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

Renz is a blogger, writer and content creator for half a decade in the Philippines.

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 look at numerous fabulous facts about cockroaches.

Why Do Cockroaches Die on Their Backs?

Because cockroaches have bulky bodies that are composed of three heavy segments supported by only six long, thin legs, they often involuntarily roll onto their backs when they die. This happens because at the time of death they lose muscle control, causing their leg muscles to contract and tuck underneath their bodies. Without anything to hold them to the ground, their top-heavy bodies topple over and they die belly up, on their backs.

Usually, only cockroaches that have been killed with insecticide die on their backs. This is because insecticide affects the nervous system, causing different enzymes to build up in the cockroach. These enzymes often cause muscle spasms, and with their already top-heavy body, they almost always end up lying on their backs at their time of death.

In nature, cockroaches mostly die as a result of being eaten. If a cockroach accidentally rolls over in nature, there is usually some debris (sticks, leaves, dirt) they can grab onto to right themselves. But cockroaches living in homes often find themselves in a tough situation if they roll over on a linoleum, or otherwise smooth, surface. After futile efforts to right themselves, they become exhausted and die.

It is important to remember that cockroaches do not always die on their backs, but with such top-heavy bodies, this is usually the case, especially when it comes to cockroaches that are living in homes or that have been sprayed with insecticide.

Why Do Cockroaches Come Out to Die?

It is not entirely clear why most roaches seem to expose themselves before dying. Unlike many animals that prefer to find secluded crevices when they feel they are close to death, cockroaches have been reported on many occasions to migrate to the center of a room before dying.

In one account, dying cockroaches would gravitate toward the center of a homeowner's living room after being doused with insecticide days earlier. In order to avoid stepping on them, the homeowner would kick them aside. When the homeowner came back hours later to collect the dead bodies, he found that the half-alive cockroaches had made their way to the center of the room again before dying.

One theory that attempts to explain why cockroaches behave this way is that the cockroaches are disoriented and plagued with muscle spasms after being sprayed with insecticide. This might cause them to confusedly make their way out of their hiding places and into the open.

Can Cockroaches Play Dead?

Cockroaches can, indeed, play dead. Many have reported seeing cockroaches stay completely still (sometimes even roll onto their backs) until a human presence or threat has gone away. Once they detect the coast is clear, the cockroach will flip back onto its feet and scuttle away to safety.

Cockroaches are also known to be able to hold their breath for up to 40 minutes. This skill makes them extremely good actors when it comes to playing dead. In a Mythbusters experiment testing if a cockroach could drown, the sample cockroaches appeared dead after being submerged in water for 30 minutes. However, the next day, all of the supposedly "dead" cockroaches were alive.

Mythbusters' Drowning Cockroaches Experiment (Video)

Do Cockroaches Die If You Step on Them?

Yes, you can kill a cockroach by stepping on it.

A myth exists that says if you step on a cockroach, you may break its egg case and release a hoard of baby cockroaches. While this is certainly possible, most of the time the force of a foot coming down on a cockroach will kill it and all of its babies too, assuming it is carrying any.

In any case, stepping on a cockroach will kill it, but you should keep in mind that if you see a cockroach, stepping on it does not mean your cockroach problem is over and done with. Cockroaches are social creatures, which means that if you see one, there are most likely many more nearby.

The best way to eliminate cockroaches is using aerosols and insecticides that take care of cockroach infestations in one fell swoop.

How Long Does It Take for a Cockroach to Die After Being Sprayed With Insecticide?

The length of time a cockroach, or cockroach infestation, can survive after being treated with an insecticide varies based on the extermination method and the scale of the cockroach infestation.

Usually, cockroaches die within minutes of being sprayed. At first, they move about in panic. Shortly after, the poison begins to affect their nervous systems. Once the poison has entered their bodies, the cockroaches will simply writhe about until they die.

Why Are They Called "Cockroaches?"

The term cockroach comes 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, eat and defile with their ill-scented dung."

This term "caca" was replaced by the English term associated with the rooster, "cock," resulting in the term "cockrootch." Finally, this led to the name we know them by today: the cockroach.

What Role Do Cockroaches Play in the Ecosystem?

Cockroaches play a vital role in the process of decomposition, an essential part of any ecosystem. Through their decomposing bodies water, nutrients, and energy is recycled back into the ecosystem from decaying plants, animals, and organic matter. Through this process, cockroaches fortify the soil with nutrients that plants rely on. Without them, this cycle might be impaired. Their eradication could end up damaging the entire ecosystem we live in. Cockroaches also play an important part in the food chain, and might also participate in pollination.

Have Cockroaches Contributed to the Medical Field?

