Cockroach Strategies

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Science  19 Dec 2008:
Vol. 322, Issue 5909, pp. 1758
DOI: 10.1126/science.322.5909.1758c

Household cockroaches, which in northern climes are most often Periplaneta americana or Blattella germanica, are much maligned as pests despite their fascinating neurobiology. They are also survivors par excellence—as anyone who has tried to swat one well knows, the cockroach skitters away in some unexpected direction and disappears out of sight. The choice of escape trajectory must be sufficiently variable so that a predator cannot learn to predict which way the prey will run. Yet the range of potential trajectories should also exclude, in a nonrandom manner, running toward the source of danger. Domenici et al. determined which bearing cockroaches chose by recording multiple escape trajectories of five P. Americana individuals in response to a wind stimulus (perhaps somewhat similar to the bow wave of a rapidly approaching rolled-up newspaper). They found that the wily little insects first turned away, and then raced along one of four preferred trajectories, of approximately 90°, 120°, 150°, and 180° relative to the stimulus, and that these results were representative of the experimental cockroach colony (86 residents). Radial coordinate analysis of previously published escape data revealed similar, though not identical, preferred escape trajectories. Though these routes are not random and are limited in number, they clearly suffice for the cockroach to live another day. — GR

Curr. Biol. 18, 1792 (2008).

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