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Look Out New Yorkers: Hot Weather Makes Roaches Take to the Skies

Ew ew ew ew ew

(Gary Alpert via Wikimedia Commons)
smithsonian.com

Many people throughout the eastern and central United States have struggled through a sweltering summer. But while this weather may be hard for some people to handle, other animals take it in stride, or even thrive—particularly cockroaches, which are taking off in this year's heat in more ways than one.

Cockroaches seem like they can survive just about anywhere and anything. And they are right at home in blazing hot, humid weather. For some species of roaches this heat even makes them more likely to spread their wings and soar, Gwynne Hogan reports for DNAinfo.

“In hot steam tunnels, something with the temperature and the humidity encourages them to fly,” Ken Schumann, an entomologist at Bell Environmental Services, tells Hogan. “When it's warm and steamy that seems to be what they like."

For many urban cockroaches, flying is a rare or seasonal behavior. They often live in densely populated places like New York City, where they can easily flit from one meal to the next without lifting a wing. Flying is more common in parts of the southern U.S. and in suburban neighborhoods, where the roaches have to take to the skies to locate more food, Samantha Cole writes for Popular Science. But apparently, if it gets hot and damp enough, even the northern roaches can't help but stretch their wings. 

"With more heat they have more use of their muscles," Louis Sorkin, an entomologist at the American Museum of Natural History tells Hogan. "The more activity, the more flight."

Luckily, not all of the bugs can fly. The two most common cockroach species in the U.S. are German and American roaches, and while both kinds have wings, German roaches mainly live inside and greatly prefer skittering around on the ground to taking flight, according to pest control company Orkin. Their American cousins, on the other hand, prefer to live outdoors and rely more on their wings to get around.

Though it might be cold comfort for any unsuspecting city dweller who suddenly comes face-to-face with an airborne cockroach, they don’t really fly—they glide, Hogan reports. While they can get a little lift, American cockroaches usually use their wings to get from a higher place to a lower one instead of the other way around.

"Compare a bird to a chicken," Hao Yu, another entomologist at Bell Environmental Services, tells Hogan. "[Roaches aren't] true fliers as you would define a bee or a dragonfly."

But that may not be exactly what a person being dive-bombed by roaches may want to hear.

About Danny Lewis

Danny Lewis is a multimedia journalist working in print, radio, and illustration. He focuses on stories with a health/science bent and has reported some of his favorite pieces from the prow of a canoe. Danny is based in Brooklyn, NY.

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