The final chapter in the cockroach saga

31 08 2014

When I was in Sydney last week, I had the final afternoon of the conference off. The Sydney Hilton where I was staying was only a couple of blocks from the Australian Museum, which is where Martyn worked (Martyn is the naturalist I’d been in contact with about the cockroach I’d found several years ago). So I decided to contact him and see if we could meet. Fortunately, he was still working there and working on the afternoon I had free, so we met at the Museum and spent an hour discussing all sorts of stuff over a coffee, including the fate of ‘my’ cockroaches, which all looked much like the picture below.

Female native cockroach on house wall

Female native cockroach on house wall

What happened was that the live female I sent a few years’ ago laid an egg case, and the babies hatched. The mother died after about a year. Some of her young mated with each other (yes, incest is common in many species according to Martyn and if anything it strengthens the gene pool instead of throwing mutations as it seems to do in humans… or is that just a myth perpetuated by religious leaders to prevent incestuous relationships?), but eventually only males were left and so there were no females to carry on the line.

For the full story of the cockroaches I sent to Martyn, see these blog posts (read them in chronological order from top to bottom):

I mentioned that Martyn and I had a wide-ranging (and fascinating) discussion… From first meeting him to some 45 minutes later when the museum was closing, we discussed:

  • incest in animals (including parent/child and brother/sister), which he said is very prevalent in many species, as is homosexuality
  • genetic breeding in cattle to get rid of a heart condition crossing many generations of dairy cattle
  • centuries of genetic modification in the breeding of racehorses (he said most of Australia’s racehorses came from three original males)
  • bio prospecting (yes, that’s a real word) where pharmaceutical companies (was the CSIRO in Australia before various governments — especially the current Abbott government — cut their funding to the bone) are researching compounds in species like my diurnal cockroach for properties like sun protection and then synthetically recreating them to make products for testing and ultimately for human use
  • how adding a couple of genes to E. coli makes insulin that Type 1 diabetics can inject without rejection and thus also prevent the formation of hard skin tissue at the injection site.




Cockroach updates

27 01 2011

I just realised that I haven’t written a few updates about ‘my’ cockroach that’s now living with one of the entomologists from the Australian Museum (do a search on this blog for ‘cockroach’ to see my earlier posts — or just click this link). The quoted bits are from his emails to me advising me of the progress of my cockroach.

April 2010:

At least one of the oothecae ‘your’ female produced did hatch – the young were a pale grey all over – I only found 5 but then they all promptly disappeared into the leaf-litter and in the few rudimentary searches I’ve made I haven’t seen them again. This may mean nothing as their mother can remain hidden and unseen for a few weeks until I get worried and start looking for her – whereupon she is found hale and hearty. The species seems to be very good at avoiding detection and the smaller ones due to their size even more so.

The ‘related’ species they are in with – which seems to be not that closely related based on behaviour – is far more obvious and diurnal and so far NONE of their eggs have hatched. The cockroach expert hasn’t been down to Sydney to have a look at all the bodies of yours and various others – for a while yet so I have nothing to report on that other than it seem to check out now pretty well with Polyzosteria cuprea but the expert on the group will have to let us know if this is indeed correct and or if the locality is a new record for the species or not. Either way they are very useful specimens for us of a species we had very few specimens of before.

8 October 2010:

… your original female cockroach has just emerged from her winters sleep and seems as healthy as ever. I haven’t seen any babies as yet but then considering how well she can hide amongst the leaf litter in the cage there is still hope that they made it through to winter as well.

25 October 2010:

Just thought you’d like to know I saw your cockroach again yesterday and she was carrying yet another ootheca. I have now caught her out of the main cage and put her in a smaller one where I can better track the progress of the eggs. Anyway clearly P. cuprea is a very hardy long lived species! They are also very good at escaping detection – I still haven’t noticed any babies but can’t discount them as the original female was so good at hiding that several times I assumed she was dead and started looking for her body only to find her hale and hearty.

