Why cockroaches are lean, mean, cleaning machines

Studies say cockroaches often clean their much-needed antennae for survival purposes.

“Clean” is not the first word that comes to mind when referring to the American cockroach — “bleck!” might be a better bet.

Yet scientists have recently discovered that cockroaches engage in very thorough cleaning behaviors, focusing particularly on their antennae, according to BBC Nature.

Cockroaches use their antennae to pick up cues from their environment — topography, odors and degree of heat. Turns out, if they don’t keep the antennae spic-and-span, they are unable to sense the things that are so essential to their survival, according to Dr. Katalin Boroczky of North Carolina State University, lead author of the study.

What covers cockroach antennae, blocking their environment-sensing neurons, is a natural waxy material that they exude to protect them from becoming dehydrated.

Waxy antennae also lead to issues for male American cockroaches searching for a mate. Some of their sensors are specifically geared toward taking in airborne odors such as pheromones emitted by female cockroaches, wax thus making the males unable to detect if a potential mate is nearby.

American cockroaches have very particular ways of grooming their antennae — they used their forelegs to manipulate them through their mouths.

Other insect species also groom — carpenter ants and houseflies fall into this category. They also have different rituals for cleaning, often removing a powdery coating or toxic substances from their bodies.

“The carpenter ant uses a foreleg to groom its antenna followed by cleaning of the foreleg with the mouth, whereas the housefly uses the foreleg only," Borocczky told BBC Nature.

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