A cockroach is instantly recognizable. With its black or brown body and twitching antennae, it may have a lot in common with other insects. However for an insect that provokes so much resentment, and clearly remains almost impossible to eradicate, it has a humbling and basic anatomy. The cockroach is made up of three simple body parts – a head, the thorax and the abdomen. It also has one pair of antennae on the top of its head, with which they feel and smell, and three pairs of jointed legs. On the subject of its legs – have you ever wondered how cockroaches move so quickly? Cockroaches move their legs back and forth about 27 times a second – that’s pretty fast for a bug.
They have a tough exoskeleton which the cockroach molts several times during its lifetime. Each time a cockroach molts its body colour becomes white. It is very vulnerable at this time and can be injured easily. Only when a hormone called bursicon is released in its body will the exoskeleton become dark and hard. The molting process is very important – sometimes a cockroach can regrow a lost limb when it molts or even halt the molting process altogether to allow the new limb to grow.
When it comes to wings – female cockroaches do not have wings whilst males usually do. However they will often not be able to fly as the wings remain in an undeveloped stage.
In the head of the cockroach are the eyes, the antennae, the brain and the mouthparts. Cockroach sight is quite complex as their eyes are made of cells called ommatidia. This means they see the world like a mosaic.
Much of a cockroach’s nervous system activity though takes place in nerve ganglia. Although its brain is in its head, these ganglia are located throughout the cockroach’s body which is why a cockroach has the ability to live for as long as a week without its head. Therefore when a headless cockroach dies, it invariably dies from thirst.
Cockroaches do not use their mouthparts to breathe through and they do not have a nose as such. They draw air through holes in their sides.
Sometimes it may seem that the cockroach has no real use. However there are other insects who find the cockroach very useful for their own survival. A female wasp for instance will lay eggs inside a cockroach after she has stung it and removed its antennae to disable it. The eggs will remain safe inside the cockroach until they hatch. Another common household pest which has a use for the cockroach is the centipede which eats cockroach nymphs.
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