I replied, asking Martyn who the female had mated with! His reply:

Well that’s where it gets tricky. Most insects mate only once and store the sperm for the reproductive life of the female (this can be years). Some long lived species mate several times over a long lifetime, and some, like certain beetles and certain cockroaches can mate with multiple partners and the eggs are either fertilised with a mix of sperm OR the next eggs laid get fertilised by the last male to mate with her – in the latter case the earlier sperm are still viable but must now ‘wait their turn’.

Needless to say this is what I am hoping is the case here as the other species in there with her – although of the same genus – is of a different sub-set of that genus without the speckled legs. It is unlikely to be viable as a cross as a result OR maybe she’s laying blanks like a chicken does. The purpose of this segregation now is to see if the eggs hatch and what they look like.

4 November 2010:

Just thought you’d like to know that the last years babies are starting to appear now in the cage. All look like perfectly normal P. cuprea but all I have seen so far (about 3 ranging from half grown to adult) seem to be females so it might be option 3 and the result of parthenogenesis or it might be that this species throws more female offspring than males. Either way it is good news and the result is a success so far. If the colony can continue from here will be the next milestone.

More updates as they come to hand…

August 2014: The final chapter





I found another cockroach…

15 06 2009

… and it’s already on its way to the Australian Museum!

I popped out at lunchtime today and when I came home I saw a native cockroach on its back right near the front door. I thought it was dead, but it still had a little movement in its legs. So I hightailed it inside, found a small box, gathered up some leaf litter, put the cockroach in the box (I didn’t even draw breath to find out if it was a male or female or to take a photo of it), added some air holes and sealed the box.

Then it was back to the Post Office to send it Express Post to the researcher at the Australian Museum. He should get it by Wednesday or Thursday.

I doubt if it will still be alive by then — it looked pretty well done in when I found it (we’ve had the outside of the house sprayed for Portuguese millipedes and I suspect that most invertebrates coming into contact with the residual poison aren’t coping too well).

Still, the researcher will get a specimen and hopefully will be able to tell me whether it is a new species or a geographic variation of any existing one. Who’d have thought I could get excited by a cockroach!?!

Update: I’ve since found a couple more and sent them off to the Museum. The latest (November 2009) was a healthy female, completely intact. The researcher hopes she has eggs, and has taken her home to watch over her — just in case. When she dies, she will go into the entomology section.





Here’s the deal with the cockroach

14 05 2009

Well, you learn something new everyday! Today I learned a lot.

I learned how to tell male and female native cockroaches apart (it’s called ‘sexing cockroaches’). I learned that ‘my’ native cockroach might be a new species or possibly an undocumented geographic variation. I also learned that diurnal cockroaches (those that hang out in the daylight hours, like ‘my’ native cockroach) are pretty rare and that scientists are researching their properties for sunblock applications, amongst other things!

So how did I learn all this? Martyn, from the Australian Museum in Sydney, replied to my email giving me a whole lot of info about this cockroach and why he wants me to send him any more that I might find. Here are some excerpts from his email:

I have an interest in the diurnal native cockroaches. Australia is very unusual in having a number of species which are not only active by day but are fond of basking in the sunlight. Overseas cockroaches (and many other Australian species) die if exposed to UV light for any length of time. Some of our native species are creating interest as they seem to produce a natural ‘sunblock’ which may have a commercial application…(Actually the sunblock cockroaches are in a different genus Anemesia – so they’re about as closely related to yours as dogs are to foxes – still there are other compounds of use found every day in the natural world – e.g. leech spit is used in bruise ointments. Who knows what could be in your cockroach?)

