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What's cool about cockroaches?

Kianna Haskin
Vermont Public

That’s a question a lot of people have, honestly. But a kid named Rosie was bold enough to ask us to investigate why. So, in the latest episode, we dig in on why cockroaches get such a bad rap and why you might want to reconsider if you’re not a fan.

Only two percent of the world’s cockroaches are considered pests. Those are the ones that can live in houses and potentially make us sick. But the vast majority of cockroaches don’t bother humans at all! Some, like the social cockroach species known as termites, work to decompose organic material and are hugely important to our environment. So where do people learn negative attitudes toward insects? We dig deep into insects with Jessica Ware, an entomologist and curator at the American Museum of Natural History. She’s also the host of the PBS digital series Insectarium. Answers to your questions about cockroaches, termites, dragonflies, praying mantises and more!

Download our learning guides: PDF | Google Slide | Transcript

  • Only two percent of the world's cockroaches are considered pests. But they sometimes spread disease, infest people’s houses and even cause asthma. So it’s no wonder people don’t like them. 
  • However, there are about 7,000 species of cockroaches and many of them are hugely beneficial to our environment. Not only that, but they can be very beautiful.
  • Some species even produce a milk-like substance for their young (though they aren’t mammals!). They can mimic other species like ants and roly polys.
  • Cockroaches are decomposers. They break down leaf litter and aerate (add air) to the soil.
  • Termites are a type of social cockroach, meaning they cooperate in large groups and have a social system with a king, queen, workers and soldiers.
  • Termites use mandibles (mouth parts) to bite through wood. Some have very strong jaws and can cut through hardwood. Some termites can even incorporate metal from the environment into their mandibles to chew hard things. 
Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
Melody is the Contributing Editor for But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids and the co-author of two But Why books with Jane Lindholm.
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