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Roaches to the Rescue?

Scientists say that cockroaches might someday be able to help humans in a big way!

An illustration of a Madagascar hissing cockroach with thin panels, wires, and circuitry attached to its body
Kakei, Y., Katayama, S., Lee, S. et al. Integration of body-mounted ultrasoft organic solar cell on cyborg insects with intact mobility. npj Flex Electron 6, 78 (2022). (CC BY 4.0)

Do you like cockroaches? You might become a fan, after reading this story!

Scientists say that roaches might someday be a big help to humans. They’ve invented an electronic roach “backpack” that could allow people to control the insect as it moves through areas that humans can’t reach.

A team of scientists in Japan created a thin, flexible device that fits on the body of a large roach. Scientists can send signals through the device to make the roach move in the direction they choose. The backpack is solar powered (powered by the Sun), so it never runs out of energy. Scientists say that the backpacks turn roaches into “cyborg roaches,” meaning it’s as if they’re partly roach and partly robot. 

Scientists hope to be able to send cyborg roaches into disaster areas to find people who are waiting to be rescued. They could also use the robotic roaches in hard-to-reach places to collect information on things like pollution. 

But the scientists aren’t quite ready to do that yet. First, they plan to make the backpacks even smaller and then add equipment, like thermometers or cameras, onto the backpacks. This type of equipment would allow the roaches to become true six-legged helpers.

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Fun Fact

© kozorog/; Animation Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

There are 1.4 billion insects for every human being on Earth!

Meet the Madagascar Hissing Cockroach

A hand turned sideways with a Madagascar hissing cockroach resting on the fingers
© barbaraaaa—iStock/Getty Images Plus

When scientists thought about creating a backpack for roaches, they needed to find just the right kind of roach. They chose the Madagascar hissing cockroach. The Madagascar hissing cockroach is one of the largest species of cockroach in the world, so it can easily carry a backpack around. And unlike many other cockroach species, it doesn’t have wings, which might get in the way of a backpack. 

This roach species is named after Madagascar, an island off the southeastern coast of Africa where the roaches are from. Madagascar has a tropical climate, and some of it is covered in rainforest. Madagascar hissing cockroaches are important to the rainforest. They help keep the forest healthy by eating the stuff most other animals don’t want—dead plants and animals that are decaying (rotting away). 

Can the Madagascar hissing cockroach really hiss? Yes! If you’ve ever heard a cat hiss, then you know it sounds a little like air is being sucked in or out. The male roaches do most of the hissing. They are territorial, meaning they will defend their home space from other roaches, and they hiss to show they’re angry. A male roach will also hiss when it’s trying to attract a mate.

The Madagascar hissing cockroach is not a cockroach species that becomes a pest inside people’s homes. In fact, out of 4,500 cockroach species in the world, only about 30 are considered to be pests.

The Buzz on Bugs…and Other Insects

© Daniel Eskridge—Stocktrek Images/Getty Images; Photo illustration Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Insects lived on Earth before the dinosaurs!

You can learn more about these amazing animals at Britannica School.

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Word of the Day


Part of speech:



: a branch of science that deals with the study of insects

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How many insects can you find?


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