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The Verge review of animals: the cockroach

The perfect organism

Wikipedia/Gary Alpert

This column is part of a series where Verge staffers post highly subjective reviews of animals. Up until now, we’ve written about animals without telling you whether they suck or rule. We are now rectifying this oversight.

The cockroach is without a doubt a follower of Machiavelli's manifesto, The Prince: roaches also find it much safer to be feared than loved. As the infamous political scientist argues, affection is fickle, but the fear of punishment remains constant. And certainly, my fear of the cockroach is unwavering.

The cockroach makes it clear that it is superior to us in every way

Simply put, the cockroach makes it clear that it is superior to us in every way. The insect, of the order Blattodea, has lived on this Earth for more than 300 million years. It is the ultimate survivor. When a 6-mile-wide asteroid plummeted to Earth 65 million years ago, wiping out the dinosaurs and nearly all life on this world, the roach remained standing. Ice ages and continent shifts mean nothing to the cockroach. It has seen it all — and it will see what is to come.

The roach is arguably the hardiest creature in the animal kingdom. The American cockroach can last for up to 40 days without water and a month and a half without food. If oxygen is unavailable, the roach has time to find some, as it can hold its breath for up to 40 minutes. The insect can even survive for up to 30 minutes submerged underwater. Radiation exposure? Just a minor inconvenience! Cockroaches can handle up to 10 times more radiation than humans can withstand.

tweetroach brittany ransom

What the roach lacks in size and a backbone, it makes up for in superhero-like abilities. The cockroach can live for a week or longer without its head. That's because only part of its brain resides in the head, while the rest is spread throughout the underside of its body. Plus, it can go on breathing through small holes in its body like some sort of cyborg sponge. If that's not impressive enough, the severed head itself can also continue moving, waving its antennae around for hours once it has been detached. The sight serves as a silent message to those who dare question the roach's abilities: "My head needs no body, and my body needs no head."

The cockroach can live wherever it damn well pleases, too. Although the insects prefer the tropics and subtropics, the creatures can persevere through Arctic conditions if warranted. Some species can withstand temperatures of -188 degrees Fahrenheit by creating their own antifreeze, which lowers the point at which their blood freezes — preventing ice crystals from forming in the coldblooded critter’s insides. And food is practically everywhere for the roach, since practically everything is its food. Roaches can eat plants, garbage, the foods we eat; it even feasts on our skin cells and fecal matter. It's clear that this is the roach's world, and we are merely living in it.

Though we are but servants to the roach, the insect knows to keep a close eye on us, so as to maintain its supremacy. A small subset of the order, about 30 species or so, are tasked with sticking nearby humans, most likely as a way to keep us under control. The leader of this group is the German cockroach, whose job is to invade our homes and spy on us through our walls. Like any hardened warrior, the German cockroach understands the true value of strength in numbers. If just one female German cockroach finds its way into your home, she can easily produce an army of hundreds of thousands within a year.

The roach’s torture is psychological

The roach's indestructability and talent for infiltration should be enough to strike fear in everyone. But what is that punishment that Machiavelli notes is so crucial to maintaining control? Nothing so obvious as as imprisonment, or bodily harm. Instead, the roach’s torture is psychological. Just by seeing a roach, your mind is instantly filled with thoughts of tiny, icky insect feet crawling all over every inch of your skin, as you flail  helplessly about — like the inferior being that you are. Yes, the likelihood of this event is low. But the thought alone is enough to drive the strongest of humans mad. Oh God, just make it stop!

The Cockroach

Verge Score: 10.0

10.0

Verge Score

Good Stuff

  • Indestructible

  • Skilled in battle

  • The perfect organism

Bad Stuff

  • Psychological torture

  • They control us

  • There is no escape