Look What I Found! Exotic insects in the Houston area

I know I tend to “toot the horns” of the exotic insects that we have here at the Cockrell Butterfly Center. They really are incredible and most people, including myself (for now at least),would not get the chance to see these animals without traveling to their individual countries of origin. I must say, though, that Texas, and especially Houston, has some pretty cool bugs! I’m always amazed to see what kinds will pop up. We often get phone calls from people who have found interesting bugs around their homes. Most of the time I suggest leaving them be. I definitely believe that animals are happier in their natural habitats and I hate to keep something in captivity just for the heck of it. Sometimes, however, someone will find something that is useful for display purposes or just too dang cool to pass up!

This happened to us twice last week! First, a gentleman brought a Giant Sonoran Centipede (AKA Giant Redheaded) that he found at Canyon Lake. I love Canyon Lake! My family had a house out there when I was a child and I have many fond memories. None of them include finding anything like this!!

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Creative Commons License photo credit: emills1

 This guy was a little camera shy, but all you’re missing is a very menacing red-orange head! These centipedes are very common in West Texas and the Southwestern United States; occasionally, they are found in the hill country and sometimes even close to Houston.  I think it’s very important to teach people the difference between centipedes and millipedes and what better example is there? Centipedes can be dangerous – especially this one. They are predators capable of injecting venom with their fangs. Most centipedes are harmless to people, but because of its size and potent venom, this one can do some damage. They are not particularly aggressive, just don’t try to handle them, ouch!

Later in the week, two men called and tried to describe what they had found on their front porch. Several things went through my mind, but as usual, I had to see it to get a positive identification. What they brought me was something I’d never seen before here in Texas.  I had, however, seen something similar in Arizona, so I had a pretty good idea of what it was.

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Creative Commons License photo credit: emills1

 Meet the Hardwood Stump Borer. At first glance, most people mistake it for a cockroach. It is similar in size, shape, and color, but this is a type of longhorn beetle. The eggs are laid in hardwoods such as oak and sycamore. The larvae develop inside the wood, eating and growing for about 3 to 4 years. The pinchers are not just for show and can deliver a painful bite! My co-worker saw one of these at her daughter’s swim meet recently as well, so you may get lucky and see one yourself!

If you ever see a mysterious, incredible, beautiful, or odd bug that you’ve never seen before, please give us a ring or shoot us an e-mail. Even we are sometimes amazed at what kinds of bugs can be found in our own backyards. Until next time, happy bug watching!

Because One Roach Post Just Isn’t Enough

texas sized cockroach
Creative Commons License photo credit: sirtrentalot

In my previous post about roaches, I let you know that roaches are helpful to man even if you don’t want to snuggle with them. Now I would like to give you a few fun facts to let you know why they are kinda awesome. In no particular order:

