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Roach Facts: Why Do Cockroaches Die on Their Backs and More

Updated on July 24, 2017
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You might consider cockroaches to be the most disgusting creatures ever, but there might also be lot of fascinating facts you don't know about them, such as their significance in the ecosystem, the reason why they flip over when they die, and whether or not they can drown.

This article provides an insightful view on the fabulous facts about cockroaches.

Pretty Little Creatures Called Cockroaches

Some of us look at these creatures with disgust, some with fear, and some with a nauseating mixture of both. However, even insects this terrible can possess hidden wonders, so let's explore the bright side of these pretty little creatures called cockroaches.

Why is it called a cockroach?

The term came from the Spanish word "cucaracha." The evolution of the term is summarized in a work by Captain John Smith published in 1624. He describes "a certain India Bug, called by the Spaniards a Cacarootch, which, creeping into Chests they eat and defile with their ill-sented dung." This term "cuca" was replaced by the English term associated with the rooster, "cock," resulting in the term "cockrootch" and finally, cockroach.

Why Do Cockroaches Die on Their Backs?

Their bulky bodies are composed of three heavy body segments which are only supported by six long, thin legs. As they die they lose muscle control, causing the leg muscles to contract. As a result, the legs are pulled beneath the body, causing them to lose their balance and topple over onto their backs. This also explains why cockroaches on the wall fall off when they get sprayed with insecticides.

Do they always flip over?

No. A cockroach might die without toppling over, but it happens most of the time.

Isn't it fascinating why cockroaches flip over when they die?
Isn't it fascinating why cockroaches flip over when they die?

The Ecological Importance of Cockroaches

Cockroaches play a vital role in the process of decomposition which is an essential part of the ecosystem. Through them water, nutrients, and energy is able to be recycled back into the ecosystem from decaying plants, animals, and organic matter. Through this process, cockroaches tend to fortify the soil with nutrients that plants need (Paige, 1998). Without them, the cycle might be impaired and their eradication could end up damaging the entire ecosystem we live in.

They play an important part in the food chain and might also participate in pollination.

The Medical Contributions of Cockroaches

Cockroaches were historically ground up, boiled, and used as medicines used to treat asthma, strokes, bronchitis, and problems with urinary retention. Some even made and drank boiled cockroach tea (can you imagine that?) to treat various ailments. There is no evidence that cockroaches can successfully treat these complaints, but there is no proof that they don't, either. No significant studies have been performed, although one study discovered that cockroach brains might have antibiotic properties, which might lead to new treatments for bacterial infections, and even some recent books wonder if cockroaches might someday play a part in the field of dermatology (and possibly other fields, as well).

Although their use as medicine has yet to be fully explored, they are used for medical experiments and provide benefits in the field of medical research especially in identifying the effects of chemical and various radiation on nerves.

The Weak Spot

Cockroaches are known for being the greatest survivors. It is often hypothesized that they would even survive a nuclear explosion. This creature often seems impossible to exterminate, but they can be killed.

Their only weak spot is their appetite. The trick is to get them to eat pesticide or insecticide. Boric acid (or borax) is said to be effective. Mixing it with flour and spreading it across your home may eliminate a roach problem.

Geeky Cockroach Facts

  • Cockroaches are insects of the order Blattaria.
  • There are about 4,000 to 5,000 species of cockroaches, 30 of which are considered pests by humans.
  • Cockroaches can run up to 3km/hr or 0.8 m/s.
  • They recognize their family and relatives by their distinctive odors.
  • They are nocturnal and omnivorous.
  • They don't easily drown and may even last for 30 minutes (or more) underwater.
  • Most species live in the tropics (like the Philippines).
  • They love glue. It might be their favorite food.
  • Most American cockroaches are immigrants.
  • They can survive decapitation. Even after separation, both the body and the head will still respond to stimulus and both the antenna and the legs might wiggle. However, the head's movement will only last for a few hours while a body may last up to several weeks.
  • Cockroaches can survive without food for a month but will only last a week without water.
  • Cockroaches have six hairy legs, and the hairs provide them a sense of touch.
  • Some female cockroaches mate only once and become pregnant for the rest of their lives.
  • Cockroaches can basically eat everything due to the presence of various bacteria and protozoa in their digestive system.

