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Cave Cockroaches: Oldest Cave-Dwelling Bugs

99 Million Years

Cockroaches are infamously resilient, durable creatures. They can survive without their heads, go weeks without food, and are even extremely resistant to nuclear radiation. Being so hardy, it’s not shocking to find that these insects have been roaming Earth for millions of years. 

Two ancestors of the modern cockroach, the Mulleriblattina bowangi and the Crenocticola svadba, were discovered preserved in amber in a cave in the Hukawng Valley in Myanmar, between China and India. When dated, these specimens were found to be 99 million years old! This means that they were alive and thriving during the Cretaceous Period spanning 66 to 145 million years ago. 

Cave Dwellers

Mulleriblattina bowangi had a very pale body and legs that lacked the signature spines on the legs of roaches today. It also had telltale signs of evolving within caves as its wings were stunted and eyes appeared not fully functional. The insect also sported antennae that were particularly elongated, most likely to be used for navigation in the dark caves. 

The Crenocticola svadba, had less drastic signs of evolving for cave-dwelling, and may have actually not led a “cave-exclusive” lifestyle. 

Survivors

These two species are evidence that ancient cockroaches may have withstood the massive extinction events in history, allowing cockroaches to live amongst us today. In fact… that might be part of the reason why cockroaches are still so utterly resilient today. 

Citations 

Wu, K. (2020) Oldest Known Cave-Dwellers Are 99-Million-Year-Old Cockroaches, The Smithsonian Magazine. SmartNews. Available at: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/99-million-year-old-cockroaches-are-oldest-known-cave-dwellers-180974284/ (Accessed: June 2020).