The genus Polyzosteria is one where all members of that genus are diurnal and often colourful. There are only about a dozen known species. Yours seem to be a member of that same genus but I cannot be sure of the species although it is very similar to Polyzosteria cuprea…

This means it is either a new species to science, or a geographical variation of a known species (P. cuprea), or it is one where the colours change after death so the live ones look superficially different to the dead ones until you get down to comparing the numbers of leg spines, genitalia, size etc. At this stage it is a bit of a mystery.

Should you find any more we would be interested in some specimens. If dead, please remember to include any legs etc. which drop off as they are important too – as is a slip of paper with all the details of its finding like where, when, and your name and contact details. In this way if it proves to be something new they can get back in contact with you and include this information on the record for the species (whether it is a known one or not, your details will be linked to that specimen as the collector for as long as the specimen exists – maybe a century or more).

If it is alive the system is pretty much the same except that the specimen/specimens will need to be packed in a slightly larger plastic container with some small ventilation holes and a few pieces of bark or dead leaves included so the contents won’t slide or rattle around during transit. Express Post is preferred in this case.

Once again all details of the collection should be included as the specimen, once it dies, will be included in the entomology reference collection pending what it turns out to be. For the record your photo shows a female as you can see the last body segment on the tail end has a cleft in it making it look a bit like the letter ‘m’. In the males this cleft is missing. Below is a photo of a female of the Polyzosteria species local to the Sydney region. Notice the cleft on the last abdominal segment matches the shape of the one in your photo: http://davidavid.blogspot.com/2006/04/diurnal-cockroach-polyzosteria-limbata.html and the male ’end’ looks like this – ignore the fact that it is another species – just look at the shape of the end edge of the last abdominal segment: http://agspsrv34.agric.wa.gov.au/Ento/images/P_mitchelli.jpg.

So there you have it! ‘My’ cockroach could be a new species and my details as a collector could be kept for 100 years or more!! Who’d have thought a pretty cockroach on a wall could be so interesting?

Oh, and here’s the picture that started all this:

Female native cockroach on house wall

Female native cockroach on house wall





What does the Australian Museum want with a cockroach?

14 05 2009

A couple of years back I found this strange looking cockroach-type thing on the outside wall of our house. I took a photo, much to my husband’s chagrin and head shaking wondering why.

I also tried to find out what it was and had a little success, but not a lot. And I posted the photo to Webshots where I store all my digital photo albums, then promptly forgot about it.

Last night I got a comment on my photo — someone from the Australian Museum wants to get in touch with me and for me to hang on to any more that I find! I don’t know why yet — maybe I found a rare species? But how cool is that!

I’ll let you know more after the person responds to my email and I find out why he wants me to hang on to any more that I find.

See also: https://sandgroper14.wordpress.com/2009/05/14/heres-the-deal-with-the-cockroach/





Bali: general observations

11 09 2012
  • Areas at hotels/resorts/restaurants are very clean as are most businesses and homes, but the vacant lots in between as well as stormwater drains etc. are strewn with rubbish (probably blown in).
  • HUGE number of motorbikes — everyone rides them. I’ve seen Muslim women in full hijab, small children riding in front of or between their parents, riders carrying sheets of glass (!) and other merchandise, women riding sidesaddle as pillion passengers. There’s lots of tooting and it all seems terribly chaotic, but there’s no evidence of road rage and little evidence of bingles between various road users. We could learn a lot!

  • There’s no such thing as clearing tree branches around power lines. I saw power lines running through trees, trees leaning into power lines etc. Heaven knows what happens to the power if trees blow down in a storm!
  • The Balinese are a very religious/spiritual people. There are temples and shrines everywhere — homes, restaurants, businesses, hotels, etc. And people make offerings all the time. Therefore I was very surprised to see some tagging on some buildings (never templates/shrines) when we were out and about on our trip to Ubud and Denpasar. I guess not everyone is as respectful of their own place….
  • Very few insects/bugs. I expected a lot of bugs as Bali is warm, tropical, humid/ But I’ve seen maybe two flies, no mosquitoes, no cockroaches, no spiders, no ants, no moths etc. anywhere. We saw one large scarab/rhinoceros beetle on the verandah one day, but that’s all. It was on its back so perhaps it had been dropped by a bird. I’ve also seen no geckos, which are always good at reducing insect numbers in a house.
  • First world problems: Disputes at the resort about towels and ‘baggsing’ sun lounges by the pool! It’s taken up a lot of conversation time that I’ve overheard. Really, people. There’s a helluva lot more to worry about than who left their possessions unattended for more than an hour or who ‘bags’ a sun lounge at 5:30 am!




