Do Roaches Play Dead? Decoding the Intriguing Survival Strategy

It is often said that the most likely survivors of a nuclear apocalypse will be none other than cockroaches. Whether this statement is true or not still remains to be seen. But one thing is clear and that is cockroaches have extreme resilience and a knack for survival.

Their survival instincts have made it possible for them to live in the shadiest and filthiest of places as well as live off scrap for nourishment. But did you know that cockroaches have many other tactics to ward off danger to their lives?  One of them is playing dead.

When roaches sense danger approaching and they have nowhere to hide, they go completely still and hold their breaths pretending to be dead. After they feel that the danger is gone and it is safe to move again, they will resume breathing and moving again.

Do Roaches Play Dead
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Do Roaches Play Dead?

Yes, Roaches do play dead. The motive behind this is to save themselves from the danger they are in.

These insects have very sharp sensors on their backs which may look like tiny hairs when viewed under a microscope. Whenever a creature gets too near to a cockroach, it can feel its presence from the shift in the breeze.

At this point, the cockroach will try to take cover and if it is unable to do that, it will flip over and pretend to be dead or just stay still in its position without any movement at all.

Depending on what particular breed of cockroach we are talking about, they can hold their breath for anywhere between ten and forty minutes.

Why Do Cockroaches Play Dead?

There are several reasons why cockroaches pretend to be dead or suddenly stop moving. They have been discussed below.

To Save Themselves From Predators

This is the number one reason why cockroaches play dead. They use their acute sense of surroundings to detect movement. And when this movement gets too near they have no other option but to play dead in order to survive.

For example, if the predator in question here is a dog, then there is a high probability that the cockroach has spotted the dog and already paused its movement and breathing so as to not attract any attention from the dog.

To Communicate

While it will be far-fetched to say something like cockroaches communicates telepathically and stand still while they’re doing it, it is not entirely baseless.

Cockroaches do communicate with the use of pheromones or chemical signals which enables the cockroaches to share information with other roaches regarding danger, location of food, and water.

So, if you spot a cockroach that has not moved for a while then there is a possibility that there are several other cockroaches somewhere nearby.

To Analyze Their Surroundings

Cockroaches may also pause in their tracks to carefully analyze their immediate surroundings for possibilities of any danger or food and water.

Using their cerci on the anterior and posterior ends of the body, the cockroaches can detect movements and sources of nourishment. They have an acute spatial awareness that gives them info about both what is in front of them and what is at the back.

They also have at their disposal a very sophisticated brain as well as numerous sensory systems that help them monitor their surroundings as well as their own movements.

Moreover, when roaches encounter a barrier in front of them, they will pause any movement to either try and climb over it or go under it.

This interesting study on insects including cockroaches discusses this phenomenon in detail where an insect promptly analyses their surroundings for safety and decides which way to go when they face a barrier in front of them.

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How to Know if Cockroaches Play Dead?

How to Know if Cockroaches Play Dead
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There are a few tell-tale signs that can easily help us determine if the cockroach we see is dead or just pretending to be so for whatsoever reason:

The Antenna Will Not Move in a Dead Cockroach

The antennae are one of the organs of the cockroach that helps it to detect movement and smell. Therefore, it is due to the antennae that the cockroach has picked up signals of possible danger and is playing dead.

That is exactly why the cockroach. After a few minutes of playing dead will eventually move its antennae to check whether it is safe for it to stop playing dead or not.

A Dead Cockroach Has a Distinct Smell

It is impossible to tell the smell when a single cockroach has died but it gives off a slightly acidic odor.

When multiple cockroaches die in a spot, the combined smell can then be picked up. You will probably have to go really close to the still cockroach to check its smell after it has not moved for over 1 or 2 hours.

A live cockroach pretending to be dead will of course not have this smell and chances are that it will run away the moment you get too near to smell it.

Position of Legs

A cockroach that is simply playing dead will have its legs poised for action. You can easily tell from the spread position of the legs that are ready to grip onto something in order to run away.

On the other hand, cockroaches that are dead will have little to no resistance if you try to adjust them with your hand or a tweezer and you can move the legs as you want.

A dead cockroach’s legs are much more relaxed as compared to one that is alive.

At times, cockroaches are incapacitated due to physical injuries or extremely low temperatures and they cannot move.

That is why they play dead to save themselves. But if you try to move the legs of such a cockroach that is recuperating from an injury, the legs will go right back to their original position.

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Final Words

It is not reassuring to know that these nuisances of insects that are carriers of germs are bacteria and also can deceive you into playing dead.

But still, one has to admit that these seemingly simple insects can have such a complex survival mechanism in place.

In any case, whenever you spot a cockroach, waste no time trying to get rid of it. It is even better if you try to bait the cockroaches out of their hiding places with food and poisonous chemical solution at the same time because these insects almost always come in packs and cockroach infestation is a serious problem that should be tackled with urgency.

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