(ORDO NEWS) — When a huge meteorite, of which only the Chicxulub impact crater has survived today, fell from space and crashed into the Earth 66 million years ago, a huge number of species of creatures died out – and cockroaches survived. But how?
We figure out how tiny parasites survived a catastrophe on a truly planetary scale
The impact of the meteorite caused a strong earthquake, and, most likely, a massive volcanic eruption even thousands of kilometers from the impact site.
Three-quarters of the plants and animals on Earth died, including most of the dinosaurs, with the exception of some species that were the ancestors of today’s birds.
How could cockroaches a couple of centimeters long survive when so many much more powerful animals disappeared from the face of the planet? It turns out they were well enough trained to survive the meteorite disaster.
Cockroaches are real masters of adaptation
If you’ve ever seen cockroaches, you’ve probably noticed that their bodies are very flat. This is not a mere accident, but a useful quality.
Flat insects can squeeze into tighter spaces. This allows them to hide almost anywhere – and perhaps this is what helped them survive the disaster.
When the meteorite fell, the temperature on the Earth’s surface skyrocketed. Many animals had nowhere to run, but cockroaches could hide in tiny cracks in the soil, which provide excellent protection from the heat.
The meteor strike caused a cascade of effects. So much dust was raised that the sky darkened. As the sun went down, temperatures dropped and conditions around the world became wintry.
Due to the lack of sunlight, the surviving plants grew with great difficulty, and many other organisms that fed on these plants starved.
But not cockroaches. Unlike some insects that prefer to feed on one particular plant, cockroaches are omnivorous scavengers.
This means that they will eat most animal or vegetable products, as well as cardboard, some types of clothing, and even excrement. A picky appetite has allowed cockroaches to survive the lean times after meteorite impacts and other natural disasters.
Offspring under protection
Another useful feature of cockroaches is that they lay their eggs in small protective “cases”. They look like dried beans and are called ootheca.
Like phone cases, ootheca are tough and protect their contents from physical damage and other hazards such as flood and drought. Some cockroaches may have waited out part of the Chicxulub disaster without ever leaving their testicles.
Modern cockroaches are the descendants of lucky survivors who can live and breed almost anywhere, from the hot tropics to the coldest corners of the globe. Scientists estimate that there are more than 4,000 species of cockroaches.
Some of these species enjoy living with humans and quickly become pests. Once cockroaches have settled in a building, it is difficult to rid every little crevice of these insects and their eggs.
This is not very good for you and me, because in large numbers, scavengers unwittingly begin to spread pathogenic microbes.
The biggest threat to human health is the allergens that cockroaches produce in the process of life and contact with which can end extremely badly.
Cockroach pests are difficult to control because they can withstand many chemical insecticides and have the same abilities that helped their ancestors outlive many dinosaurs.
However, cockroaches are much more than pests that need to be controlled. Researchers are studying cockroaches to understand how they move and how their bodies are arranged in order to create unique robots of future generations based on the “universal organism”.
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