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Concept: Cockroach


Many cockroach species have adapted to urban environments, and some have been serious pests of public health in the tropics and subtropics. Here, we present the 3.38-Gb genome and a consensus gene set of the American cockroach, Periplaneta americana. We report insights from both genomic and functional investigations into the underlying basis of its adaptation to urban environments and developmental plasticity. In comparison with other insects, expansions of gene families in P. americana exist for most core gene families likely associated with environmental adaptation, such as chemoreception and detoxification. Multiple pathways regulating metamorphic development are well conserved, and RNAi experiments inform on key roles of 20-hydroxyecdysone, juvenile hormone, insulin, and decapentaplegic signals in regulating plasticity. Our analyses reveal a high level of sequence identity in genes between the American cockroach and two termite species, advancing it as a valuable model to study the evolutionary relationships between cockroaches and termites.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Genome, Insect, Cockroach, Termite, Cockroaches


Dinosaurs undoubtedly produced huge quantities of excrements. But who cleaned up after them? Dung beetles and flies with rapid development were rare during most of the Mesozoic. Candidates for these duties are extinct cockroaches (Blattulidae), whose temporal range is associated with herbivorous dinosaurs. An opportunity to test this hypothesis arises from coprolites to some extent extruded from an immature cockroach preserved in the amber of Lebanon, studied using synchrotron X-ray microtomography. 1.06% of their volume is filled by particles of wood with smooth edges, in which size distribution directly supports their external pre-digestion. Because fungal pre-processing can be excluded based on the presence of large particles (combined with small total amount of wood) and absence of damages on wood, the likely source of wood are herbivore feces. Smaller particles were broken down biochemically in the cockroach hind gut, which indicates that the recent lignin-decomposing termite and cockroach endosymbionts might have been transferred to the cockroach gut upon feeding on dinosaur feces.

Concepts: Insect, Plant, Beetle, Feces, Cretaceous, Cockroach, Dinosaur, Dung beetle


We conducted a laboratory study to determine the impact of ground-applied termiticides on the above-ground foraging behavior of Coptotermes formosanus. Two concentrations (1 and 10 ppm) each of three termiticides, viz. fipronil, imidacloprid and chlorantraniliprole, were tested. After one month post-treatment (fipronil 10 ppm was run for 12 days only and all other treatments were run for one month), fipronil had the lowest percentage of survival (3%-4%) at both concentrations. Termite survival ranged from 31% to 40% in the case of imidacloprid treatments and 10 ppm chlorantraniliprole. However, 1 ppm chlorantraniliprole did not cause significant mortality compared to the controls. Foraging on the bottom substrate was evident in all replicates for all chemicals initially. However, a portion of the foraging population avoided the ground treatment toxicants after several days of bottom foraging. Only the slower-acting non-repellents created this repellent barrier, causing avoidance behavior that was most likely due to dead termites and fungus buildup on the treated bottom substrate. Fipronil appeared more toxic and faster acting at the concentrations tested, thus limiting this repellent effect. Suggestions by the pest control industry in Louisiana that some non-repellents can create a repellent barrier stranding live termites above ground are supported by this laboratory study.

Concepts: Cellulose, Cockroach, Imidacloprid, Termite, Termites, Invasive animal species, Formosan subterranean termite, Fipronil


Insecticide resistance in German cockroaches (Blattella germanica (L.)) has been a barrier to effective control since its first documentation in the 1950s. A necessary first step toward managing resistance is to understand insecticide susceptibility profiles in field-collected strains so that active ingredients (AIs) with lowest resistance levels can be identified. As a first step in this study, diagnostic concentrations (DCs) were determined for 14 insecticide AIs based on lethal concentrations that killed 99% or 90% of the individuals from a susceptible lab strain (JWax-S). Next, cockroaches were collected from two low-income multifamily housing complexes in Danville, IL, and Indianapolis, IN, and used to establish laboratory strains. These strains were screened against the 14 AI-DCs in vial bioassays, and susceptibility profiles were determined by comparing percent mortalities between the field strains relative to the JWax-S strain. Results revealed lowest resistance of field strains to boric acid, abamectin, dinotefuran, clothianidin, thiamethoxam, and chlorfenapyr. For the AIs hydramethylnon and imidacloprid, field strains did not display survivorship different than the lab strain, but >90% mortality was never achieved. Lastly, both field strains displayed resistance to indoxacarb, fipronil, acetamiprid, beta-cyfluthrin, bifenthrin, and lambda-cyhalothrin, but at varying levels. These results satisfy two objectives. First, baseline monitoring DCs were established for 14 insecticides presently registered for use against cockroaches, which represents a useful resource. Second, our findings reveal insecticide AIs with lowest resistance levels for use in forthcoming field studies that will investigate impacts of different insecticide deployment strategies on resistance management and evolution in cockroach field populations.

