by Don Corrigan
In any insect popularity contest, cockroaches always are near the bottom of the barrel. Cockroaches may rate more favorably than black widow spiders or tsetse flies, but they are generally loathed by most Americans.
All is not lost for the lowly cockroaches, however. Recently they have gained some cachet as lead characters in promotions, benefits and charitable causes. Celebrity cockroaches have arrived, like it or not.
San Antonio Zoo in Texas has a “Cry Me a Cockroach” fundraiser. The Bronx Zoo in New York has a “Name a Roach” program. The El Paso Zoo has a “Quit Bugging Me” fundraiser and the Lone Star State zoo director will even eat cockroaches as benchmark contribution goals get met.
St. Louis, Missouri, got in on the roach promotion lollapalooza this February with cockroach presents for Valentine’s Day via the M. Sachs Butterfly House. For $25, you could use the Cameo app on the internet to have the Butterfly House name a cockroach after your sweetheart – or your worst enemy – for a Valentine’s present.
The package included a three-minute video, delivered over the app, featuring a live roach and a dedication delivered online. Butterfly House insect expert Chris Hartley described the gift as quick, educational, interesting and unique. If you are tired of going the route of flowers and chocolate – why not a cockroach?
That’s easy for Hartley to say. He’s been handling the little beasts for almost a dozen Valentine seasons. The science education coordinator for the Butterfly House said it’s time for these arthropods to get in on the amorous action, but he admits that not everybody is gaga over a ca-ca roach.
“Yes, some people think they are ugly,” said Hartley. “Many people are frightened that cockroaches will get into their homes. People need to understand that 99% of cockroaches have no interest in living in your home. They want to be in the forest where they do a lot of good.
Cockroach Public Relations
Hartley is dedicated to doing public relations for the infamous insects that are occasionally dismissed as dumpster sharks, park-town prawns and ca-ca roaches. This nastiness may be traced to characters like Hollywood’s Al Pacino in “Scarface” who dissed rival gangsters as “ca-ca roaches.”
“Cockroaches are misunderstood,” said Hartley. “I know people come to the Butterfly House to see the pretty butterflies, but there are other insects here and some cockroaches are real beauties. They have intricate designs on their backs in many colors. They can be cute.”
Hartley noted that leggy, lovable cockroaches can be environmentalists’ best friends. He said there are about 4,000 different species of cockroaches. Only about 40 species should be considered as pests. And cockroaches serve as food for other creatures and they can be good for the environment.
“Cockroaches clean the planet,” explained Hartley. “They eat decaying material. The forests would be piled high with leaves and debris, if it were not for the appetites of cockroaches. They also transform the decaying matter into organic material that allows plants to grow.”
Even if you cannot convince yourself that cockroaches are your friends, then you should consider that they were here first – 350 million years ago. So, they can stake a legitimate claim to the planet. And, cockroaches are very likely to outlast human beings as this lovely planet’s favored inhabitants.
Hartley said he has always had a “soft spot for cockroaches.” The Butterfly House’s Valentine’s gift offer could become an annual tradition to soften hard hearts that are closed to cockroaches. Yet, Hartley doubts that many people will come to love cockroaches so much that they could eat them.
“They are eaten in some parts of the world, but I doubt Americans will be eating cockroaches any time soon,” noted Hartley. “They are kind of gamey. They are fatty and they have a lot of flavor, but it’s a flavor that can be off-putting for most people.
“They are not like crickets or meal worms,” added Hartley. “Crickets have a nice texture and are crunchy. When they are roasted, they have a more subtle, nutty taste.”
Hartley is less concerned with getting cockroach cuisine on your dinner plate, and much more interested in fostering a greater understanding of plants and animals in our environment. He said cockroaches are social, great communicators and seldom need to go to marriage counselors. That’s something to think about next Valentine’s Day.