I’m a granny! Sort of…

4 01 2010

I just got the news that the most recent healthy female cockroach I sent to Martyn at the Australian Museum in Sydney has laid at least one egg case! Here’s an excerpt from his email:

Good news – she WAS being sneaky. I noticed she had been getting surprisingly shy and was scurrying away and hiding whenever I went to check on her, while she had formerly been quite unconcerned. The local related species (Polyzosteria limbata – broad margined form) she is currently sharing a cage with is as docile as ever, so it was unlikely to be some recent disturbance.

On the weekend just past, she was a little slower off the mark than usual and I could see she was carrying an ootheca (egg case).

[The egg case was] smaller than I would have expected and of a relatively shiny hazelnut colour. I would think this is not her first so I will have to watch to try to see where she is hiding them but she is very alert to being watched – more so than I would have thought. The P. limbata simply dig a shallow hole and bury theirs and don’t seem to care if [they’re] being watched or not.

I don’t know if this makes you a granny for 2010? Just thought you’d like an update of good news!

I was surprised it took so long — I always thought cockroaches were prolific breeders and as she hadn’t laid an egg case some weeks ago, I suspected that she wasn’t pregnant when I sent her across in November. Looks like I was wrong!

Update later the same day: After asking Martyn about the gestation period and commenting that I thought it was a long time and maybe she’d been impregnated by her ‘roomie’, he wrote this:

She is in with about 20 of the P. limbata but most are still too young to breed and all have their own species present anyway – it’s usually only unmatched males that try to impregnate females of a different species and in invertebrates cross-breeding is either very rare or physically impossible due to the ‘key and lock’ systems of most invertebrate reproductive structures.

I’m pretty sure she was impregnated before she was caught but as to ‘gestation’ I suspect these are a bit of an unknown quantity as to both how long the eggs take to hatch (maybe not until next spring) or how long they take to develop within the female. The life histories of most of our native animals are poorly understood and even more so with insects and other invertebrates – we know far more about the pest species than any of the natives.

As mentioned though, she may have been hiding her earlier egg cases as the cage is about 50 cm square and has a number of pots filled with different soil types, a leaf-litter floor and some dead wood – all provided as potential egg laying sites. In most species kept you can see where activity has taken place but this one is certainly behaving in a different manner and so may be camouflaging either the site or (as occurs in some other species) ‘hiding’ the ootheca in plain view by glueing bits of detritus all over it. Unfortunately with their need for sunlight she is currently at [my] home on a deck until we are better set up here [museum] – so I only get to observe activity on the weekends and in the mornings and evenings. Mind you the others normally carry the ootheca for several days before stowing it away somewhere and are therefore easier to keep tabs on – this one doesn’t seem to do this – mind you it MAY just be this individual too!

I’ll keep you informed if I find any hatchlings. From the size of what I saw I’d guess about 10 hatchlings per ootheca.

Update October 2010: In late October, I got this email from Martin:

Just thought you’d like to know I saw your cockroach again yesterday and she was carrying yet another ootheca. I have now caught her out of the main cage and put her in a smaller one where I can better track the progress of the eggs. Anyway clearly P. cuprea is a very hardy long-lived species! They are also very good at escaping detection – I still haven’t noticed any babies but can’t discount them as the original female was so good at hiding that several times I assumed she was dead and started looking for her body, only to find her hale and hearty.