Concepts: Pesticide, Boric acid, Insecticide, Cockroach, Insecticides, Neonicotinoid, Cockroaches, German cockroach


Aggregation of the German cockroach, Blattella germanica, is regulated by fecal aggregation agents (pheromones), including volatile carboxylic acids (VCAs). We demonstrate that the gut microbial community contributes to production of these semiochemicals. Chemical analysis of the fecal extract of B. germanica revealed 40 VCAs. Feces from axenic cockroaches (no microorganisms in the alimentary tract) lacked 12 major fecal VCAs, and 24 of the remaining compounds were represented at extremely low amounts. Olfactory and aggregation bioassays demonstrated that nymphs strongly preferred the extract of control feces over the fecal extract of axenic cockroaches. Additionally, nymphs preferred a synthetic blend of 6 fecal VCAs over a solvent control or a previously identified VCA blend. To test whether gut bacteria contribute to the production of fecal aggregation agents, fecal aerobic bacteria were cultured, isolated, and identified. Inoculation of axenic cockroaches with individual bacterial taxa significantly rescued the aggregation response to the fecal extract, and inoculation with a mix of six bacterial isolates was more effective than with single isolates. The results indicate that the commensal gut microbiota contributes to production of VCAs that act as fecal aggregation agents and that cockroaches discriminate among the complex odors that emanate from a diverse microbial community. Our results highlight the pivotal role of gut bacteria in mediating insect-insect communication. Moreover, because the gut microbial community reflects the local environment, local plasticity in fecal aggregation pheromones enables colony-specific odors and fidelity to persistent aggregation sites.

Concepts: Archaea, Bacteria, Gut flora, Microbiology, Feces, Microorganism, Cockroach, Cockroaches


Facultative parthenogenesis, seen in many animal phyla, is a reproductive strategy in which females are able to generate offspring when mating partners are unavailable. In some subsocial and eusocial insects, parthenogenesis is often more prevalent than sexual reproduction. However, little is known about how social cooperation is linked to the promotion of parthenogenesis. The domiciliary cockroach Periplaneta americana is well-suited to addressing this issue as this species belongs to the superfamily Blattoidea, which diverged into eusocial termites and shows facultative parthenogenesis.

Concepts: Human, Male, Reproduction, Asexual reproduction, Sexual reproduction, Cockroach, Parthenogenesis, Termite


Many legged animals change gaits when increasing speed. In insects, only one gait change has been documented so far, from slow walking to fast running, which is characterised by an alternating tripod. Studies on some fast-running insects suggested a further gait change at higher running speeds. Apart from speed, insect gaits and leg co-ordination have been shown to be influenced by substrate properties, but the detailed effects of speed and substrate on gait changes are still unclear. Here we investigate high-speed locomotion and gait changes of the cockroach Nauphoeta cinerea, on two substrates of different slipperiness.

Concepts: Insect, Arthropod, Animal, Running, Walking, Gait, Locomotion, Cockroach


