Ever wonder why cockroaches are so shiny? Well, let’s put our fears aside and learn a little more about one of the urban human’s greatest foes.

In July and August, the cockroach index is at its absolute peak across Japan. This means now is the time we are most likely to come head-to-head with those foul beasts, so perhaps we should take a moment to learn a little more about our sworn enemies.

It should be noted that there are many, many species of cockroaches in the world, some of which can be downright pretty. However, today we are dealing with the one’s that terrorize people’s homes and businesses: the German cockroach in particular.

As gruesome as that sounds, a cockroach’s digestive system is not that far removed for yours or mine. It’s just smaller and more streamlined — except in a few areas.

Roaches have some features similar to birds called a crop and a gizzard. A crop is like a reservoir to holds foods such as wood that take a little longer to digest. Right after that is the gizzard, which in birds contains special enzymes to break down food, but in the case of roaches has tiny teeth that grind it down further for easier eating.

▼ Cockroach’s Anatomy: crop is labelled “d” and gizzard is “g”

Sure, you could argue that those aren’t actually “teeth” in the strictest sense of the word, but let’s shelve the philosophical discussion of tooth existentialism for now and move on to the next bit of trivia.

This fact is so well traveled it makes you wonder if it’s actually just an urban legend, but yes, they can get by without a head. Despite having a brain, cockroaches can do alright without it. Much of their motor skills can be handled by clusters of nerve cells in other parts of their bodies. They breathe through the sides of their abdomen rather than their mouth, and they also have backup antennae on their body for sensing their environment.

However, despite having inner “teeth,” roaches are understandably terrible at eating or drinking without a head and as a result will eventually die of thirst first since a roach can survive up to 42 days on water alone.

Luckily, since cockroaches are way too fast for us to precisely decapitate them, this advantage rarely comes into play in most battles with people, but just how fast are they?

No, of course, not. They’re fast but if they were that fast there would be no way we could kill them… Don’t be silly.


At full gait on level ground a roach can move its legs about 27 times per second. So, if we were to scale a cockroach to about the same size as a human, it could conceivably reach speeds of up to 320 kilometers per hour (199 miles per hour) and carry you to Tokyo a little faster than a bullet train… Can’t say it’d be quite as comfortable though.

Cockroaches are probably the least picky eaters on the planet and will pretty much consume anything they can get their mandibles on, including but not limited to dandruff, hair, wood, paper, grease, dead insects, and fabrics. However, in studies by Japan’s leading cockroach researcher Noboru Aoki, they would not eat salt nor soy sauce.

More for me I guess…

You might think it’s their low-sodium, high-exercise lifestyle that keeps all cockroaches in the same shape, but actually these bugs do have different fat percentages from each other. Unlike humans, who store fat throughout various body parts such as butts and man-boobs, roaches keep it all inside an organ called a “fat body.” This means that the chocolate they nip from your pantry will never go straight to their thighs – as if you needed another reason to hate them.

Aside from our psychological loathing of cockroaches, these creatures wallow in filth and spread bacteria everywhere they go, giving us a real reason to want them as far away as possible.

So, when encountering one you can’t help but notice their glossy appearance, which seems to be a physical manifestation of their pure grossness.

However, it is actually the roach’s natural defense to its own slovenly lifestyle. That glistening oil covering its body contains protective antimicrobial substances and also helps it retain water for those rare instances when it loses its head.

With so many strengths you might think being a cockroach is a sweet life. However, they do have their share of worries. As scavengers, roaches are hardly the top of the food chain. Certain species of wasps will inject them with eggs leaving them alive long enough for the offspring to burst through their bodies. Never a nice way to go.

And of course there are large spiders and house centipedes that’ll eat cockroaches in short order. Of course, unless you want a home filled with wasps, huge spiders, and/or centipedes, this doesn’t help people much.

I did once see a stray cat take out a cockroach on the street such with such extreme prejudice that I caught myself doing a fist-pump without irony. However, a well-fed house cat simply cannot be trusted to deal with roach threats. In such an event, they will most likely just glance at you and then go to sleep.

These facts may have given you a little added respect for cockroaches or they may have only served to cement your hatred for them. Either way, you can take solace in the fact that the human race is gradually learning to make them into cyborgs… I think that’s a good thing.

Source: News Post Seven, My Game News Flash (Japanese), How Stuff Works, Teaching Biology (English)
Cockroach digestive system Image: Wikipedia/George Rolleston
Shinkansen Image: Wikipedia/Mitsuki_2368

Terra Formars Images:  Amazon 1, 2
Soy Sauce Image: Amazon
Other Images © RocketNews24