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6:45 p.m. - 2006-01-21
An ancient Insectoid.*new fuzzy pic 5/30/06*
Dear Readers,

Greetings from the glamourous life of a Critter Chronicler!

Uh, just kidding. But I do have some wildlife stories. My apartment bathroom has a window, and while I was sitting of our pieces of antique restroom furniture, I was happy to see tons of squirrel activity in the trees outside. There were at least seven squirrels chasing each other and playing grab-ass! It was crazy; they'd run towards each other in the tree, and continue in their opposite directions, and then proceed chasing each other again. These chases went up and down trees, over the neighbor's roof, underneath the two Plymouth Horizons that are for some reason stored in the backyard, etc. Maybe the squirrels were just burning off some pre-mating season frustrations, who knows? A baby pic from

In the vole report, SH's Mom sighted one on Desnoyer Ave. in St. Pizzaul! My voles, on 7th Ave. in downtown Minneapolis, rejected my offering of two baby carrots. The next day, I found rabbit tracks and no carrots! But the voles always accept my apple core donations. Picky picky!

And, "Chanel" the yellow lab continues to eat the gray cat "Pepe's" poop.

Finally, the mouse invasion at my job has been usurped by an infestation of COCKROACHES! Cool. Once again, I have yet to see one. And also once more, I am gleeful at the idea of unwanted guests in the workplace.

So today, let us learn of this mystical creature, the cockroach! Roaches belong to the order Blatteria, taken from the Greek "blatta", or "cockroach". There are about 3,000 species, which are mostly found in tropical regions, and of which only ten species are pests to humans.

In the tropics, roaches can be five inches long or more, but up here they grow to about one and a half inches. The American cockroach (Periplaneta americana) is actually an import from North Africa, and scientists suspect it came over on slave ships.

In Minnesota, there are four household (and workplace!) invaders! These species are the oriental cockroach:

The German cockroach:

The brownbanded cockroach:

And the American cockroach:

Cute, aren't they? I wonder which species is hanging out at my workplace....

All pictures are courtesy of the University of Nebraska Department of Entomology.

Fossils of this insectoid were found as early as Earth's Carboniferous period, 350 to 290 million years ago. This period's name is taken from all the plant material that rotted, creating modern-day coal! Another highlight of this era was the collision of Laurussia (N. America and Europe) with Godwanaland (S. America and Africa), creating the Appalachian and Ural mountains. Good times.

So what features have allowed roaches to crawl around and eat everything for the last 300 million years? Well, that omnivorism is one thing. Roaches can eat grease, leather, wallpaper paste, book bindings and stamp glue, not to mention carrion, fruit, grain, vegetables and rotting items. Roaches' bodies are flat, which allows them to crawl into tiny cracks, pipes and other small places. These insects are also "cold-blooded" which means that they only need to eat once a week or so.

Well, except cockroach "blood" is much different than ours. The most important difference is that cockroaches receive oxygen through pores called spiracles, and special tubes called trachae carry it in and carry out carbon dioxide. Cockroaches CAN survive for up to a month without their heads. This is related to their ability to reserve stored energy from a meal, as mentioned above. Also, the roach has several neural centers apart from the brain! The most important is the terminal abdomiminal ganglion, which contains the insect's escape mechanism. This ganglion is connected to the sensitive butthairs (I mean the hairs on the end of the cockroach, ahem.) that detect the movement of air an approaching creature creates. When motion is sensed, the ganglion tells the legs of the roach to start runnin'!

Similarly, roach flight is controlled by a ganglion in the thorax, and roach nooky is controlled by the terminal abdominal ganglion.

I could not find information on actual roach lovemaking. Sorry. But roaches are interesting in that instead of laying individual eggs, females create little packets of eggs, called oothecae. These are about the size of a kidney bean and contain from 15 to 25 eggies. A female cockroach will carry around this packet, and either drop it and cover it with debris, or glue it to something stationary. Here is a picture of some cockroach oothecae, once more taken from the University of Nebraska website:

Depending on temperature, roach nymphs will emerge 40 to 50 days later. These nymphs are wingless and may be grayish, but otherwise look like adult cockroaches. They molt seven to thirteen times in a period of five to fifteen months before reaching sexual maturity.

The reason cockroaches are claimed to be able to resist high levels of radiation is because of this molting process. Radiation affects cells that are separating, which is why radiation therapy is used to kill cancerous tumors, which grow faster than regular tissue. Most creature's cells are constantly separating, but the only time roaches do this is as they molt and grow larger, which takes place over about two days. So, any roaches that were in the process of molting would be killed by a radiation blast, but the others would be ok! However, if there were constant radiation, everything would die. Bummer!

All right, on a more positive note, cockroaches are an important part of the ecosystem, as they help break down materials and provide an important food source for many creatures. Even the little roach egg cases are pillaged by a species of wasp.

As pests, aggregations (groups) of cockroaches have been linked to causing childhood asthma. (Apparently aggregations also have a smell!) Roaches don't really bite too much, but do carry harmful beasties like salmonella and e. coli. Roaches are usually active once the lights are out, and really don't need a lot of time to find a drink of water and a bite to eat, which creates enough energy to allow them to molt and grow larger. In colder environments they can become dormant as nymphs and restart the growth cycle once the temperatures warm up.

Do you have any cockroach stories to share? I must say I haven't seen many in my life; perhaps a couple of dead ones. Although when I was in Wilmington, North Carolina, visiting my princess friend BE, there were cockroaches everywhere! Except down there they called them "palmetto bugs". They skittered across the front porch, and especially freaked me out as they streaked across the sidewalk as we had an evening walk! I kept screaming, and BE was like, "Wendell, you can't scream like that at night!" And then I felt sheepish.

So, I hope you are excited or grossed out by this entry. Cockroaches are really interesting, in my opinion, although perhaps I will change my mind if they ever show up in my apartment!

Bring on the apocalypse,


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