© 2012 Renz Kristofer Cheng

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      RaQueraccoon 8 days ago

      They may be smarter than we think. I once chased one with a broom and it hid behind the tv stand in my family room. As I sat on the couch across the room waiting for it to come out I suddenly felt something weird on the back of my head. It was the cockroach wiggling its legs against my hair. Needless to say, it was the last thing Ms I'm Smarter Than The Average Cockroach ever did. LOL

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      Jonathan 4 weeks ago

      Cockroaches-Nature's badass survivor of the apocalypse

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      Dipanku 5 weeks ago

      good article

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      Renz Kristofer Cheng 2 months ago from Manila

      @Jay That's really odd. Not sure about why that happens, but it's interesting despite the weirdness.

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      Jay 4 months ago

      Every morning I have a new set of cockroach legs and carcass on my floor. Could you tell me why?

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      KENNETH 5 months ago

      I have water Despenser and roach wont allow each time open it to take water l see roach around the body l've applied insecticide but still seeing them l feel throwing the machine away. What should l do? Thanks

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      Meh 6 months ago

      *Sees that most species of cockroaches are in my country* Crud.

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      Renz Kristofer Cheng 7 months ago from Manila

      @linda I don't know what will react on that, but looking forward, I guess? :)

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      linda 7 months ago

      i love em and want to marry one in the near future

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      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 14 months ago from Philippines

      I used to torture cockroaches slowly to death with alcohol and watch them whither and die to my deep satisfaction. There was no kindness in my heart for them. Watching them writhe, emitting a low key yet highly emotional sound like an amplifier was music to my ears. An hour later I would go back and yes, the relative would be there. Alcohol Power. Now, I just block their entrance areas. Do I miss them? NOT. But I may buy Borax just in case. IF it doesn't harm my dog...

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      Julie Brown 14 months ago

      I am living in a boarding house/student accomm at the moment and the cockroaches, OMG. Led me to look up some info on them and found your article. Thanks for the hint about borax, buying some of that in the morning!!!

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      Renz Kristofer Cheng 16 months ago from Manila

      Thank you for appreciating the article, Gloria Crook!

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      Gloria Crook 16 months ago

      I watched a cockroach die on its back and it took a long time- about 3 hours before it stopped moving its antennae when I came near it with a paper towel to pick it up. I wondered WHY do they turn over? I'm so glad to see the article. Thanks for it! I'm getting out the boric acid! I hardly EVER see one and it's always on its back. But boric acid might keep them all away.

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      Tess 23 months ago

      @Mindy

      I nearly died reading your comment LOL!!!! The same thing happened to me a few months ago. A roach was flipped on its back and had just lied there still as I was getting laundry from the dryer. I walked around it grossed out and was going to eventually sweep it outside when I was done. As I kept walking around the roach, his legs started kicking and I freaked out thinking he was either on the verge of dying and he may just get up to die somewhere. I ran to get bug spray and he started kicking harder, trying to get back on his feet!!!!!!! I kept going, "omg omg omg" and sprayed the shiz out of him. From that day on, I never trusted any roach on their backs. **I just killed one today with a wasp spray, darn things** lol

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      Josh 2 years ago

      How do there body's last 7 weeks without a head, but they can only last one week without water, and four weeks without food.. I can't seem to find it anywhere in the article where it says they can eat through there arse to survive?

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      K Dro 2 years ago

      Thank you Melissa A Smith for the breath of humanity you added to these hurtful comments filled with hate and the desire to kill another type of creature that's unfortunately very different from us. I also see their beauty and believe they deserve to live. I do not get disgusted when I see a cockroach and I do not try to kill them. People can raise all the arguments they want to about germs, but it is trifle to argue over facts here. In my mind, the harm done to my spirit by despising and seeking to kill insects is more significant than the potential harm of germs and a creepy-crawly feeling. Thanks again Melissa for your comment and for the parts of the hub that weren't about killing them.

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      Renz Kristofer Cheng 2 years ago from Manila

      @Meinukey I usually get paranoid too as if there's a cockroach crawling on my legs.

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      Meinukey 2 years ago

      My entire body is itching as I read this.

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      Renz Kristofer Cheng 3 years ago from Manila

      Thanks for sharing your story mindy! I didn't know that cockroaches are good actors too. Now, that's interesting!

