Science  08 Feb 2013:
Vol. 339, Issue 6120, pp. 634
  1. Comb Your Antennae


    Counterintuitively, perhaps, cockroaches are quite fastidious, especially when it comes to their antennae, which the insects clean often, grabbing one with a front leg and drawing it through their mouths. Now, at last, we know why: When restrained or prevented from grooming, American cockroaches develop a shiny, waxy buildup on the antennae that clogs the tiny pores that lead to odor-sensing cells. Measurements of the electrical activity in those cells in response to sex-attractant and food odors showed that the gunk interferes with the roach's sense of smell, the team reported online on 4 February in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The insects appear to produce wax continuously, likely to keep from drying out, and grooming helps remove the excess wax as well as dust and other foreign chemicals that land on the antennae and get trapped in the gunk. When they can't groom, carpenter ants, houseflies, and German cockroaches also suffer from gunk overload, suggesting that fastidiousness is widespread.

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