Sunday, February 6, 2011

Cockroach Ghost

An American cockroach nymph, Periplanta americana
Do you remember hearing about metamorphosis in biology class?

There are two kinds: complete metamorphosis during which dramatic change happens like when caterpillars become butterflies, and incomplete metamorphosis where growth occurs in successively larger but not-too-different stages called nymphs.

Roaches undergo incomplete metamorphosis. The picture shows one of the large later stage nymphs of an American cockroach (misleadingly named since they originated in Africa and were introduced here).

I found this one on the floor of a Manhattan office. After I photographed it, I touched it and found that it was an empty shell. Did it die and sit there unnoticed until it dried out? It is over an inch long from toe to antenna tip; could the custodial service have missed it for that long? Or did it somehow manage to shed this skin in one piece just the night before?

American cockroaches are common in warm moist places where they can find food, like restaurant kitchens, grocery stores and bakeries, sewers, and cellars. The adults are reddish brown and they average about one and a half inches long. They are disturbingly fast; a university study clocked them at about 50 body lengths per second, which would translate to a human running speed of about 200 miles per hour. In any stage of growth they seem to have what it takes to give us the creeps.

Do you remember hearing about metamorphosis in literature class?

“One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin. He lay on his armour-like back, and if he lifted his head a little he could see his brown belly, slightly domed and divided by arches into stiff sections. The bedding was hardly able to cover it and seemed ready to slide off any moment. His many legs, pitifully thin compared with the size of the rest of him, waved about helplessly as he looked.” Franz Kafka -- Metamorphosis 

P.S. I am getting emails from many people who have just received my book through online orders from Amazon or Barnes and Noble or Stackpole Books. Thanks to all of you who have sent me nice comments! JF

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