  • Roaches are 340 million years old. That means that they were around even before the dinosaurs.
  • Roaches have amazing little bodies.  The antennae of a cockroach have more than 130 segments each and act as sensory organs for measuring temperature, motion and scent.  Each of their eyes has more than 2,000 compound lenses in addition to a simple eye spot.  Their ears are located in their knee joints.  Their blood is pigment-less and they have no veins or arteries.  Their blood simply flows through their body cavity.
  • Roaches can live several weeks without a head (if proper measures are taken to keep them from bleeding out) because they have two separate and distinct brains.  The first brain is in their head and is the “major” brain.  It deals with complex issues.  The second brain is in the tail and is a simple and “minor” brain.  This brain mostly deals with “RUN!” The nerves of roaches are also 10x faster than ordinary nerves.  This, in conjunction with their minor brain, keeps them several centimeters in front of your foot.
  • Speaking of brains… Roaches are slightly less smart than an octopus.  If you have ever met an octopus, that is saying quite a bit.
  • All of the 5 families of roaches have 4 things in common. 1) They have thick leathery forewings, 2) grasshopper like mouth parts designed for chewing, 3) simple life cycles (no caterpillar or cocoon, 4) and they all make ootheca – hard shelled capsules in which females deposit their eggs.
  • Roaches are in all 50 states and found on every land mass that falls 30 degrees north or south of the Equator.
  • Approximately 40 new species of roach are discovered each year.  The current number of roach species know hovers around 3,500.  Out of those 3,500, about 1.5% are considered domestic pests. For comparison, there are about 4,700 know species of mammals. 
  • There are 5 species of cockroach in the United States – the American, German, Smoky Brown, Oriental, and Brown Banned.  None of these is native to North America.
  • What’s in a name? Cockroach comes from the Greek blattae meaning “domestic pests.” The Romans changed things up slightly when they translated it to mean “pests that flee from light.”  But in fairness, the term included mice and other critters too. Also of note, until WWII, the German cockroach was called the French cockroach.  Hmm.
  • Aggressive behavior in male cockroaches, and I am not making this up, include “stilt walking,” body jerking, biting and kicking (much like the teenager of today).
  • Roaches can stand an obscene amount of radiation.  In humans, 300 rads can cause cellular level change.  400 to 1,000 rads over a 2- to 3-week period is lethal.  Experiments conducted in the 1960s showed adult, German cockroaches could survive a 6,400 rad dose. 
  • And finally, roaches don’t like cucumbers or tomatoes for some reason.  Check that out next time you are at your favorite buffet.
Roach
Creative Commons License photo credit: telethon



Your Friend: The Roach

A family out for a bite to eat.

A family out for a bite to eat.

Often dogs are credited as “man’s best friend,” but I beg to differ.  I offer you instead the humble roach. 

The usually and immediate reaction to the word “roach” (or the actual specimen) is disgust and panic.  I will fully admit that I don’t love them in our garage and that they give me the creeps when they skitter across the driveway, but I DO enjoy not being waste high in detritus.

Cockroaches are nature’s decomposers and are essential for returning nutrients to the soil.  They take one man’s trash – namely, yours - and turn it into little ecological treasures.

Additionally, roaches make tasty treats for reptiles, amphibians, fish, birds, other insects, and several mammals.  Not surprisingly, humans don’t love them (but have been known to eat them, though not frequently).  This is not because humans don’t like to eat bugs, but rather because of the particular taste of roaches which is similar to ammonia.  If you ever do decide to partake, know that they have three times as much protein as chicken.

Roaches are also good pollinators.  In fact, the first pollinators were beetles, not bees.  They are also the most frequently used speciments in the study of insect behavior, anatomy and physiology.

So in review, if you DON’T like being waste high in debris, but you DO like growing plants and eating, you must love the roach.

Eeeeeeeeeeewww, Roaches!!!!

In my line of work, I’ve come to know insects pretty well. I recognize the importance of each and every kind of insect and I love to teach the public about them. Insects help us infinitely more than they could ever harm us! The one poor soul that gets the most grief is a wonderful little organism known simply as the cockroach. Men squirm, women scream, and even some children turn up their nose at the mere thought of a cockroach! I spend a lot of my time here campaigning for these little guys and I’m here to clear up some misconceptions, and hopefully change some perceptions about these awesome insects!

Visitors of the Prayerful Sort
Creative Commons License photo credit:
Clearly Ambiguous

Let’s start with the basics; cockroaches are insects with 6 legs, 3 body parts, 1 pair of antennae, and sometimes, 2 pairs of wings. They belong to the order Blattodea. These insects are most closely related to termites and praying mantids which have been known as “specialized cockroaches.”

Did you know that there are about 4000 different species of cockroach worldwide? We’re used to seeing the brown ones, but they can be green, white, or even dark blue. Some can even have elaborate patterns with colors like red and orange. They live in almost every climate; however, they are mostly concentrated in tropical climates. Most roaches live in forests, making homes of trees, rotten logs and leaf litter. They spend their lives as scavengers and decomposers. They rid the world of decaying organic matter and replace it with nutrients that feed the soil and plants. They are one of our most important decomposers, and our existence depends on them! Sometimes, however, they can get a little too close to home.

