Why Do Cockroaches Stay Still for So Long?

by Derrick | Last Updated: May 7, 2022

Cockroaches are filthy, unsanitary yet tenacious bugs. Moreover, they are quite intriguing and have some interesting mannerisms. For example, have you ever wondered why cockroaches stand still for so long?

Cockroaches stay still for so long to make better use of their senses. They use their anal cerci and antennae as their primary method of sensing their surrounding. These senses work best when the roaches are still. Another reason is if a female roach is laying eggs or a young cockroach is molting.

This article will look at different facts about cockroaches. Keep reading to learn several interesting things about these insects and how to get rid of them.

Reasons Cockroaches Stay Still for So Long

Have you ever walked into your kitchen and suddenly seen a moving cockroach stop and stay still for a while? Strange, right?

Cockroaches often seem to freeze at one spot and stop all body movements, only waving their antennae as if they’re trying to find reception. Other roaches will also lie upside down and stay in that position for hours. So what causes this unusual behavior?

Cockroaches Stay Still for So Long for Protection or Communication

Many people assume that the cockroaches are “playing possum” when they stay still for so long, especially after a human walks in. There’s some truth to this because, in the insect world, movement means giving away your location to your predators.

Other people believe that the roaches communicate “telepathically” with other cockroaches, probably telling them there’s an intruder or where to find food.

Roaches Stay Still To Find Food and Shelter or Heal From a Neck Lesion

While the arguments above may seem far-fetched, there’s a bit of science to back them up.

Cockroaches living in human homes are actually social. Although they don’t practice something as advanced as “telepathic communication,” they use pheromones (chemical signals) to communicate with each other. It’s not as advanced as other social insects like termites, but the cockroaches can gather the pheromones of other roaches to find food and shelter.

Cockroaches can also stand still for a long time due to a neck lesion. According to a study published in the Journal of Comparative Psychology, cockroaches with neck lesions experience hyper-extended postures and don’t walk. However, when the roach recovers, it initiates slow leg movements and leaves the hyper-extended posture.

Staying Still Helps Roaches Analyze Their Surroundings

In addition to their eyes, cockroaches use their anal cerci and antennae to sense their surrounding. They use the antennae like a human nose by detecting their environment’s olfactory information (smells). These help them locate food and other roaches.

On the other hand, they use their anal cerci (hairy projections coming out of their back) as “ears.” Roaches have receptors that sense vibrations and sounds, helping them detect possible threats. Both of these organs work best when a cockroach is standing still.

Roaches Stand Still When Laying Eggs or Molting

Another possible reason for a cockroach to stand still is to lay eggs. Once a female cockroach mates, it takes about 30 days to lay eggs. The egg-laying process can go on for hours, requiring the cockroach to stand still for a long time.

Finally, if you see a cockroach stand still for long, the cockroaches might be molting. 

Young cockroaches need to go through around 5 molting stages before they mature. Once the roaches begin to shed their exoskeleton, they will likely assume a standing position and hold it for a while.

Do Cockroaches Pretend To Be Dead?

Cockroaches do sometimes pretend to be dead. They do this by standing completely still for a while. The roaches won’t move any part of their bodies when playing possum. Staying still is an act of self-defense that can sometimes be involuntary.

There are several reasons cockroaches will play possum, such as the following:

  • Physical damage: While many people think whacking a cockroach with a shoe is enough to kill it, sometimes it survives. Their limbs are probably damaged in this state, so they just stay still, pretending to be dead, until a new set of limbs grows.
  • Effects from insecticides: Playing dead is a defense mechanism the cockroaches use whenever they’re in imminent danger. For example, if they inhale insecticide, they will be paralyzed for a while before dying, giving the impression that they are already dead.
  • Cold temperatures: Like all insects, cockroaches are cold-blooded animals. It means the roaches move best when the environment is warm. Their optimum temperature is between 25 and 30°C (77 to 86°F.). As a result, they will be paralyzed in freezing temperatures and appear dead.

If you want to know whether a cockroach is truly dead, try touching it using something light like a feather. You can also reach out using gloved hands but not with your bare hands. If the roach were playing dead, it would move.

Alternatively, if you find the cockroach lying on its back, then it’s definitely dead. Cockroaches often involuntarily roll over onto their backs after being sprayed with insecticide due to muscle spasms.

Do Cockroaches Sleep?

People also wonder if cockroaches ever sleep because they’re always active when you encounter them. Except, of course, when they’re standing still on the wall and waving their antenna.

Cockroaches do sleep like any other insect or animal. They’re nocturnal, so they sleep during the day and roam your kitchen at night. Roaches are also usually active for a few hours after dark but go into an immobile state after that. This state of rest can also count as sleeping.

According to an experimental biology journal, cockroaches are primarily active at night, especially around midnight. A period of immobility was noticed in the later hours of the night.

Basically, they have three states of activity:

  • Locomotion
  • Antenna or limb movement without locomotion
  • Immobility

As a result, they don’t sleep on their backs or bellies like mammals. Instead, they experience a period of inactivity when they don’t interact with their surroundings. This idle period is what we can consider the sleeping state for roaches. 

Conclusion

There are many arguments as to why cockroaches stay still for so long. Scientists have discovered that roaches stay still when trying to communicate using pheromones (chemical signals), while studies have also shown that roaches stay still due to neck lesions.

Cockroaches can also stand still for a long time when they’re molting, laying eggs, or using their senses.

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