They are the most despised of all insects. Disconcertingly large and fast, and they live in the most unsanitary conditions. It's no wonder the first reaction of many to seeing a cockroach scuttling their way is to try to exterminate the little blighter, and few would shed a tear at the thought of the entire species dying out. But, of course, things are not so simple. Unpleasant though they are, according to biologists the humble cockroach is essential to the survival of the planet's delicate ecosystem.
According to Srini Kambhampati, professor and chair of the biology department at the University of Texas at Tyler, the disappearance of cockroaches would play havoc with the nitrogen cycle. Professor Kambhampati, a leading expert on roaches, told the Huffington Post: 'Most cockroaches feed on decaying organic matter, which traps a lot of nitrogen. 'Cockroach feeding has the effect of releasing that nitrogen (in their feces) which then gets into the soil and is used by plants. 'In other words, extinction of cockroaches would have a big impact on forest health and therefore indirectly on all the species that live there.'
The professor also warned that the Earth's 5,000 to 10,000 cockroach species are also an important source of food for many birds and small mammals like mice and rats. In turn, these predators are themselves prey to many other species like cats, coyotes, wolves and reptiles, as well as eagles and other birds of prey. Any cut to the number of roaches would thus have a cascading effect on the wellbeing of all these species that could have a devastating effect on wildlife across the world. Of course, there's not much chance of a cockroach extinction level event happening any time soon. Still, although it was once reckoned that they would be one of the few creatures to survive even a nuclear Third World War, that myth has since been debunked.