Why Do Roaches Die Upside Down? Unlocking the Puzzling Mystery

Cockroaches have this strange habit of flipping over when they are on the verge of death. This is true for all breeds and species of cockroaches no matter when and where you spot them.

When these insects are poisoned, they initially try to run away but after continuously being attacked, they turn upside down and start wriggling until all movement stops which is when one can assume that the cockroach is dead.

Not just cockroaches but many bugs have this tendency to flip over when bug spray is sprayed on them. This has made many people wonder why this happens as this phenomenon is rarely noted in any larger forms of life. 

So, without wasting any more time, this question of why cockroaches die upside down should be answered.

Why Do Roaches Die Upside Down
Dead cockroach on the floor / Anankkml / Dreamstime.com

Why Do Roaches Die Upside Down?

The simplest explanation to this question is that when roaches are sprayed with bug repellents, the toxin present in the chemical affects their nervous system which makes the muscles in their body convulse and spasm and the roaches turn on their backs until they are paralyzed and have gone mostly still.

After this, you will notice the cockroach twitching their limbs trying to move them. This is the insect trying to get out from the state of paralysis but by now the toxic from the bug spray will have badly damaged their body mechanisms.

It stays for a while on its back after which all kinds of movements stop. This is a sign of a dead cockroach.

Do Cockroaches Always Die On Their Back?

Do Cockroaches Always Die On Their Back
Foton1601 / Dreamstime.com

Yes, cockroaches always die on their back when killed with a pest control chemical. But if you are using the good old method of hitting the cockroaches until they are mutilated then the answer is no.

But let us focus on the first method of killing cockroaches or keeping them away,  which involves the usage of the following substances:

  • Bug Spray’
  • Insecticides
  • Boric Acid
  • Baking Soda
  • Neem
  • Scented Oils such as Peppermint
  • Bay Leaves
  • Chlorine-based Bleach

The one thing that is common among all these substances is that all of them have very strong smells which are quite pleasant to humans but repulse cockroaches. And it is common knowledge that these annoying bugs use their very sensitive sense of smell to look for food.

When these smells are introduced into their environment, their nervous system is affected, and if the smell carries something toxic, the cockroach loses muscle coordination as a result of a nervous breakdown. For example, bug repellents contain organophosphate nerve poisons that attack the central nervous system of cockroaches.

DDT or Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane which is an insecticide used in agriculture has an even more aggravated effect on all insects including cockroaches. DDT is immensely fast in killing cockroaches because the state of paralysis occurs very fast and not being able to receive nutrition or water for a long time because of being stuck in an upside-down position eventually kills the cockroach.

Old cockroaches can also naturally die on their back without being poisoned at times and this happens because they too lack control of their legs and their decreased grip on friction makes them unintentionally flip over because that’s where the center of gravity lies.

Is A Roach Dead If It’s On Its Back?

Is A Roach Dead If It's On Its Back
Dead cockroach / Anankkml / Dreamstime.com

No not always. If you spot a cockroach on its back then there are two possibilities about its current state. It is either dead or paralyzed. Well, there is no sure way to check whether it is dead or just unmoving but what you can do is sprinkle some water on the upside-down cockroach and see if it reacts.

Cockroaches lose coordination in their legs when sprayed with insecticides or something similar because it acts as a poison affecting their nervous system. They go on their backs for the high central gravity is highest in this position and they cannot control their body anymore.

So it is possible that when you spot a cockroach on its back, then it’s just paralyzed and unable to move due to being attacked with an organophosphate nerve poison as present in insecticides and bug repellant sprays.

However, sometimes you will see that an upside-down cockroach has disappeared after a while but you do not remember discarding it. This may have happened because the bug repellent that you sprayed was not enough and after being paralyzed for some time, the cockroach gained back its muscle coordination and went its way with a narrow escape from death.

Many studies have been conducted regarding this. It  concludes that cockroaches may have developed resistance to store-bought insecticides as an evolutionary mechanism and that households should have a less toxic approach toward pest management.

Can A Cockroach Survive On Its Back?

No, cockroaches cannot survive on their back. They may be alive for some time, occasionally twitching and moving but after a long time of not being able to look for nourishment and water, they will die.

Most times, cockroaches flip over on their back because of decreased control over their movement and since the center of gravity is highest on their backs, they unintentionally become upside down.

And since their limbs are not within their control, they cannot use the friction on the floor to stand on their limbs or even turn over. Being sprayed with insecticides paralyzes them and unless they can break out of this trance, they will die.

This means that even if you manually turn a poisoned cockroach back over from its upside-down position, it will still flip over again because the shell on its back is the heaviest and thus its center of gravity lies there.

How Long Does It Take For A Cockroach To Die On Its Back?

A cockroach can survive on its back for up to five days. Roaches are one of the most resilient insects known to mankind and that is why it makes sense that these insects will live up to five whole days until it dies of thirst and hunger.

However, the above information is true only when the said cockroach has accidentally turned itself over and cannot get back in an upright position due to the lack of something to grip onto.

The other more likely scenario is that the cockroach has been sprayed with an insecticide after which it has turned over. Depending on how much insecticide it has inhaled and how toxic the chemical is, the cockroach will probably live anywhere between ten to fifty minutes.

It will first become unmoving due to an impacted nervous system after which it will die from being not able to breathe anymore as all muscles in the body lose coordination including their respiratory organs called spiracles. 

Why Is The Dead Roach Still Moving?

If the cockroach is still moving then it is not yet dead. If the cockroach is on its back but alive and moving then it means that the insect is either in a state of paralysis after being sprayed with an insecticide or it is in the process of getting back muscle control after being poisoned.

In any case, it is still incapacitated and this opportunity should be taken either to spray some more insecticide on it to kill it properly or find some method of killing it for good.

The other possibility of a dead cockroach moving about is even more bizarre and is proof of how hardy these insects are. Cockroaches can live up to a week without a head. Yes, its head can be chopped off but it will still be mobile.

But since the roach will lose its compound vision, it will not be able to look for food or water and will eventually die. So, if you see a headless roach, scampering about, you are not hallucinating.

Don’t miss:

Does Bleach Kill Roaches
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What Smells Repel Cockroaches
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Wrapping Up

As disgusting as cockroaches are, it is still undeniable that cockroaches are an interesting species. The way they perceive, smell, breathe, and even their manner of death are all topics of scientific research.

That being said, it is important to state that roaches are carriers of germs and thus should be eliminated as soon as possible. And if you happen to see a cockroach upside down and struggling to get back up, that is the best time to take action.

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