Updated: Aug 25
At ZooLab, our Rangers meet people of all ages with phobias of one or more of our creatures. Over the next few months, Jessica will examine the most common animal fears that we encounter to debunk myths and help you see our extraordinary creatures in a whole new light.
How to help someone with a phobia?
If you don’t share a phobia with someone, it can be difficult and sometimes challenging to understand their fear. The charity Mind says that the biggest way that you can help someone with a phobia is to be understanding and take it seriously - the phobia may seem irrational but the fear they feel is very, very real. Conduct research to find out more about the phobia, be an ear to chat to and find out what helps them. Most importantly, don’t push them into a situation that triggers their phobia or makes it worse.
This month's phobia: Katsaridaphobia, cockroach phobia
A phobia of cockroaches is called katsaridaphobia. In a BBC article, Richard Kaae - an entomologist at California State University - states that cockroaches may be the most feared insect. However, not everyone sees them like this. ZooLab's Rangers take cockroaches to presentations to educate audiences about the superhuman abilities of these creatures. Let’s look at both sides below.
So what is it about cockroaches?
Is it because all cockroaches are pests? Myth! Only 30 out of 4,500 species of cockroaches are considered pests - that is less than 1%! These 30 are home invaders, who often have little regard to personal space. 5 species in particular are known for being particular pains and are responsible for cockroaches bad rep - the German, American, Australian, brown banded and Oriental. However, ZooLab’s cockroaches are different - Madagascan hissing cockroaches are native to the Rainforests and unlike their cousins they avoid human dwellings.
Did you know? Hissing cockroaches are one of nature's great recyclers - they eat decaying vegetation off of the forest floor which helps to put nutrients back into the ecosystem.
Is it because they are dirty? When we think of where cockroaches reside it is often dirty homes, grimy hotel rooms and grotty restaurants - places infested by germs! Cockroaches inhabit dark and warm places where food is abundant. As humans, we have an abhorrence of filth (which is not a bad thing) and as long as we adhere to food safety and hygiene measures - health issues from cockroach contamination can be minimised.
Did you know? As they only eat plant material, hissing cockroaches are considered to be very clean and pose little risk for disease transmission.
Is it because they are (almost) indestructible? Cockroaches are so robust that they can
survive radiation from a nuclear explosion - they can withstand 2000 times more radiation than the human body. They can go without food for many weeks (but can only survive a few days without water); hold their breath for 40 minutes in water and live without their head for 21 days - they have two brains, one in their head and the other near their abdomen. These are all reasons to be amazed by cockroaches, not fear them - think of what we can learn from them.
Did you know? Cockroaches (as a species) have been estimated to have been around for 200 million years. A fossil was found dating back 350 million years predating dinosaurs.
Is it their noise? It is nothing to fear! The Madagascan hissing cockroach makes their hissing noise when they breathe in and hiss when they release air in one big rush. They do this for three reasons: 1) to communicate 2) to find themselves a partner 3) to mimic a snake.
Cockroaches are at the bottom of the food chain and are eaten by mice - to protect themselves they hiss to chase away mice (whose natural predators are snakes).
Check out one of our male cockroaches call to his partner:
Is it their reputation? Cockroaches have been portrayed as evil in films and TV shows, for example ‘X files’ showed cockroaches grouped together to murder people. In ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ a cockroach mutates into a giant cockroach and Raphael discovers his paralysing phobia of cockroaches. The evil connotations portrayed in the media can contribute towards cockroach phobia.
Food for thought
Lack of education about these creatures can result in an irrational fear, ZooLab Rangers strive to educate and inspire audiences to have a better understanding and awareness of these creatures. Did you know that we can learn a lot from these six legged critters? Engineers are studying how cockroaches maneuver their environment to make robots more robust (find out more here). Their adaptations have also helped scientists in the medical field - cockroach legs are inspiring prosthetics and their self producing antibiotic properties are being studied for infection treatment.