Cockroaches were historically ground up, boiled, and used as medicines that treated asthma, strokes, bronchitis, and problems with urinary retention. Some homeopathic doctors even make and drank boiled cockroach tea 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. There are also a few books on the market that question whether cockroaches might someday play a part in the field of dermatology.

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 chemicals and radiation on nerves.

What Is the Best Way To Kill Cockroaches?

Cockroaches are known to be great survivors. One of the greatest myths about cockroaches is that they can survive a nuclear explosions. While untrue, this myth hints at the reputation cockroaches have gained for themselves as hard-to-kill insects, Still, this creature is 100% killable if you choose the right plan of attack.

The cockroach's weak spot is its appetite. The trick is to get them to eat pesticide or insecticide. There are many "cockroach baits" on the market, but one of the best ways to naturally treat a cockroach infestation is with boric acid (or borax). This mineral is just as fatal to cockroaches as insecticides. Simply mix it with flour and spread it across your home for a natural solution to your cockroach problem.

More Facts About Cockroaches

  • 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 3 km/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 last up to 30 minutes (or more) underwater.
  • Most species live in the tropics (like the Philippines).
  • They love glue. It might be their favorite food.
  • They like alcoholic beverages, including beer.
  • 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. The hairs provide them with a sense of touch.
  • Some female cockroaches mate only once and become pregnant for the rest of their lives.
  • Cockroaches can basically eat anything due to the presence of various bacteria and protozoa in their digestive system.

Questions & Answers

Question: Why is it that when I try to kill a cockroach, and miss, a couple minutes later it comes after me?

Answer: Based on recent findings as featured in BBC Nature, cockroaches are turning out to be more sophisticated than we thought. They also tend to have emotions. Also, when insects, just like most animals, feel that they are being threatened, they tend to protect themselves. Thus, they seem like they are trying to take revenge on you.

Question: Do roaches gather dead roaches?

Answer: Cockroaches seem to have a sense of companionship which may explain why they might come back to dead comrades.

Question: How can you save a cockroach from death?

Answer: Interesting question. It depends on what is causing the roach to die. If it has ingested/inhaled insecticide, you may wash it with water. It can be too late, though, but it's worth trying. Normally, cockroaches die of thirst, so giving water also helps.

Now, if you accidentally stepped on it, there might be no way of saving the roach, except leaving it alone to recover, hopefully (or not).

Question: Why wouldn't the bathroom sink soap not kill cockroaches?

Answer: The contents of the soap are not toxic for cockroaches. There are a lot of chemicals which cockroaches can survive when doused. Only specific chemical such as boric acid can get them down.

Question: Does bleach or bleach-based products kill cockroaches?

Answer: Bleach may kill cockroaches only when ingested. Spraying over may take a while for the bleach to be ingested, hence this may not be as effective as other pesticides such as boric acid.

Question: How long can cockroaches be on their backs until they die?

Answer: That depends on what made them fall on their backs. Usually, they die right before they flip. If you use a bug spray, the time it wiggles on its back would depend on the strength and amount of spray.

On the other hand, when it just lands on its back perhaps upon force or by "accident," they'll crawl again as soon as it regains balance. So beware.

Question: Do cockroaches grow a line every year they are alive?

Answer: That would be fascinating had it been true, but there isn't enough evidence that points to this.

Question: Will cockroaches die if they are flushed down the toilet?

Answer: Chances are, they won't. Cockroaches can survive drowning which is what may happen when you flush them down the toilet. Eventually, they'll crawl on the sewers and continue living.

Question: Do cockroaches have cannibalism tendency?

Answer: Yes. Cockroaches' survival instincts tend to give them their cannibalistic traits. It is normally exhibited whenever there is scarcity of food and/or they are controlling their population size.

© 2012 Renz Kristofer Cheng

Comments

Matt Kramer on March 31, 2020:

I keep an old dish soap bottle half full of soapy water. When I see a cockroach in the kitchen (I never see them in the rest of the apartment) I grab the bottle and spray the bug. It might run for a few seconds but eventually it stops, rolls over and begins to die.

Jazzlynn on March 25, 2020:

Because cockroaches have bulky bodies that are composed of three heavy segments.

Charmaine on October 30, 2019:

Try bleach it works trust me !! In a spray bottle add a little water if its to strong ,spray all corners of cabinets including inside even the trim on your floor if you an ,anywhere you want them to stay away if you can just remember it is bleach and it will ruin stuff so be careful and be persistent with it as well an also you have to keep a clean house never leave food out in the open or dirty dishes in your sink and dry all water up on your sink and counters . And if you have the time to do this kind of method to your home the i promise you will definitely see a huge difference !! Try it you'll see and good luck !!

Not so original on June 29, 2019:

I hate the fact that I now know what medicine for asthma is. I have asthma and knowing this gives me goosebumps.