Knowing the functionality and capabilities of masticatory apparatuses is essential for the ecological classification of jawed organisms. Nevertheless insects, especially with their outstanding high species number providing an overwhelming morphological diversity, are notoriously underexplored with respect to maximum bite forces and their dependency on the mandible opening angles. Aiming for a general understanding of insect biting, we examined the generalist feeding cockroach Periplaneta americana, characterized by its primitive chewing mouth parts. We measured active isometric bite forces and passive forces caused by joint resistance over the entire mandibular range with a custom-built 2D force transducer. The opening angle of the mandibles was quantified by using a video system. With respect to the effective mechanical advantage of the mandibles and the cross-section areas, we calculated the forces exerted by the mandible closer muscles and the corresponding muscle stress values. Comparisons with the scarce data available revealed close similarities of the cockroaches' mandible closer stress values (58 N/cm2) to that of smaller specialist carnivorous ground beetles, but strikingly higher values than in larger stag beetles. In contrast to available datasets our results imply the activity of faster and slower muscle fibres, with the latter becoming active only when the animals chew on tough material which requires repetitive, hard biting. Under such circumstances the coactivity of fast and slow fibres provides a force boost which is not available during short-term activities, since long latencies prevent a specific effective employment of the slow fibres in this case.

Concepts: Insect, Mandible, Force, Beetle, Cockroach, Blattidae, Cockroaches, American cockroach


Food resources contaminated with spoilage or pathogenic microorganisms pose severe problems to all higher organisms. Here, we describe a food-hygienic strategy of the emerald cockroach wasp Ampulex compressa. The wasp larvae develop on and inside the American cockroach Periplaneta americana, a host that can harbor various putrefactive microbes, as well as human and insect pathogens. From P. americana, we isolated the Gram-negative bacterium Serratia marcescens, which is a potent entomopathogen that can rapidly kill insect larvae. It is also known as a food contaminant and as an opportunistic human pathogen. Using behavioral observations and chemical analyses, we demonstrated that A. compressa larvae impregnate their cockroach hosts from inside with large amounts of an oral secretion containing a blend of γ-lactones and isocoumarins with ®-(-)-mellein [®-(-)-3,4-diydro-8-hydroxy-3-methylisocoumarin] and micromolide [(4R,9Z)-octadec-9-en-4-olide] as dominant components. We fractionated hexane extracts of the secretion and investigated the antimicrobial properties of the fraction containing the lactones and isocoumarins, as well as of synthetic ®-(-)-mellein and micromolide, against S. marcescens and a Gram-positive bacterium, Staphylococcus hyicus, in broth microdilution assays. The test fraction inhibited growth of both tested bacteria. The activity of the fraction against S. marcescens was explained by ®-(-)-mellein alone, and the activity against S. hyicus was explained by the combined action of ®-(-)-mellein and micromolide. Our data suggest that the specific combination of antimicrobials in the larval secretion provides an effective frontline defense against the unpredictable spectrum of microbes that A. compressa larvae may encounter during their development inside their cockroach hosts.

Concepts: Bacteria, Microbiology, Insect, Larva, Pathogen, Microorganism, Gram-negative bacteria, Cockroach


Grooming, a common behavior in animals, serves the important function of removing foreign materials from body surfaces. When antennal grooming was prevented in the American cockroach, Periplaneta americana, field emission gun scanning electron microscopy images revealed that an unstructured substance accumulated on nongroomed antennae, covering sensillar pores, but not on groomed antennae of the same individuals. Gas chromatography analysis of antennal extracts showed that over a 24-h period nongroomed antennae accumulated three to four times more cuticular hydrocarbons than groomed antennae. Moreover, nongroomed antennae accumulated significantly more environmental contaminants from surfaces (stearic acid) and from air (geranyl acetate) than groomed antennae. We hypothesized that the accumulation of excess native cuticular hydrocarbons on the antennae would impair olfactory reception. Electroantennogram experiments and single-sensillum recordings supported this hypothesis: antennae that were prevented from being groomed were significantly less responsive than groomed antennae to the sex pheromone component periplanone-B, as well as to the general odorants geranyl acetate and hexanol. We therefore conclude that antennal grooming removes excess native cuticular lipids and foreign chemicals that physically and/or chemically interfere with olfaction, and thus maintains the olfactory acuity of the antennae. Similar experimental manipulations of the German cockroach (Blattella germanica), carpenter ant (Camponotus pennsylvanicus), and the housefly (Musca domestica), which use different modes of antennal grooming, support the hypothesis that antennal grooming serves a similar function in a wide range of insect taxa.

Concepts: Insect, Experiment, Scanning electron microscope, Ant, Cockroach, Blattidae, Cockroaches, Carpenter ant