Monday, April 27, 2015

i just can't

There was a bit of a scene in my house last week. Let me set the stage for you.

I’ve had a very long day. Up at 4:30 AM, done with work at 8:00 PM. I’m exhausted and finishing my lentil quinoa bowl from Panera. All I can think about is taking a quick shower and lying down to go to sleep.

So I go into my bathroom, turn on the shower, strip my clothes, and start fishing out bobby pins from my hair. And then I see it.

Within about half a second, I’m out of the bathroom and hiding behind my doorframe, screaming, peering back into the bathroom at a huge cockroach perched on my shower curtain.

Now before you assume that I’m a sissy girl who hates bugs, let me clarify that I regularly scoop up spiders, crickets, and other arthropod friends and take them outside to set them free. But when it comes to cockroaches, I simply cannot. I JUST CAN’T.

They’re big, so they feel very invasive. They scurry. They climb up walls. They twitch their long creepy antennas. They’re dirty. They make sounds when they walk. Their presence in my personal space disturbs me to my very core- even more than people who hashtag their babies. And that’s a lot.
The only roach I will ever be REMOTELY okay with,
Hal from Wall-E.

After screaming a bad word at the roach for a while, I left the room to collect myself. Was I being unreasonable? Well, clearly, yes. But was I being cruel in my wanting to kill this cockroach? Should I try to capture it and take it outside like I do my arachnid friends? Was he just as scared of me as I was of him?

A recent paper claimed to prove that roaches have personalities. Basically, they microchipped the little bastards and dropped a bunch of them into a brightly lit arena with shelters here and there. Roaches are naturally averse to light, and will seek dark places to dwell. The folks running this study used the microchips to track the movements of these roaches, and found that some lingered in the light longer than others, suggesting that they are “braver” than those that sought darkness immediately, who were interpreted as being “more timid.”

Another interpretation, or perhaps just a more continued explanation, of these results is that these foraging/shelter-seeking behaviors have evolved to be varied in the species because it is advantageous. Since roaches are social and live in colonies, it would make sense for these behaviors to be varied. Perhaps the roaches who ran for darkness first were trying to signal to the others what to do. Or perhaps the ones who explored in the light were more likely to find an escape from the arena altogether, or even a new food source for everyone.

I touched on the evolution of personalities in my post Myer-Briggs Voodoo Magic. I don’t think it’s too much of a jump to say that social animals that live in groups have mostly evolved to have a variety of exploration behaviors, simply because it improves survival chances of the group.

Am I prepared to say that cockroaches have personalities? Oh hell no. But then again, what exactly is a personality? Maybe, by classical definition, cockroaches do have personalities. Are they as complex as ours? Or as dogs? Absolutely not.

It begs an interesting question- where do we draw the line on which animals think and feel, and those we deem as unthinking and unfeeling? Would you easily kill a dog? No. But would you easily kill a lizard, or a starfish, or a shrimp, or a ladybug?

As an interesting side note, I read some research recently on invertebrate pain. Evidence suggests that insects do not feel it, but crustaceans like crabs most certainly do, and even seem to remember and fear the cause of that pain. Does that change how you feel about killing arthropods?

As for my roommate, I did not kill him. But it wasn’t for lack of trying. I swatted at him with a shoe, screamed, and ran. Then he climbed onto the ceiling. So then I went and sat on my couch and cried for five minutes, until I gathered the courage to spray him with Lysol until he scurried behind the toilet. After that, I shut the bathroom door and crawled into fetal position in my bed and tried to manage my roach anxiety. I had roach nightmares all night.

I spent this past Sunday spraying my house with bug spray and sanitizing every single surface I could find. And now I have a can of Raid in every single room, ready to bring death to any of the “brave” roaches that dare show their ugly little faces in my house.

Now here's a picture of my super cute dog to get rid of the heeby jeebies.