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Cockroach vs. Hydraulic Press: Who Wins?

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Do cockroaches — those daring, disgusting disease vectors — have anything at all to offer us? Scientists think so. They compressed American roaches with a hydraulic press, subjecting them to the force of 900 times their body weight. Don’t worry (or do): They survived! How exactly do they do it?


The cockroach.

You know ‘em, you hate ‘em.

And with good reason.


They carry bacteria like salmonella on their legs.

Roaches can cause asthma and allergies as they spread their saliva and poop around your home.

And when you try to take one out …

… it always seems to get away.

What makes the roach so indestructible?

The American cockroach is one of the fastest insects on the planet.

It can run up to 3.4 miles per hour.

That’d be like a human knocking out eight marathons over their lunch break.

It uses hooks, called tarsal claws, to flip over ledges.

And not even a wall can stop it.

Better to keep up the momentum and figure it out as you go.

The roach is both tough and flexible.

Its exoskeleton isn’t one large piece of armor, but many shield-like plates made of a tough material called chitin.

They’re held together by lots of pliable joints.

And they use all those bendy joints to fold up, origami-style, and push through impossibly small cracks …

…like that gap you never knew existed in your kitchen cupboard.

The cockroach can army-crawl through a space a quarter of its normal standing height.

That’s one reason it’s so good at surviving your thwack.

So how much pressure can the cockroach take?

Scientists at UC Berkeley found it can withstand a thwack equivalent to 900 times its body weight …

… and walk away unscathed.

Why are researchers so interested in all this?

They think the roach, despite its ability to make us sick, can teach us to save lives.

One of those researchers is now building robots the size of insects to squeeze into places you and I cannot.

Like piles of rubble left by major earthquakes or hurricanes.

And maybe down the line, much smaller versions of these robots could even enter our bodies to perform life-saving tasks!

So, on the one hand, we want to keep these creatures out – by sealing cracks, caulking windows and storing food in airtight containers …

… but we also want to learn from them.

The cockroach teaches us that the key to overcoming adversity isn’t just toughness, it’s also flexibility.

Well, that was lovely. But not all roaches are pests, some are pets. And pretty good ones at that.

Check out our episode on the Madagascar hissing cockroach. It even comes with its own cleaning crew of hungry mites.

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