They were kept in darkness during the experiments and were released in batches of 16 in ‘arenas’ surrounded by electrified wires to prevent escapes.

I ask, who funded this – and why.

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Steve Dale is a certified animal behavior specialist who has been a trusted voice in the world of pet health for over 20 years. You have likely heard him on the radio, read him in print and online, and seen him speaking at events all over the world. His contributions to advancing pet wellness have earned him many an award and recognition around the globe.

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