How did cockroaches survive dino-killing asteroid?

Cockroaches survive: Bright light with trail crossing blue sky with dinosaurs on landscape below.
Artist’s concept of theChicxulub asteroidentering Earth’s atmosphere 66 million years ago, triggering events that caused a mass extermination. How did cockroaches survive this catastrophe? Image viaThe Conversation/ Roger Harris/ Science Photo library via Getty Images.

ByBrian Lovett,West Virginia University

How did cockroaches survive the dino-killing asteroid?

现在当岩石被称为Chicxulub impactor来自外太空的暴跌和撞击Earth 66 million years ago, cockroaches were there. The impact caused a massive earthquake, and scientists think it alsotriggered volcanic eruptionsthousands of miles from the impact site. Three-quarters of plants and animals on Earth died, including all dinosaurs,except for some speciesthat were ancestors of today’s birds.

How could roaches a couple of inches long survive when so many powerful animals went extinct? It turns out that they were nicely equipped to live through a meteoric catastrophe.

If you’ve ever seen a cockroach, you’ve probably noticed that their bodies are very flat. This is not an accident. Flatter insects can squeeze themselves into tighter places. This enables them to hide practically anywhere, and it may have helped them survive the Chicxulub impact.

Asteroid incoming!

When the meteor struck, temperatures onEarth’s surface skyrocketed. Many animals had nowhere to flee, but roaches could take shelter in tiny soil crevices, which provide excellent protection from heat.

The meteor’s impacttriggered a cascade of effects. It kicked up so much dust that the sky darkened. As the sun dimmed, temperatures plunged and conditions became wintry around the globe. With little sunlight, surviving plants struggled to grow, and many other organisms that relied on those plants went hungry.

Not cockroaches, though. Unlike some insectsthat prefer to eat one specific plant, cockroaches areomnivorous scavengers. This means they will eat most foods that come from animals or plants as well as cardboard, some kinds of clothing and even poop. Having appetites that aren’t picky has allowed cockroaches to survive lean times since the Chicxulub extinction and other natural disasters.

Cockroaches survive with built-in protections

Another helpful trait is that cockroacheslay their eggs in little protective cases. These egg cartons look like dried beans. Scientists call themoothecae, which means “egg cases.” Like phone cases, oothecae are hard and protect their contents from physical damage and other threats, such as flooding and drought. Some cockroaches may have waited out part of the Chicxulub catastrophe from the comfort of their oothecae.

Oblong, segmented pill-like object on white background.
Cockroach egg cases are about 0.5 inches (10 mm) long and contain up to 50 eggs, depending on the species. Image viaThe Conversation/ VitalisG/iStock via Getty Images.

Modern cockroaches are little survivors that can live just about anywhere on land, from the heat of the tropics to some of the coldest parts of the globe. Scientists estimate thatthere over 4,000 cockroach species.

Cockroaches as pests

少数的这些species like to live with humans and quickly become pests. Once cockroaches become established in a building, it’s hard to rid every little crack of these insects and their oothecae. When large numbers of roaches are present in unsanitary places, they can spread diseases. The biggest threat they pose to human health is from allergens they produce that cantrigger asthma attacks and allergic reactionsin some people.

Cockroach pests are hard to manage because they canresist many chemical insecticidesand because they have the same abilities that helped their ancestors outlive many dinosaurs. Still, cockroaches are much more than a pest to control. Researchers study cockroaches to understandhow they moveandhow their bodies are designedto get ideas for building better robots.

As a scientist, I see all insects as beautiful, six-legged inspirations. Cockroaches have already overcome odds that were too great for dinosaurs. If another meteorite hit the Earth, I’d be more worried for humans than for cockroaches.
The Conversation
Brian Lovett, Postdoctoral Researcher in Mycology,West Virginia University

This article is republished fromThe Conversationunder a Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.

Bottom line: Cockroaches survive in adverse conditions due to what they eat and the way they’re built. When the dinosaur-killing asteroid wiped out most of life on Earth, cockroaches persevered.

March 31, 2022

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