La Cucaracha

July 2nd, 2014

La cucaracha, la cucaracha,
Ya no puede caminar…


I stumbled upon this lovely scene in the men’s room by my lab last night.

At some point in every single laboratory I’ve ever worked, I’ve encountered a dead cockroach lying flat on its back. Without exception, my first thought is always:

What horribly toxic substance has this poor creature encountered to cause her
to die alone and out in the open like this?

After a few seconds of thoughtful reflection, I usually convince myself the cockroach died of natural causes and we are all safe. In other news, I wish I could say that I’ve never seen a labmate do this:

Fortunately, I haven’t had the excitement of seeing a live one racing around the floor in a long time.

18 Responses to “La Cucaracha”

  1. oldnuke Says:

    My late father was an entomologist at DuPont and developed pesticides (methomyl was his big one). He used to say the best way to kill a cockroach was aerial bombing with blacksmith’s anvils. I spent a summer there.

    One of my summer tasks was feeding the cockroach colony and cleaning their cages. Never liked that job, but I got over it. They became just another insect in the inventory. (On the other hand, the boll weevils were pretty fascinating to me – we fed them unripe green bananas right off the docks here in Wilmington. Of course, you had to make sure to kill the occasional tarantula that was mixed in with the fruit. !)

    Anvils at angels 35 inbound! :-)

  2. Bethany Halford Says:

    I am reminded of a story I wrote about the synthesis of the sex pheromone of the German cockroach back in 2005 (C&EN, Feb. 21, 2005, p. 9 – I just looked up the original Science paper (DOI: 10.1126/science.1107163) and found this in the acknowledgements:

    “We thank previous workers who tackled this difficult problem in our labs, especially D. Liang, A. Zhang, and C. Gemeno, and J. Sun who expertly reared, sorted, dissected, and extracted thousands of cockroaches.” Ew.

    Curiously, there is nothing about how meticulously they needed to clean their glassware or themselves to prevent smitten roaches from wandering into the lab or homes.

  3. John Spevacek Says:

    Linoleic acid is a necromone – a death hormone given off by squished cockroaches warning their kin to avoid the area. Liberal use out to keep them out of your lab building and into one where science and technology are frowned upon.

  4. Fireman Bill Says:

    So you advocate spraying a volatile and flammable solvent indoors to kill a bug?
    Could be dangerous.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    So you advocate spraying a volatile and flammable solvent indoors to kill a bug?
    Could be dangerous.

  6. Paul Bracher Says:

    I absolutely do not advocate shooting acetone onto roaches to kill them. In addition to creating a fire hazard, you’re going to strip the floor wax and make a big, ugly mess. I bet the janitor was real happy with the woman pictured above.

  7. SpeedyGonzales Says:

    I used the lineoleic acid trick when I had a roach infestation. Mixed it with some BHT to slow oxidation, soaked some filter paper in it, and put about 30 torn up pieces around my apartment. Kept the roaches away for about 2 months. Interestingly, the baby roaches don’t seem to be repelled by it, but eventually when the adults are repelled there are no more baby roaches.

  8. Rhenium Says:

    Comments like the dupe from “Fireman Bill” make me shake my head… seriously people it’s not butyl-lithium.

  9. fluorogrol Says:

    Can you catch them and set them to work? How many cockroaches does it take to spin a rotovap?

  10. Graet Chem Says:

    @Fluorogrol – There’s an article in Journal of Experimental Biology that says the power of a cockroach stride is about 21 mW/kg – so to create the power of a 1400 W rotavap motor you’d need over 13 million.

  11. Matt Says:

    During my first research experiences, one of our collaborators used photoacoustic spectroscopy to determine that cockroaches only need to breath once every half an hour.

  12. Chemjobber Says:

    An opportunity to post my favorite section from “The Billion-Dollar Molecule”:

    Finally, on Christmas Eve 1983, the work was completed. Schreiber’s compound was so potent that several femtograms – several quadtrillionths of a gram – were enough to send a half dozen male cockroaches into an orgy of sexual self-devastation. The insects immediately stood on their back legs and stared flapping their wings frantically. Fifteen seconds later, they had broken antennae, gnawed legs, and tattered wings – and apparently no further appetite for arousal. “It is easy to see that they are suffering from several sexual fatigue,” Schreiber observed dryly.

    Poor fellas.

  13. oldnuke Says:

    @Chemjobber — Why wasn’t that compound commercialized? Sounds like the next best thing since anvils!

  14. cg Says:

    Soapy water in a spray bottle, like you might use to kill small bugs on houseplants, works on bigger bugs like these as a contact killer, is totally non-toxic and doesn’t interfere with a professional exterminator’s chemicals. I make mine with a lot of dish detergent, some water, and spray enough to cover them, especially the softer belly parts.

  15. wolfie Says:

    As I live in Europe, i.e., in the developed part of the western world, I have never seen a cockroach there before, not even in a chemical lab. How could I, as we had a kilogram of sodium cyanide openly standing on the shelf in the Hermann Staudinger Institute in Freiburg during my doctoral thesis. Probably it killed all roaches available there.

    ON the other hand, I met my first cockroach at the Upper East Side in New York City in my girl friend’s appartment close to 72nd and York Avenue. Is this because NYC is the world’s capital, so even cockroaches have a right to live there ?

    Life is complex, but not easy.

  16. Ed Says:

    if one doesnt wish to use flammable solvents to kill roaches, will DCM not suffice? Works a treat on spiders that much i know!

  17. James Says:

    Is not plain old non-toxic boric acid the cockroach fumigant of choice? Worked like a charm when my grad-school apartment got infested.

  18. Newcastle Kill a Pest Says:

    Good sanitation and habitat reduction is the key to effective roach control! Never let your business or home be raided by these pests! Pest Control Professionals can help in dealing with them.

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