Bush Cockroach
Creative Commons License photo credit:
Cyron a beautiful bush cockroach!

Out of the 4,000 different species of cockroach, about 4 or 5 have decided to invade our homes from time to time. Can you blame them? Natural habitat is declining faster than ever and we offer them great accomodations, complete with a free all-you-can-eat buffet! That huge, gigantic thing scurrying accross your floor is called the American Cockroach – and it’s probably the biggest bug in Texas. It’s commonly referred to as a water bug, palmetto bug, or tree roach, but the only scientifically correct name it has is Periplaneta americana.  They prefer to hang out in dark, warm, moist environments and that’s why you will usually only see them at night while they forage for food.

If you keep your house clean, well organized, and in good repair, you may see one of these roaches in your house from time to time. Do not panic, it probably wandered in from outside and it’s very unlikely that you have a heavy infestation. Now, if you keep your house dirty, cluttered, and falling apart, well, you are welcoming every roach in a mile radius.

Another familiar species of cockroach is the German Cockroach Blatella germanica. These roaches are very small, light brown, and have 2 longitudinal stripes just below the head. Unlike the American cockroach, German cockroaches are highly adapted to living only in human dwellings, completely dependent on the filth humans leave behind. So, if you see one of these roaches in your house, it is very possible that you do have a very serious infestation. Here are some common myths about roaches and the real truth behind them.

Roaches are dirty.

False! Roaches are obsessive compulsive about cleanliness! They spend most of their time resting, and the rest of their time cleaning themselves, much like a cat. Roaches are actually some of the cleanest animals around.

Roaches spread disease

Trufalse. This is a little less clear cut. Roaches themselves do not have diseases, but can transmit germs with their hairy legs and sticky feet. For example, if you leave residue from raw meat on your counter, it is possible a cockroach may walk through it and track it around, but if your counter is clean and disinfected, that roach will stay clean! There have actually been studies where a cockroach and a human finger touched the same dirty kitchen floor. They were each swabbed and the swab was smeared into a petri dish to be cultured. at the end of the study, the human finger produced several times the amount of bacteria the cockroach did.

Roaches can hurt you

False! Roaches are equipped with no more than a set of jaws for chewing. They are capable of biting, which would not hurt at all – but that’s really not their style; they’re more into running away. They have no stinging appendages or anything like that. They are harmless.

Roaches can live for two weeks with no head.

Ok, this one is actually true. The reason for this is that a roach has several brains throughout its body, not just one in its head. They are really just ganglia or bunches of nerve cells. The one in the cockroach’s head only controls its antennae and mouthparts. Remove the head, and it will still be able to control its legs which are equipped with millions of sensory receptors, allowing it to find its way quite well. Eventually, though, the insect will be overcome by dehydration and die.

I saw an albino cockroach!

False! It’s likely that the cockroach you saw is one that has just shed its skin. A freshly molted cockroach is white with black eyes, and very soft and vulnerable. After a few hours, its new skin will start to harden and grow darker, until it is the original color.

Cockroaches can give my child asthma

True. Unfortunately, a heavy infestation of cockroaches can cause asthma in allergen-sensitive individuals, especially children. If you have hundreds of cockroaches in your walls, the feces will build up and become airborne. This is all the more reason to keep your house clean!

Well, there you have it folks, the skinny on cockroaches. I hope that some of you may look at cockroaches in a new light and next time you see one – give it break! It’s not their fault they have a bad rap. If you still feel nauseous thinking of them, just make sure your house is sparkling clean. If we clean up after ourselves, the roaches don’t have to do it for us. Skip the poison, it’s bad for the environment and kills all of those wonderful bugs everyone loves to see. Until next time, happy bug watching!