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      mindy 3 years ago

      So Im in the process of moving and I walk in to my living room and see a roach flipped on his back....so thinking its dead I get the broom and dustpan and go to sweep him up. Well...mhe wasn't dead! It grabs my broom and attempts to climb up!! I scream and smash it!! Lol worst morning ever! :). So I decided to research why they flip over and came across your page. Just want to say thanks. Great article. I learned a lot. But never ever trust a flipped over roach!! Im pretty sure he was faking death. Lmao

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      Renz Kristofer Cheng 3 years ago from Manila

      @handymanbill Thanks for dropping by this hub, and I'm glad you found this hub on cockroaches interesting!

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      Bill 3 years ago from western pennsylvania

      Spray them, stomp on them any way i can find to kill them. But interesting hub.

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      Renz Kristofer Cheng 3 years ago from Manila

      Thank you very much savvydating for dropping by one of my articles again. Yeah, I actually still dread the sight of these creatures, and as much as possible, I don't want to encounter them.

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      Yves 3 years ago

      Lol. What a funny thing to write about. Nevertheless, your article is actually quite interesting. I had heard that roaches do serve a purpose, though I couldn't imagine what that might be. Nevertheless, in my mind, they are horrid little things and I personally cannot bear the sight of them. Good article. Voting interesting.

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      Renz Kristofer Cheng 3 years ago from Manila

      @SusannaDuffy Oh well, it's a good thing they have their weakness. If not, I wouldn't know how to deal with them.

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      Susanna Duffy 3 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Horrible things. I hope the only cockroach I ever see again is well and truly on its back

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      Renz Kristofer Cheng 3 years ago from Manila

      Thanks puffofglitters for the insights and suggestion! I know it will help some readers who are dealing with roach infestation.

      I appreciate you dropping by!

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      Minnie 3 years ago from Miami, FL

      Roaches are carriers of a multitude of diseases and I for one to do not want them in my home. So thank you for the part about how to kill and get rid of roaches. Spraying dish soap also does the trick as it causes them to suffocate by plugging up their spiracles (breathing pores).

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      Marcy J. Miller 3 years ago from Arizona

      I'm so glad I ran across this hub. I've always had a fascination with insects / arthropods / arachnids, etc. Although cockroaches aren't my favorite, I don't hate them; I'm pretty bug-friendly, really. Interestingly, we have so many scorpions, spiders and lizards on the property that it is rare to see a cockroach or cricket in the house. Nature keeps them well in check if left to its own devices.

      Thanks for this interesting article on those much-maligned creatures!

      Best -- Mj

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      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 3 years ago from Philippines

      It's good to know that cockroaches serve a purpose in the world. I still hate them with passion. I like to watch them suffer when they die. I douse them with alcohol and it's a slow death, I imagine, in cockroach minutes.

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      Renz Kristofer Cheng 3 years ago from Manila

      Hmmm, yeah, maybe that's one of the reasons why they really designed them to be pointy. Haha! Thanks for the great humor FlourishAnyway!

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      Renz Kristofer Cheng 3 years ago from Manila

      @SallyTX Now that's something really interesting! I can't believe cockroaches know how to have a vacation too, and decide to reside instead. Haha!

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      Sally Branche 3 years ago from Only In Texas!

      Actually, when I was a child in TX we didn't have the great big ones. We just had the little ones. Those big ones migrated here from Florida, I think. ;D

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      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      Fascinating hub! Who knew that these creatures had so many interesting things about them. They do grow them much bigger in Texas, by the way! HUGE! I think that's why there are pointy toes on cowboy boots -- to smoosh the cockroaches in the corners. Just kidding.

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      Renz Kristofer Cheng 4 years ago from Manila

      @carrie I really had a blast writing and researching for this, and the facts gave me much amazement! Thanks for dropping by! Oh, and cool, you know some Filipino words!

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      Kept private 4 years ago from Northeast United States

      Very interesting hub! :) I do not like roaches...however I've always known they were created for a eco-purpose and very vital to the food chain. Thank you for giving us some cool facts! (some females mate once and be pregnant for the rest of their lives) that fact blew me away and appreciate being human even more. Have a great day Salamat.

