Water Bugs: A Story of Absolution

Every living creature has the potential to expand our understanding of who we are—even the resilient, reviled cockroach.

Photo by Getty Images/CSA-Printstock.

Katsaridaphobia is the fear of cockroaches. It is umbrellaed by entomophobia, the panic caused by insects, ten quintillion individuals of which are alive on the earth at any one time.

There are sound reasons to be wary of roaches, as their feces cause asthma in children, and their feet, entomological crampons, carry salmonella and other microbial nemeses that spoil food.

But unlike mosquitoes, our world’s deadliest creature, cockroaches do not carry dengue, nor malaria, nor yellow fever, nor West Nile, nor encephalitis. They cannot chew wiring and ignite fires like squirrels. They do not envenomate ankles. They cannot dump their family of four into steel barrels and leave them to decompose in New Hampshire for fifteen years as one human did. And if you’re alive, they will not eat you.

There is little that is life threatening, actually, about the scurrying, bark-colored insect—unless you should enter an invertebrate-eating contest as Edward Archbold did. Archbold, a thirty-two-year-old father of two, competed in the bug-munching marathon at a Miami-area reptile store. He sported a ponytail, a yellow tied-dyed T-shirt, and a rocker sweatband. He was required to munch sixty grams of mealworms, thirty-five three-inch-long “super worms,” and a bucketful of live giant South American cockroaches, all in hopes of winning an $850 python.

He swallowed many roaches whole. Witnesses say he crammed bugs into his mouth even as the insects crawled out, desperate for light, their antennae twitching at his lips.

Thomas Prentice
9/6/2019 2:12:47 PM

Basically I like bugs but I cannot stand cockroaches. Maybe I need to stare creature to creature with a live cockroach the way I stared and talked to a sea turtle who swam up to say hi and clap my facemask with his flippers off Molokini once. But this, really, is, a problem because it is *not* the isolated roach spotted scurrying in sudden midnight bathroom light: "roaches covering the walls and some falling from the ceiling." This is really and truly a *problem." The police should have arrested the landlord for not keeping the place exterminated.

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