Why don’t people like us?

Sometimes life doesn’t seem fair. Here we are, performing a really important, useful service, day after day, year after year, uncomplainingly, and getting no recognition for it at all. Okay, I admit that being on the clean-up crew is rarely regarded as being a glamour job, but where would you be without us? Under a big pile of very smelly decaying organic matter, that’s where. (I’m not going to say ‘shit’, because most of it isn’t. Oops! I said it anyway. Tough.)

But it’s worse than that. Others (cheetahs, for instance, or dragonflies) are praised for their speed; we’re noted for ours, but cursed for it. Others (butterflies, of course) are praised for their beauty; we’re not. All right, we know beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that, but I reckon some us – especially our young kids – are rather attractive.

What do you think? Really? I mean, you always admire ladybirds: are we so different? Sigh. And you like native animals more than introduced ones, and most of us are native but nope, you still don’t like us. Probably don’t even know we’re native, to be honest. It’s a case of giving a dog a bad name … mosquitoes are another mob with the same problem: nearly 500 species, and only a dozen giving you any trouble at all, and your reaction is always to wallop them all anyway. Sheesh!

Correcting the Record

This bloke Malcolm is one of the rare exceptions to the Universal Hatred rule. These people at the Australian Museum are okay, too:

Most people think of cockroaches as disease-carrying, urban pests. The reality in Australia is that none of the 400 or so native species is a serious pest.

Virtually all cockroaches found outside of domestic premises will be native species. One exception is the smokybrown cockroach Periplaneta fuliginosa which is sometimes found in gardens and bush areas near human habitation. …

Feeding and Diet

Native cockroaches feed in trees on pollen, bark and leaf material. Some species in the genus Panesthia have adapted to eating decomposing wood, and have similar micro-organisms in their gut as those found in termites.

(CSIRO isn’t so sure about our diet: “Much of the feeding habits of native Australian cockroaches is unknown, but it is likely the majority are omnivorous,” they say.)

These people at the Queensland Museum are fairly reasonable, too:

Australia has more than 400 species of native cockroaches that live in the bush. Most are harmless and some are even attractive. They range from fragile species around 3 mm long to the massive Giant Burrowing CockroachMacropanesthia rhinoceros, which can grow to a length of 6.5 cm and weigh as much as 20 grams.

The small number of pest species of cockroaches in Australia are all introduced and have given cockroaches a bad name.

But note the “some are even attractive.” How much fainter could praise get?

David Rentz is another of the good guys and he knows more of us than the musuem people do. He wrote a whole book about us, A Guide to the Cockroaches of Australia and discusses ‘most of the 550 described species found in Australia’ in it. 550! There are more of us than of dragonflies or those brainless beautiful butterflies! Peter Chew has assembled a photo gallery here – more like 50 than 550 but enough to show some of our diversity.

But why was I able to talk Malcolm into giving me this space on Green Path? Well, he found his first-ever Giant Burrowing Cockroach on the walking track above Nelly Bay, Magnetic Island, a couple of weeks ago (dead, sadly, but intact) and almost everyone he mentioned it to (although they were mostly pretty smart, sensible people) responded with a “Yuck!”, not a “Wow!” Sigh. Speciesism. Never mind – here are his photos.

giant burrowing cockroach
Giant, burrowing, and a cockroach, perhaps Macropanesthia rhinoceros


He’s not quite sure if it is actually Macropanesthia rhinoceros, because the Atlas of Living Australia lists a dozen closely related species but can’t offer images for comparison. Still, it’s definitely giant, burrowing, and a cockroach. And it deserves some respect and – if I may say so – admiration.

4 thoughts on “Why don’t people like us?”

  1. If you want to see the giants, visit the Forty Mile Scrub, up past Greenvale, after rain:

    Growing to the size of a mouse (8 cm in length and weighing 20–30 g), Macropanesthia rhinoceros, the world’s largest cockroach, lives in burrows up to 1 m below the ground. It feeds on dead leaves and plant material that it drags into its burrows, helping to further enrich the fertile soil. During the wet periods, large numbers of these giant cockroaches can be seen on the ground surface when their burrows are flooded.

  2. I repeated the Arcadia – Nelly Bay walk two days ago and found another giant cockroach lying dead on the path (down near the Nelly Bay end this time, rather than near the Sphinx Lookout turn-off). They are obviously not uncommon in the area.

  3. Someone else likes cockroaches! Marion Copeland has written a 200-page book simply called Cockroach and 90% of it is positive, from “A Living Fossil” (celebrating the fact that cockroaches have been around, almost unchanged, for 400 million years) to biology, ecology, mythology (both positive and negative: they are symbols of the resilience of the oppressed), literature (and horror movies) and robotics.
    I felt that the author was somewhat overwhelmed by the mass of material she had assembled but, by trying so hard to include everything, she has compiled a wonderful resource for further investigation.
    I got it as a hard copy (introduced at https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1199795.Cockroach) but it’s also available as an e-book. It’s one of a series about different animals and this link lists all of them.

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