Digestive tract

Cockroaches are generally omnivorous; the American cockroach (Periplaneta americana), for example, feeds on a great variety of foodstuffs including bread, fruit, leather, starch in book bindings, paper, glue, skin flakes, hair, dead insects and soiled clothing. Many species of cockroach harbor in their gut symbiotic protozoans and bacteria which are able to digest cellulose. In many species, these symbionts may be essential if the insect is to utilize cellulose; however, some species secrete cellulase in their saliva, and the wood-eating cockroach, Panesthia cribrata, is able to survive indefinitely on a diet of crystallized cellulose while being free of micro-organisms.

The similarity of these symbionts in the genus Cryptocercus to those in termites are such that these cockroaches have been suggested to be more closely related to termites than to other cockroaches, and current research strongly supports this hypothesis about their relationships. All species studied so far carry the obligate mutualistic endosymbiont bacterium Blattabacterium, with the exception of Nocticola australiensise, an Australian cave-dwelling species without eyes, pigment or wings, which recent genetic studies indicate is a very primitive cockroach. It had previously been thought that all five families of cockroach were descended from a common ancestor that was infected with B. cuenoti. It may be that N. australiensise subsequently lost its symbionts, or alternatively this hypothesis will need to be re-examined.

Tracheae and breathing

Like other insects, cockroaches breathe through a system of tubes called tracheae which are attached to openings called spiracles on all body segments. When the carbon dioxide level in the insect rises high enough, valves on the spiracles open and carbon dioxide diffuses out and oxygen diffuses in. The tracheal system branches repeatedly, the finest tracheoles bringing air directly to each cell, allowing gaseous exchange to take place.

While cockroaches do not have lungs as do vertebrates, and can continue to respire if their heads are removed, in some very large species, the body musculature may contract rhythmically to forcibly move air in and out of the spiracles; this may be considered a form of breathing.


Cockroaches use pheromones to attract mates, and the males practice courtship rituals, such as posturing and stridulation. Like many insects, cockroaches mate facing away from each other with their genitalia in contact, and copulation can be prolonged. A few species are known to be parthenogenetic, reproducing without the need for males.

Female cockroaches are sometimes seen carrying egg cases on the end of their abdomens; the German cockroach holds about 30 to 40 long, thin eggs in a case called an ootheca. She drops the capsule prior to hatching, though live births do occur in rare instances. The egg capsule may take more than five hours to lay and is initially bright white in color. The eggs are hatched from the combined pressure of the hatchlings gulping air. The hatchlings are initially bright white nymphs and continue inflating themselves with air, becoming harder and darker within about four hours. Their transient white stage while hatching and later while molting has led to claims of albino cockroaches. Development from eggs to adults takes three to four months. Cockroaches live up to a year, and the female may produce up to eight egg cases in a lifetime; in favorable conditions, she can produce 300 to 400 offspring. Other species of cockroaches, however, can produce far more eggs; in some cases a female needs to be impregnated only once to be able to lay eggs for the rest of her life.

The female usually attaches the egg case to a substrate, inserts it into a suitably protective crevice, or carries it about until just before the eggs hatch. Some species, however, are ovoviviparous, keeping the eggs inside their body, with or without an egg case, until they hatch. At least one genus, Diploptera, is fully viviparous.

Cockroaches have incomplete metamorphosis, meaning that the nymphs are generally similar to the adults, except for undeveloped wings and genitalia. Development is generally slow, and may take a few months to over a year. The adults are also long-lived, and have survived for as much as four years in the laboratory.


Cockroaches are among the hardiest insects. Some species are capable of remaining active for a month without food and are able to survive on limited resources, such as the glue from the back of postage stamps. Some can go without air for 45 minutes. Japanese cockroach (Periplaneta japonica) nymphs, which hibernate in cold winters, survived twelve hours at -5 °C to -8 °C in laboratory experiments.

Experiments on decapitated specimens of several species of cockroach found a variety of behavioral functionality remained, including shock avoidance and escape behavior, although many insects other than cockroaches are also able to survive decapitation, and popular claims of the longevity of headless cockroaches do not appear to be based on published research. The severed head is able to survive and wave its antennae for several hours, or longer when refrigerated and given nutrients.

It is popularly suggested that cockroaches will “inherit the earth” if humanity destroys itself in a nuclear war. Cockroaches do indeed have a much higher radiation resistance than vertebrates, with the lethal dose perhaps six to 15 times that for humans. However, they are not exceptionally radiation-resistant compared to other insects, such as the fruit fly.

The cockroach’s ability to withstand radiation better than human beings can be explained through the cell cycle. Cells are most vulnerable to the effects of radiation when they are dividing. A cockroach’s cells divide only once each time it molts, which is weekly at most in a juvenile roach. Since not all cockroaches would be molting at the same time, many would be unaffected by an acute burst of radiation, although lingering radioactive fallout would still be harmful.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cockroach

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