Cockroaches: Smarter than You Think



by Homeless T

2017 11-14. Detroit. How dangerous are cockroaches, really? Do they breed disease, or are they a blessing in disguise? Might they be a divine instrument of karmic cleansing for individuals of tormented conscience, wishing to cleanse
it before they die? I ask because I knew an 80-something seaman who spent his retirement years in a kingdom of roaches. His tiny apartment was home to a million cockroaches that did not run away and hide themselves and showed no fear of humans. Elsewhere, the same bugs would have. The man's only prohibition on the roaches was that they stay off his plate when he was eating. Otherwise, it was their apartment.



Those of us who knew the man on a deeper level worried about his lifestyle. His diet was terrible, he suffered bouts of depression that rendered him nearly comatose, inside for weeks on end. But most alarmingly, his apartment was a thriving metropolis for care-free cockroaches. It was the Big Apple for roaches, and as Tom would put it, "I ain't a-kiddin' you!"

I mean "Big Apple" as in New York City: millions of roaches rushing hither and yon, sometimes appearing as distant hordes of buffalo stampeding the prairies of America, or the expressway at rush hour, except its inhabitants were roaches. So what, you say?

These same bugs would never dare to show themselves at the apartment next door, where they may occasionally have visited for a snack, under the cloak of darkness. So these creatures could differentiate between humans, or at least between human habitations.  If you can bear to watch them for a while, they demonstrate interesting behaviors.


At Tom's, you'd see thousands of them in plain sight at any given time, day or night. They's climb the walls, the furniture, and you, if you let them. I've shaken them out of my sleeve and pant legs after leaving, and Tom was always carrying some hidden away in his clothes. He claimed to have despised them, yet I noticed that he had done nothing to get rid of them. I considered that he might be subjecting himself to some bizarre form of purgatory, or living hell, for he was a deep believer. And I wondered if they played a factor in his longevity. The bugs drove his little dog Tippy crazy, but there was nothing she could do about it.

Spiders killed off some of small apartment's roaches, but they didn't make a dent in their population overall. They were such easy prey that the spiders' gossamer webs became like ropes, heavy with bugs, hanging from the ceiling weighted down by l00 or more dead bugs stuck in each--either trapped there or put into storage by overworked spiders. Those arachnids would would probably have traded the whole lot of them for a few fresh, juicy flies.

I said earlier that I have some theories about roaches that many would consider crazy. In their defense, I have spent many hours observing my subject. I will just come out and reveal the gist of it: cockroaches compare to humans intellectually. They nurture their young to a degree. They know where they are safe, and they are curious. They can be cunning, dumb beyond belief, or simply high on life. They try to stay alive, but have no morbid fear of death.

I have seen cellophane-wrapped, unopened packages of "roach motels" filled with dead roaches that couldn't wait for somebody to open the pack and set out the traps. The roaches chewed through the glued cellophane folds of the unopened multi-packs of Roach Motels and feasted themselves to death.

It wasn't "roaches check in . . . but they don't check out." It was "roaches break in . . . ." None of their roach colleagues on the outside seemed much to care about them, or any of the dead roaches covering every surface--along with the gritty, gunpowder-like particles that is their dung.

On the other hand, I have observed altruism among them. I saw one full-grown roach giving nymphs (baby bugs) rides around on her backs. Big mama roach had a half-dozen kids on her back, and would rear up like a tiny pony, running this way and that. You could almost hear the little nymphs squealing in delight.


They looked like they were having fun, but no doubt Mama was also teaching the young the lay of the apartment, and introducing them to their safe human host. This safety would somehow integrate with an even more sophisticated lesson, like how in apartment next door, they would get hammered and sprayed. The roaches may not be geniuses, but neither are they the brainless things most people believe them to be. They have four billion years of evolution on their side.

The most stunning display of cockroaches I have ever seen was in the small freezer compartment of Tom Dwyer's refrigerator. The freezer door was long gone, and the refrigerator itself no longer closed completely (due to the build-up of squashed bugs along the plastic sealer strips). The freezer compartment appeared to be disgorging a solid wave of crystal-clear ice in which many hundreds of cockroaches, frozen in their final movements, seemed to bespeak a playfulness. It was beautiful in a nauseating sort of way.


What had they been doing? The cockroach equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest? Did they just fall asleep in a nice cool place, and let themselves be over-iced? Or was their trip to the freezer a holiday of sorts?

I have seen albino roaches, newly shed of their outgrown exoskeleton. They emerge snow white, but soon color over. I have seen two cockroaches poised on the nipple of an upright baby bottle, taking turns finishing off the drop on the top. Unfortunately, the latter occurred at my apartment.

Curiously, Tippy Tom's bugs didn't scurry and hide from humans in his apartment. They simply went about their business, offering the rare human visitor like myself a chance to see high cockroach culture--well, just like one of the gang. I have drawn some conclusions regarding roaches that many would consider crazy, or at least unorthodox. The poet Blake wrote that "all that lives is holy" and I believe this applies even to the humble roach.

Holding a Religious Service?