Do we have an intrinsic, evolutionary disgust of cockroaches?

| | August 17, 2015
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Cockroaches have been smeared in the press for millennia. The ancient Egyptian “Book of the Dead” contains an insecticidal spell, and Pliny the Elder, in his “Natural History,” recommended that the “disgusting” pests be summarily squashed. According to Valerie Curtis, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the author of a recent book about the science of revulsion, the human tendency to recoil from cockroaches may have evolutionary underpinnings. Those of our ancestors who tended, even in the absence of the germ theory of disease, to steer clear of the things that cockroaches love most — bodily waste, spoiled foods, and so on — may have done “better, on average, in the reproduction lottery,” she said.

But Brent Karner, a former curator of entomology at the Los Angeles Natural History Museum, attributes humanity’s roach hatred not to an evolutionarily sensible disgust response but to a delusional and destructive detachment from nature. “In caves around the world, the ceiling is covered in bats and the floor is a moving mass of cockroaches and bat shit,” he said. “The roaches are cleaning that up so that the bats can continue to live there without pooping themselves out of house and home.” When our ancient ancestors first upgraded to cave living, the insects might have provided the same service, Karner suggested, and perhaps even been tolerated for it. Over time, however, as we settled into houses and domesticated a handful of favored animals, the cockroach became an unwelcome guest.

Read full, original post: In defense of the cockroach

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