Katrina on June 07, 2019:

@Carmen. Great Story!

Carmen Arevalo on March 19, 2019:

Hated them with passion since I was a little girl...someone had to come running to kill them. I panic still at the sight of one but I have to admit listening to a scientist stating that roaches understand and have emotions...so I tried one of his experiments. When I saw a roach drinking soapy water I spoke to it in a soft tone of voice. It stopped and looked up at me...I gave it clean water and it came over and drank from it. I saw the roach every morning in the same spot in the bathroom cabinate. Spoke to it. One day my grandson killed it. It was so sad. This it a true story.

Nelson on January 27, 2018:

I wake up every night and there is always dead cockroaches in my house. Please how does this happen because it's been a long time since I used a pesticide in my house

Kitty Bear on October 25, 2017:

Me thinks the mother came up, carried it away, & gave it new life

Kitty Bear on October 25, 2017:

I just don't understand how u can slay the head of the dragon, yet next hour it somehow disappears...although there was no wind, no rain, no fire. Yet that damn thing just goes & walk off like nothing's wrong. Damn.

RaQueraccoon on October 13, 2017:

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

Jonathan on September 22, 2017:

Cockroaches-Nature's badass survivor of the apocalypse

Dipanku on September 11, 2017:

good article

Renz Kristofer Cheng (author) from Manila on July 27, 2017:

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

Jay on June 11, 2017:

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

KENNETH on May 21, 2017:

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

Meh on April 07, 2017:

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

Renz Kristofer Cheng (author) from Manila on March 02, 2017:

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

linda on February 26, 2017:

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

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on August 02, 2016:

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...

Julie Brown on August 02, 2016:

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!!!

Renz Kristofer Cheng (author) from Manila on June 03, 2016:

Thank you for appreciating the article, Gloria Crook!

Gloria Crook on June 03, 2016:

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.

Tess on November 10, 2015:

@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

Josh on October 18, 2015:

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?

K Dro on July 19, 2015:

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.

Renz Kristofer Cheng (author) from Manila on January 28, 2015:

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

Meinukey on January 26, 2015:

My entire body is itching as I read this.

Renz Kristofer Cheng (author) from Manila on September 20, 2014:

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

mindy on September 20, 2014:

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

Renz Kristofer Cheng (author) from Manila on September 19, 2014:

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

Bill from Greensburg Pennsylvania on September 19, 2014:

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

Renz Kristofer Cheng (author) from Manila on August 31, 2014:

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.

Yves on August 31, 2014:

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.

Renz Kristofer Cheng (author) from Manila on August 26, 2014:

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

Susanna Duffy from Melbourne Australia on August 26, 2014:

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

Renz Kristofer Cheng (author) from Manila on August 19, 2014:

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!

Minnie from Miami, FL on August 19, 2014:

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).

Marcy J. Miller from Arizona on April 26, 2014:

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

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on March 08, 2014:

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.

Renz Kristofer Cheng (author) from Manila on October 24, 2013:

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

Renz Kristofer Cheng (author) from Manila on October 24, 2013:

@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!

Sally Branche from Only In Texas! on October 23, 2013:

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

FlourishAnyway from USA on October 23, 2013:

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.

Renz Kristofer Cheng (author) from Manila on October 03, 2013:

@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!

Carrie Lee Night from Northeast United States on October 03, 2013:

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.

WindexSavesLives on July 18, 2013:

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

Mel Carriere from San Diego California on July 05, 2013:

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.

Rham Dhel from India on April 25, 2013:

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!

James on March 25, 2013:

Horrible filthy insects! Yuck

Renz Kristofer Cheng (author) from Manila on January 10, 2013:

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

wltw from Northern Maine on January 10, 2013:

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.

tattuwurn on November 12, 2012:

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

Renz Kristofer Cheng (author) from Manila on October 19, 2012:

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

KDuBarry03 on October 19, 2012:

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

Renz Kristofer Cheng (author) from Manila on September 06, 2012:

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!

idigwebsites from United States on September 06, 2012:

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.

Renz Kristofer Cheng (author) from Manila on August 12, 2012:

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? :))

Ruchi Urvashi from Singapore on August 12, 2012:

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

Renz Kristofer Cheng (author) from Manila on July 25, 2012:

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. :)

Steve Andrews from Tenerife on July 25, 2012:

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.

Jhudah on June 10, 2012:

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

Renz Kristofer Cheng (author) from Manila on June 10, 2012:

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).

Jhudah on June 10, 2012:

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

Renz Kristofer Cheng (author) from Manila on April 29, 2012:

@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! :)

Sherri from Southeastern Pennsylvania on April 28, 2012:

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.

Melissa A Smith from New York on April 28, 2012:

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.