So I asked him what male she mated with, as he doesn’t have any other live specimens of this species. His reply:

Well that’s where it gets tricky. Most insects mate only once and store the sperm for the reproductive life of the female (this can be years). Some long-lived species mate several times over a long lifetime, and some, like certain beetles and certain cockroaches can mate with multiple partners and the eggs are either fertilised with a mix of sperm OR the next eggs laid get fertilised by the last male to mate with her – in the latter case, the earlier sperm are still viable but must now ‘wait their turn’. Needless to say this is what I am hoping is the case here as the other species in there with her – altho’ of the same genus – is of a different sub-set of that genus without the speckled legs. It is unlikely to be viable as a cross as a result OR maybe she’s laying blanks like a chicken does. The purpose of this segregation now is to see if the eggs hatch and what they look like.

Update November 2010: The babies from January have arrived! Here’s the latest update from Martyn:

Just thought you’d like to know that last year’s babies are starting to appear now in the cage. All look like perfectly normal P. cuprea, but all I have seen so far (about three, ranging from half grown to adult) seem to be females so it might be option 3 and the result of parthenogenesis, or it might be that this species throws more female offspring than males. Either way it is good news and the result is a success so far. If the colony can continue from here, that will be the next milestone.

Needless to say, I’m pleased. An unexpectedly overjoyed that she’s had healthy babies in the confines of an Australian Museum scientist who has a passion for these beasties!

***************

For other related articles on this cockroach saga, see these articles (in the order listed):





What’s that pulling Santa’s sleigh?

22 12 2009

Regular followers of this blog will know that I’ve been in reasonably regular contact with an entomologist (Martyn) at the Australian Museum in Sydney — I’ve been sending him specimens of a native cockroach that lives around here (see the links below the photo for why).

Well, he sent me a Christmas greeting today, accompanied by this picture (attributable to Ali Edwards, Senior Rights Adviser, Right Management from the ABC). I’ve heard of ‘Six white boomers’ pulling Santa’s sleigh, but not seven cockroaches!

BTW, in his Christmas greeting, Martyn said:

Your cockroach is currently getting very large eating raw mushroom. No sign of eggs yet but fingers crossed.

See also:

[Links last checked December 2009]





“Tyson the Dyson”

25 03 2007

Wow! I never thought I’d write about a vacuum cleaner!

Our old vacuum cleaner was one of those cheap piddly little cockroach things that had very little suction and a short cord. Although it was a brand name (Hoover), it really didn’t do the job very well. And when it started cutting out because of overheating – like after about 2 minutes vacuuming time – that was it. Time for it to go to another home.

So when we were in Busselton the other day, one of our tasks was to see what we could find as a replacement vacuum cleaner. I’d heard about the Dysons (ugly beasts that they are), and when the girl in the shop raved about hers, we had to investigate further. Well, not really investigate – I held the end to test the suction and nearly had the palm of my hand taken off, it was that good! We bought the DC08TSY model (pics and details here) and I used it for the first time this morning.

Tyson the Dyson As I said earlier – wow! This thing has a really long cord – long enough so that I could do the whole house without unplugging it; a really long hose, and a telescopic wand with a handle. And the suction is unbelievable! It wanted to lift the loose rug in the living room, and when I had it on carpet mode instead of hard floor mode, it tried to lift the vinyl in the office. After vacuuming the whole house, the bagless barrel had HEAPS of very fine dust and other particles in it… and I only vacuumed the house last weekend with the old one. BTW, we don’t have children or pets, and we’re very meticulous about cleaning up after ourselves.

Amazing.

So amazing that I’ve even named it. In honour of the king hits that Mike Tyson did, I’ve named it “Tyson the Dyson”. I NEVER name things, so that’s a first. (BTW, I don’t like boxing, and I sure don’t condone Mike Tyson’s actions – it’s just that his name rhymes and this vacuum cleaner is a “knockout”.)