The humble hisser. Despite their docile nature, this large, flightless species of cockroach causes repulsion in some people. Many folks associate them with household pests, and others have only been exposed to them through nefarious Hollywood portrayals, such as the mutant fire-setting roaches in Bug (1975) or the alien roach species hellbent on on destroying Earth in Men in Black (1997).
The cockroach is often portrayed as a gross, sometimes malevolent creature but the truth is, these insects are fascinating in their own right and have even inspired life-saving inventions.
Yes, roach-bots. Pictured above is CRAM, or “compressible robot with articulated mechanisms.” CRAM was designed by researchers at UC Berkeley who wanted to build a nearly indestructible robot that could traverse complex terrain and squeeze through tight crevices in order to aid in search-and-rescue operations. They drew their inspiration the cockroach’s ability to compress its body height to half it’s initial size without compromising speed or locomotion.
We often get asked, “Do they really hiss?” Yes. They really hiss. But not in the same way that a snake or a cat might. Insects don’t breathe through their mouths. Instead, they have a series of tracheal openings (called “spiracles”) along their abdomen that they can open and close to regulate oxygen intake and water loss. The Madagascar hissing cockroach has a specially adapted spiracle on the fourth segment of their abdomen; the tracheal tube is shaped in a way that allows the cockroach to make the characteristic hissing sound when air is rapidly forced out. This is an effective tactic for startling predators (or sometimes handlers), but they also use it to communicate with other cockroaches in their colony!