Cockroaches can survive nuclear radiation: fact or fiction? A scientist has answers

By: |
January 25, 2021 12:43 PM

Shiv Nadar School’s Physics PGT Rachna Arora has shed light on whether the resilience of cockroaches is a myth or reality.

cockroaches tolerance nuclear radiationCockroaches are wondrous creatures which have been inhabiting the Earth for about 250 million years. (Representational image: Thinkstock via IE)

Cockroaches and nuclear radiation: For long, the mighty cockroaches have been believed to last just about anything to eventually take over the world. With strong survival instincts, it is also commonly believed that they can even survive nuclear radiation, which is among the strongest combat weapons that the countries have against each other right now. In order to shed light on whether the resilience of cockroaches is a myth or reality, Shiv Nadar School’s Physics PGT Rachna Arora penned down an article for IE.

The strength of cockroaches

Cockroaches are wondrous creatures which have been inhabiting the Earth for about 250 million years, dating back to the time when dinosaurs still roamed around on the planet. Cockroaches survived the asteroid impact that killed dinosaurs about 66 million years ago and then witnessed the evolution of mankind. The scientist said that cockroaches have the ability to sustain in any kind of environment, be it arctic conditions, or extreme tropical ones.

Stopping cockroaches is nearly impossible, because they can squeeze through spaces that are one-fourth of their height, that too within a second. Moreover, these tiny creatures can run at a speed of 320 km/h, which means that they run 50 body lengths a second. Not just that, they can even survive crushing, because they have a tolerance of a weight of over 900 times their body weight without getting injured, and can even sustain for a week without their heads. Since they do not have highly pressurised blood vessels like humans do, they do not bleed out. They can even breathe through the spiracles all over the body, which is why they can sustain a week without their heads, eventually dying of thirst. Cockroaches are also capable of surviving without food for around a month.

Even though cockroaches are incapable of regenerating their heads, they can regenerate their limbs, eyes as well as antennae. Holding their breaths for 40 minutes, cockroaches can run, walk, swim as well as almost fly, and can sustain on any kind of food, ranging from normal food like cheese and meat, to abnormal ones like nails, cardboard and blood. Unhygienic environment does not exist for them due to their super strong immunity.

Cockroaches and nuclear disaster

As per popular belief, cockroaches can survive nuclear disaster, and this theory only became more popular after the nuclear attacks by the US on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Reportedly, cockroaches were seen at the site of rubble and destruction. Arora says that this is a little bit of fact and a little bit of fiction.

Extensive research carried out on this issue has shown that cockroaches can endure radiation. During the explosions in Japan, a radiation of 1,000 rads was emitted, and this is enough to kill humans if they are exposed to such radiation for 10 minutes. However, 50% of cockroaches exposed to this radiation remain alive and kicking, Arora said. Not just that, as many as 30% of the cockroaches exposed to a whopping 10,000 rads of radiation would continue to remain healthy. However, this seems to be the epitome of their tolerance, because post this level, the survival rate among cockroaches was found to be marginal.

The scientist added that unless the cockroaches are undergoing an ‘exoskeleton growing phase’ or ‘molting process’ during which they are vulnerable and weak, they can withstand the radiation.

However, if cockroaches are directly exposed to the blast of the nuclear weapon, they die because of the heat levels.

Arora added that scientists are now working on development of a rescue robot inspired by cockroaches to locate survivors who are stuck in confined spaces if natural calamity or man-made disaster occurs.

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