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      WindexSavesLives 4 years ago

      I just spent an hour running away from a cockroach and decided to use Windex to kill it. It worked! Hope this helps...

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      Mel Carriere 4 years ago from San Diego California

      You are disgusting, Mr. Roach, but I find a strange attraction to things that are written about you. I really would like to snuff all of them out, but I realize that everything in nature has its ecological role, or significance as you say. Thank you for gathering these facts.

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      Astralrose 4 years ago from India

      All animals, including insects like cockroaches are beautiful creatures that also have rights to crawl YOUR world, too! Killing them is a selfish act from a being who is supposed to be far intelligent than them!

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      James 4 years ago

      Horrible filthy insects! Yuck

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      Renz Kristofer Cheng 4 years ago from Manila

      Now that's pretty interesting, wltw ! And I guess I could update this hub with that kind of information! :)

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      wltw 4 years ago from Northern Maine

      I heard the cockroach is actually the first cousin to the lobster on the zoological scale. It's easy to see who the black sheep of the family is.

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      tattuwurn 4 years ago

      They can survive amazingly, even from nuclear radiation... but still fall dead from a mere spray of insecticide. hehehehe

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      Renz Kristofer Cheng 5 years ago from Manila

      It really does make cockroaches more fascinating. Thanks for dropping by KDuBarry03! :)

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      KDuBarry03 5 years ago

      Wow, I knew cockroaches were great survivors but I would have never known about their possible medical usages. Huh, very interesting!

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      Renz Kristofer Cheng 5 years ago from Manila

      That's another interesting trivia. I'll try to confirm that one, and perhaps update it.

      I guess, being dirty is a matter of perspectives. For roaches, the see themselves clean, while we view them otherwise. Truly is it fascinating! Thanks for dropping by idigwebsites!

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      idigwebsites 5 years ago from United States

      Yes, they've survived radiation, but they still die from just a spray of an insecticide.

      I've read somewhere that although roaches have the reputation of being dirty, they are actually fastidious little creatures, they clean themselves in a manner like cats do. They are clean. Hahaha.

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      Renz Kristofer Cheng 5 years ago from Manila

      Thanks Ruchi for dropping by this hub about cockroaches. Yup, I was also surprised when I read it, but I believe it has still not been proven yet. And I myself, wouldn't dare to try it. Well, who would right? :))

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      Ruchi Urvashi 5 years ago from Singapore

      Great information about cockroaches..I like the part cockroach medical tea but I will not try it for sure..thanks for unique information!

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      Renz Kristofer Cheng 5 years ago from Manila

      Thanks for the insightful comment Green Bard! You seem to have grown fond of these creatures. That's nice!

      How does it feel to have them as pets? I'm just curious. :)

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      Steve Andrews 5 years ago from Tenerife

      I actually like cockroaches and used to keep Madagascan Hissing ones as pets when I lived in Cardiff. Here in Tenerife there are roaches all over the place and most people kill them with insecticide. I catch them an throw them out. I have noted that they are social creatures and gather in groups but I don't know how they do this.

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      Jhudah 5 years ago

      haha that is so funny and so true. when the cockroach is in flight run for your lives! LOL

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      Renz Kristofer Cheng 5 years ago from Manila

      I hate to admit it, but yes! When that happens, I usually don't know what to do. That's why I end up hiding from it by going to another room (if it's inside our home), and running away (if it's outside).

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      Jhudah 5 years ago

      Cool cockroach facts haha. Cockroaches are scarier when they are flying.

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      Renz Kristofer Cheng 5 years ago from Manila

      @Sally's Trove Yeah. These creatures are pretty much interesting.

      @Melissa Smith I really appreciate your comment! The reason why I included that portion is because others would find the information useful. Also, these are still additional facts about these creatures. However, it does not mean that I condemn them. I hope you understand my point of view. Thanks again Melissa! :)

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      Sherri 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      More about roaches than I wanted to know! Indeed, they are survivors, but far from pretty little creatures, IMHO. I guess we still have a lot to learn from them. They've been around a lot longer than humans, and I'm guessing they know more than we do about survival. Still, I'd go to every length to get them out of my house.

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      Melissa A Smith 5 years ago from New York

      I think cockroaches are beautiful. Thanks for writing some positive things about this group of animals for once. Such a shame that you had to typically demote your hub in talking about killing them.