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The Cockroach

Abstract

THE cockroach (Blatta orientalis, Linn.) has found an apologist in Dr. Norman Macleod, who asserts his incredulity in the current stories of this insect's bad habits. Cockroaches look, he says, like black priests among the beetles, and, like the priest-hood generally, have been made the objects of misrepresentation and slander. Anyhow, the doctor treats as mythical the tradition, constant on ship-board, that cockroaches are in the habit of nibbling the nails of those who sleep with their feet uncovered. Not only are they harmless, but they are absolutely useful, in as much as they may be readily trod upon and killed by all who are willing to gratify their feelings of disgust and benefit society. In the history of the cockroach we can trace the origin of the nail-nibbling myth, if myth it be. The insect is indigenous in the warmer parts of America, and, in spite of its Linnean name, is only oriental through having been carried to the East by shipping. It has a natural love for warmth and for sweet things, and can indulge the latter taste by feasting on the feet of natives engaged in sugar manufacture. If Gilbert White is correct in his surmise that the insect was not introduced into England until late in the last century, its powers of reproduction and adaptation must be very large. It is, of course, very difficult to identify with absolute certainty the insects mentioned in classical authors, but there is a good deal to lead one to suppose that the μνλακρìs mentioned by Aristotle and the Blatta histrinorum of Latin writers was the same as our loathsome pest. The English name is curious and worth investigation, but unhappily there is so much guess-work employed in derivations that this branch of philology cannot claim to be recognised as one of the “exact sciences.”

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Robinson, C. The Cockroach. Nature 2, 435 (1870). https://doi.org/10.1038/002435d0

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