Episode 205 – False Deaths Head Cockroach: Survivability Over Cuteness

“…and today we’re talking about everyone’s favorite animal! But more on that later…”

You know ‘em, you hate ‘em, you have ‘em – they’re cockroaches. Yes, it’s time for the interesting animal podcast to talk about everyone’s favorite scittering critter. Odds are good that you’ve encountered one of these pleasant house guests within the last month, so maybe your love for roaches is still fresh on the mind. There’s a common understanding that roaches are extremely difficult to kill. Pesticides, floods, and even nuclear holocaust aren’t enough to wipe these guys out. But how much truth is there to that? Let’s find out just how well the roach survives here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.


  • This roach looks like a roach. But it’s slightly more of a round shape than a long oval like other roaches. 
  • It’s a light tan with dark brown legs and a dark black spot on the back of its head. 
  • Younger roaches are brown with light tan speckles. 

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words Measure Up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. 

  1. White goose
  2. Swans a swimming
  3. Colly bird
  4. Partridge 


  • 35–45 mm (1.4–1.8 in)
  • How many roaches would it take to reach the distance traveled by the first team to row the Atlantic from east to west from Europe to South America? 
  • Hint: In 2016, Ross Johnson, Jason Fox, Aldo Kane, Oliver Bailey, and Matt Bennett rowed from Lagos, Portugal to Carupano, Venezuela. 
  • 135,097,600 roaches. The trip was 3,335 nautical miles or (6,177 km, 3,838 miles)


  • American Cockroaches are larger and weigh between 0.1 g and 0.12 g (0.0035-0.004 oz). So we’ll call this 0.1 grams (0.003 oz).
  • How many discoid roaches go into the largest serving of guacamole ever?
  • Hint: The dip was made in 2018 by Junta Local de Sanidad Vegetal de Tancítaro in Mexico. 
  • 37,880,000 roaches. The guac weighed 3,788 kilograms (8351.11 pounds).

Fast Facts

Discoids come from Central and South America. 

These roaches make good robots. Let me explain. In 2012, a team of researchers implanted a small fuel cell into a discoid roach. The roach produced a power density of 55 microwatts per square centimeter. It’s enough to power small devices and may be enough to power other devices that they’ve already made that can hijack the roach nervous system. Then, they just slap a tiny camera on it to get a better look at areas harmful to humans. 

They are often sold as food for pet reptiles and they’re considered easy to raise in captivity. But who would want to?

Discoid cockroaches are also a popular food in insect eating competitions. In fact, a man died in a cockroach eating competition in Deerfield Beach, Florida in 2012. He died after winning the contest. His prize as going to be a $850 python.

Major Fact: What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stranger

  • Cockroaches are well known for their survivability. I remember as a kid believing that they would survive a nuclear bomb. There were even reports that roaches were thriving in Hiroshima and Nagasaki after we politely asked Japan if they wouldn’t mind surrendering in WWII.
    • But I was confused because you can easily kill one by just stepping on it (I had nuclear feet!)
    • Plus Wall-E had a cockroach as the only living animal on Earth after it becomes an unlivable hellscape. Also, that movie probably the only time a cockroach has ever been considered cute.
    • All told, roaches are known for their ability to survive through Earth, Wind, and Fire ‘cause they’re stayin’ alive!
  • But how much truth is there to their survivability? Scientists recently sequenced the genome of the American cockroach, so let’s find out:

#1 – Cockroaches survive without their heads

  • True. They breathe through holes in the sides of their body and have an open circulatory system, so they don’t actually need their heads to breathe. They still can’t eat or drink so they’ll eventually die of dehydration, but that can take up to a week!

#2 – Cockroaches don’t need to breathe

  • Not true, but Papa Roach can survive for up to 40 minutes without oxygen!

#3 – Cockroaches will eat anything

  • This is true. They’ll eat starch in books, wallpaper, glue, stamps, your dried skin flakes and hair, plus all of the stuff you already know they eat. Their genes also allow them to break down just about any substance they can get in their mouths – including many pesticides, which contributes to their mythos.

#4 – Roaches can survive nuclear blasts

  • Nope. Nothing can survive a direct blast from a nuclear bomb

#5 – Roaches can survive nuclear radiation

  • Well, we can all survive some level of radiation, but roaches seem to be more resistant to gamma rays than humans (6-15 times more). But there are other insects that can survive more, like the fruit fly. Everything dies when you use lots of radiation though—which is good because HulkRoach would be terrifying and the Avengers don’t need another arthropod-based hero on their team.

Ending: So stay alive, breathe through your ventral tubes, and don’t get squished like a little cockroach here in LDT