What If We Killed All Cockroaches?

This bug can survive anything, except maybe the bottom of your shoe. But what would happen if we squished every cockroach on Earth? How would this affect the food chain? Would it get rid of major diseases? Or is their poop the key to our future? Ugh, I hope not.

You may think of cockroaches as creepy, disease-ridden, trash-eating, disgusting little…I’m sorry. Where was I going with this? The point is, these bugs are more than bird food. They might be gross, but they play a massive part in our planet’s survival. Like every animal, cockroaches have a purpose. And without these vermin running around, what would happen to our forests?

Cockroaches only live up to 180 days. But in those few months, they can grow to over 5 cm (2 in) long. Despite their short lives, these creatures are born survivors. Don’t be fooled by that urban legend, though. While some cockroaches could survive nuclear fallout, they couldn’t survive the blast. And without any living organisms to provide waste, they wouldn’t last long. But they can live 30 minutes underwater and even survive being flattened by your shoe. But if we squish a bit harder and kill every cockroach on the planet, we also might crush some severe sicknesses.

While cockroaches aren’t known to bite, their legs can cause severe damage. These sharp spines can scratch you, leaving behind bacteria that could seep into your body. And when they run across your food, they could drop off salmonella, cholera or make you sick with diarrhea. Without these insects hiding in the shadows, we could prevent some illnesses from spreading around the world.

But our bliss wouldn’t last long. Because as gross and painful as diarrhea can be, our environment needs that poop. No, not yours. Let me explain. You see, cockroaches eat dead and decaying organic matter. And their feces emit nitrogen, which soil absorbs and distributes to plants and trees. If this significant source of nitrogen disappeared, our forests could eventually die out. And the trees wouldn’t be the only ones starving.

Birds and rats depend on cockroaches for their daily meals. Without roaches, these species could experience considerable losses. And the domino effect could kill off the predators that eat birds and rats, like coyotes, cats and larger birds of prey. And while you might think your life was miserable with cockroaches, it could be a lot shorter without them.

Scientists in China have made profound advancements in understanding the proteins found in cockroaches. They discovered that potions made from these bugs could help heal damaged skin and the outer membranes of your organs. Cockroach farms even provide proteins for livestock and some humans. Losing every cockroach could set back years of medical science and starve animals and humans alike. Wait, cockroach farms, that’s a thing?

Cockroaches, as disgusting as they seem, keep our planet fed and our soil fertile. Losing all these nasty little creatures could destroy our environment’s delicate balance. But don’t let your tolerance for insects get out of hand. It may come back to bite you. Like, what if you were stung by one million mosquitoes? Grab the repellent because that’s a story for another WHAT IF.

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