Why Cockroaches Need their Friends
The much maligned cockroach is more sophisticated, and social, than we thought, according to new research.
They hide away, unseen, lurking in dark corners and crevices.
When they emerge, they aimlessly scurry and swarm, often around our houses, kitchens and supposedly dirty hotels and restaurants.
We end up despising them for their natural behaviour, seeing them as nothing more than pests to be avoided, exterminated even.
But cockroaches have in many ways been given a raw deal.
Scientists are discovering that these supposedly crude, and creepy automatons are much more sophisticated than we thought.
By unveiling the secret lives of these insects, they are finding out that cockroaches are actually highly social creatures; they recognise members of their own families, with different generations of the same families living together.
Cockroaches do not like to be left alone, and suffer ill health when they are.
And they form closely bonded, egalitarian societies, based on social structures and rules. Communities of cockroaches are even capable of making collective decisions for the greater good.
By studying certain species of cockroach, we may even be able to learn some insights into how more advanced animal societies evolved, including our own.
Living Among Us
A small proportion of insect species are renowned for their social skills.
Ants, termites and some bees and wasps, for example, are "eusocial insects", which have highly developed social structures and behaviours.
But while cockroaches were known to be gregarious, based on their tendency to live in groups at various stages in their lives, we understood little about how they actually behave around each other.
Cockroaches that do not hang out with one another suffer "isolation syndromes". For example, young German and American cockroaches left alone take longer to moult into new larger forms and eventually become adults.
Their later behaviour is also severely affected; young isolated cockroaches find it harder to join a community and mate later in life.
Young cockroaches, it seems, need to be around and in constant physical contact with one another to properly develop.
General Manager - Staff Entomologist