SAS scientists have discovered cockroaches that live like a superorganism

8.10.2020, 1055 visits


Most organisms in nature live simply, solitary. Only a small number have reached the highest level of the hierarchy and live in organised "states". These include, for example, bees or ants, but also foreign termites and 15 other bizarre groups. These "eusocial" organisms are characterised by division of labour, overlapping generations, and care for offspring. Scientists from the Slovak Academy of Sciences have found that cockroaches also form such a "superorganism". These days, their research is commented upon by the world's most prestigious scientific and popularization media.

One of the most bizarre is, without a doubt, the green metallic cockroach of the Melyroidea group, which the authors thought was a relic from the time of the dinosaurs, and therefore subjected it to a detailed study. However, the unusual structure of the body turned out to be the result not of primitivity, but of its way of life. It is a special group of cockroaches living in nests (states) of up to 1000 individuals. They probably feed exclusively on green algae. Nymphs of all developmental stages, adult "workers" as well as "queen" were observed, while adults fed the nymphs,” said Peter Vršanský, geologist of the SAS, who is the leader of the international research team.

The nest of this genus of cockroaches was found only after several years of searching in an unspecified tree species of the genus Casearia.  These trees have hard wood that does not decompose as fast as most other tree species in the rainforest. Cockroach nests have also been found in bamboos, which also have very hard wood, and are therefore suitable for building a perennial nest.

Several cockroaches from the same family are characterised by a certain level of social life, as we have managed to document such a way of life in other newly described related species. We hope that our research will also help protect one of the most valuable areas in the world, which is the UNESCO Sumaco Biosphere Reserve in Ecuador,” said Ľubomír Vidlička from the Institute of Zoology SAS.

During several expeditions to these rare habitats, the scientists documented the entire life cycle in detail and created a profile of the behaviour of the mentioned animals. Ivana Koubová from the Earth Science Institute of the SAS, Jan Hinkelman, a doctoral student at the Institute of Zoology SAS, and Štefan Nagy from the Institute of Materials and Machine Mechanics SAS also took part in the research.

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Photo:  Paul Bertner v Hinkelman et al. (2020)

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A cluster of cockroaches captured in Ecuador.