With a body built for survival, love ‘em or loathe ‘em, nobody can deny that the cockroach is one of the hardest creatures planet earth has ever known. They can run, walk, jump, hop, fly, and swim, and according to urban legend, they have the grit to outlive a nuclear disaster. They’ve been here on earth for at least 250 million years, hung out with dinosaurs, and witnessed the evolution of humankind. It definitely looks like they’re here to stay on planet Earth, no matter how much humans try to destroy them. Today we’ll put the common cockroach under our wide-lensed microscope and see exactly what all the fuss is about. If you’re squeamish about bugs, or anxious about nuclear Armageddon, prepare yourself, because in this episode of the Infographics Show we ask – How can a cockroach survive a nuclear explosion?

The cockroach is one hardy little critter who’s been crawling and buzzing around the planet since the Jurassic period, when dinosaurs still roamed the earth over 200 million years ago. Having survived the giant asteroid 66 million years ago that finished off the triceratops, tyrannosaurus rex, and others, this little insect looks set to remain on the planet. The cockroach is an insect of the Blattoda order that includes other creepy crawlies such as termites. About 30 of the 4,500 cockroach species are known to live amongst humans. They survive and flourish in both arctic and tropical conditions. Their thin, lean design allows them to hide deep within slim cracks in surface material, and wait out environmental changes. Cockroaches can also swim, holding their breath for 40 minutes, and if you submerged one in a bucket of water, it could probably survive for over an hour.  If you chop a cockroach’s head off, it could survive for about a week, as they have an open circulatory system, and thus don’t require the head to breath. Roaches prefer to run, and they can reach speeds of up to 3 miles an hour. Some can fly at an altitude of 10 meters for a distance of 100 to 200 meters, while others, such as the American Cockroach, uses its wings to glide down from higher to lower level apartment buildings. In the typical home, you might find cockroaches under the bed, in the toilet, in the cupboards, and twitching in all those nook and crannies you dare not normally look. Especially if you happen to live in South America, where the largest roach species measures six inches in length and has a 12 inch wing-span.

The idea or theory that cockroaches will inherit the earth following a nuclear explosion arose shortly after the United States dropped the little boy and fat man atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki towards the end of the Second World War. Reports from the rubble claimed that these ancient insects were rising through the cracks in the destroyed city like the newly crowned insect victors of a post-apocalyptic world. During the Cold War, activists and scientists spread the urban myth of a cockroach new order to install fear and hopefully delay the potential of an all-out nuclear holocaust. The truth however is a little different. Although cockroaches can survive the radiation of a little boy style nuclear bomb, if it were caught in the actual blast, it would be destroyed on the spot, as the body of a cockroach wouldn’t withstand the heat. Due to their slow cell cycles and the simple design of their bodies, cockroaches are able to withstand extreme forms of radiation, but the actual blast would kill them. The roach would have to be underground, somewhere out of range of the impact and heat of the original explosion, in some type of roach friendly fallout shelter perhaps. So when the blast is over, our buggy friend would be able to walk up and around freely amongst the rubble and destruction unharmed by the death clouds of radiation floating around his insect body. But would it be the only survivor?    

The Discovery Channel’s Myth-busters decided to put the cockroach nuclear theory to the test, when they took a set of German cockroaches and exposed them to varying degrees of radiation levels to see just how much they took before they cracked. They used three levels of colbalt-60 metal beginning with a baseline of 1,000 radon units, enough to kill a person in 10 minutes. They increased that to 10,000 and then 100,000 radon units. For reference, the Little Boy bomb dropped on Hiroshima emitted about 10,000 radon units. The cockroaches survived the 1,000 and 10,000 radon units, and began to drop off at the 100,000 level – that’s ten times the radiation of the nuclear bomb. But the interesting factor in this experiment is that the Mythbusters team, in the interests of a good scientific experiment, also used a couple of other creepy crawlies, namely the fruit-fly and the flower-beetle. While the fruit-flies dropped out early in the experiment due to natural causes, the flower-beetle lasted longer than all of the contenders at the 100,000 radon level. And that’s not all. Other creatures who have been tipped to survive a nuclear fallout include the scorpion, amoebas, a species of wasp, an ugly type of worm called the tardigrade, and Keith Richards of the British rock and roll band the Rolling Stones.      

All this begs the questions, if cockroaches can survive nuclear radiation ten times that of Hiroshima, then what do they put in those bug spray cans we use to exterminate a domestic outbreak of pesky roaches? The answer is simple. A type of nerve gas similar to what’s used in dirty warfare is compressed into those cans. Spray the nozzle and a lethal cocktail of nerve gas will squirt out and send your potential nuclear survivor onto his back where you’ll see him wriggle with those little insect legs twitching, like he just had his entire nervous system fried. Which, of course, he has.   

So, could a nuclear blast happen in our lifetime? If so, what would be left on the planet apart from cockroaches, flower-beetles, and other creepy crawlies? Would those insects create a better world? Let us know your thoughts in the comments. Also, be sure to watch our other video called People who became Billionaires the Youngest. Thanks for watching, and as always, don’t forget to like, share and subscribe, see you next time!






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