Those cockroaches are smart!

By Alejandro Freixes, CCNN Head Writer

These German cockroaches might be brilliant, but man are they hideous or what?

Gross, cockroaches! While these hideous insects might not be your idea of fun when they run across the kitchen, they’re actually very interesting creatures. Did you know that some fossils of early cockroaches are as old as 350 million years?  To give you some idea how long ago that is, Homo sapiens – modern humans – have only been around for 200,000 years. Dinosaurs went extinct around 65 million years ago and didn’t even appear until about 230 million years ago.

So, that cockroach in your kitchen should get at least a little bit of respect. Now, that being said, there’s nothing wrong with wanting it to go away! In fact, people often use insecticide – insect poison – and traps to catch cockroaches. Guess what, though? All those millions of years of evolution mean they’re pretty smart and tough. In fact, they often walk right by the traps, like “no thanks, I ain’t falling for that trick!” Even when those traps are coated in yummy sugar, German cockroaches aren’t fooled.

Scientists started scratching their heads, wondering how the heck these little buggers can outsmart humans, so they decided to study the German cockroach. It only took this species a few years to evolve a dislike for the sugary traps. Using little hair-like sensors on their mouths, cockroaches can tell the difference between bitter and sweet. Normally, sugar attracts cockroaches, but these German ones are wise guys and are considered “glucose-averse” (GA) – which means they don’t like sugary stuff.

When GA roaches are exposed to sugar, researcher Ayako Wada-Katsumata and his buddies at North Carolina State University found that they consider it bitter rather than sweet. This triggers them to stay away!

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. After all, cockroaches have been around 350 million years. What are a couple of 200,000-year-old humans going to do against such ancient old bugs?

Featured image courtesy of David Monniaux on Wikipedia