Why Do Cockroaches Even Exist?

Roaches are more than just pests that crawl around our homes. Here's how they are actually beneficial and even essential to the environment.

Cockroaches have a serious public relations problem. They're creepy and crawly and pretty much universally despised by us humans. But that's OK, because Mother Nature loves her cockroaches. Moms are like that.

In this special edition of DNews, Sapna Parikh fields a question from our Reddit page concerning cockroaches and their overall benefit to nature. It turns out that roaches actually serve several vital functions out in the wild, if not in your kitchen.

First things first: Most people think of roaches as household pests, but there are actually more than 4,500 different species around the world and 99.7 percent of them live far away from and entirely independent of humans and our trash. In some environments, roaches serve as pollinators for various plants and flowers, but it's their eating habits that prove really useful.

Cockroaches can and will eat just about anything. In your house, they can get by on soap scum and glue. Out in the wild, they can digest and break down plant materials that are otherwise inedible to most other animals. Cockroach feces plays a critical role in the nitrogen cycle in many different ecosystems -- by digesting and excreting the stuff no one else wants to eat, they deposit nitrogen back into the soil.

RELATED: Cockroach's Bite Force Is 50 Times Its Own Weight

The cockroach's enthusiastic eating habits have potential medical benefits for humans, too. Because it can survive in the filthiest of conditions, the cockroach produces powerful natural antibiotics. Medical researchers have determined that roach's natural defenses can ward off particularly tough antibiotic-resistant bacteria like staph aureas, also known as MRSA.

Scientists are even studying how the efficiency of cockroach legs can help us build better robots, mechanical limbs and medical prostheses.

Now, all that said, it remains true that the presence of cockroaches in your house or apartment is ... not great. These domestic bugs spread bacteria around and certain proteins in their saliva and feces are a trigger for asthma and allergies. They're also evolving to resist our pest control poisons and chemicals.

Check out Sapna's report for more details, including a highly disturbing story concerning roaches, wasps and zombies. Really.

-- Glenn McDonald

Learn More:

Huffington Post: Cockroaches Good For Environment, Biologists Say

National Geographic: "Zombie" Roaches Lose Free Will Due To Wasp Venom

Inside Science: Cockroach Inspires Robotic Hand To Get A Grip