While there may be more than 4,000 species of cockroaches that roam the earth, only about 30 different varieties live among humans, inspiring the “yuck” factor as they scurry through our homes and businesses.
They’re tough — able to live for a week after being decapitated and can withstand pressure of up to 900 times their body weight. And they are scary quick, with their speed-to-body-length ratio equivalent to a human running at about 200 mph.
So what happened to the now-dubbed Supella dominicana? That is the name of a new species of cockroach found encased in Dominican amber and made even more distinct in that it is the first fossilized cockroach to be found with sperm cells.
“It is well preserved with a yellow cross bar across the wings and a central, vertical, yellow stripe that appears to divide the body into two parts,” said George Poinar Jr., professor emeritus in the Oregon State University College of Science. Poinar is the researcher who identified the new species.
“It has long spines, used for defense, on its legs, especially the hind legs. Also of interest is the sperm bundle containing spermatozoa with dark acrosomes, structures covering the head of the sperm, since fossil sperm are rare,” he said.
The specimen, about 30 million years old, is also the only cockroach of its variety — ectobiidae — to be discovered in amber from the Dominican Republic, though it has no living descendants in the Dominican or anywhere in the West Indies.
As Interesting Engineering reported, Poinar mused about the extinct species in the face of how hard it is to kill the pathogen-carrying cockroach we humans have to live with today.
Cockroaches walk through sewage or decaying matter and, as Poinar notes, are likely to contaminate the surfaces they touch.
“They are considered medically important insects since they are carriers of human pathogens, including bacteria that cause salmonella, staphylococcus and streptococcus,” Poinar said. “They also harbor viruses. And in addition to spreading pathogens and causing allergic reactions, just their presence is very unsettling.”
In addition, the publication reported, cockroaches also contain enzymes that protect their toxic substances. That is one of the reasons they cannot be easily evicted. There’s also evidence that they’re developing resistance to many insecticides.
“The difficulty in eliminating them from homes once they’ve taken up residence can cause a lot of stress,” Poinar said. “Many might say that the best place for a cockroach is entombed in amber.”
Poinar’s identification of the new species was published in the journal Biologia.