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?--a divine instrument of karmic cleansing for individuals of tormented conscience before they die? I ask because I know a seaman who spent his retirement years in a kingdom of roaches. His tiny apartment was home to a million cockroaches who did not hide themselves away. 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 keep him nearly comatose, inside for weeks on end. But most alarmingly, his apartment was a thriving metropolis for cockroaches. It was the Big Apple for roaches, and as Tom would put it, "I ain't a-kiddin' you!"
 
When I said the "Big Apple," I meant as in New York City. Millions of roaches rushing hither and yon in his small apartment, 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 visit for a snack. So these creatures differentiate between humans, or at least human habitations.  If you can bear to watch them for a while, they demonstrate interesting behaviors.

At Tom's, you'll see hundreds, possibly thousands, of them in plain sight at any given time, day or night. They 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 is always carrying some hidden away in his clothes. He claims to despise them, but I notice he has done nothing to get rid of them, and wonder if he's subjecting himself to some bizarre form of purgatory, or living hell. I wonder if they play a factor in his longevity. The bugs drive his little dog Tippy crazy, but there's nothing she can do about it.
 
Spiders kill off some roaches, but they don't make a dent in their population overall. Long webs, heavy with bugs, hang from the ceiling like gossamer ropes, 100 or more dead bugs stuck in each odd rope-like web--either trapped there or put into storage by overworked spiders. The spiders would probably trade the whole lot of them for a single juicy fly.
 
I said earlier that I have some theories about roaches that many would consider crazy. In my own defense, I have spent many, many hours observing them. I will just come out and tell 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.
 
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 them out. They ate through the glued cellophane folds of 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 friends on the outside seemed much to care about them, or any of the dead roaches covering every surface.

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

They looked like they were having fun, but she was also teaching the young the lay of the apartment, and introducing them to their safe human host. An even more sophisticated lesson, like how next door they would get hammered and sprayed, may take a different form, like the bee's wagging dance or the ants' innate social behavior. They may not be geniuses, but neither are they the brainless things most people believe them to be.

The most stunning display of cockroaches I have ever seen was in the small freezer compartment of Tom Dwyer's refrigerator. The freezer door 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. 

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.