Discovering a cockroach infestation is a horrifying experience, and they are difficult to get rid of once established in a residence. Synonymous with filth and unsanitary conditions, some wonder, ‘Why would God create such a disgusting creature?’ Were they really part of God’s original ‘very good’ creation?

In fact, while they get a bad reputation from their pest cousins, there are thousands of species of cockroaches that do not infest homes, and actually play vital ecological roles. They also display indicators of ingenious design that robotics engineers are learning from.

Forest ecology

In forests, one of cockroaches’ most important roles is in breaking down leaf litter that accumulates continually on forest floors. Soil microbes actually do most of the work, but cockroaches play a significant part. They break down the leaf litter and move it around, making it more accessible to the microbes. They also carry the microbes around. Their digestive tract and droppings are ideal places for the microbes to live.1

In most ecosystems, lots of insects help decompose plant litter. But in some places, the cockroach is particularly critical. “Many of the ground-dwelling, wingless cockroaches of Australia are important in leaf litter breakdown. This is particularly true in stands of Eucalyptus, where litter production is high relative to forest types, leaves decompose slowly, and more typical decomposers such as earthworms, isopods, and millipedes are uncommon.”2

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