The Loh Down On Science

A new fossil discovery rewrites the history of cockroaches in America!

Blame Europe for a lot of things – ABBA, clogs, the Yugo . . . but not cockroaches!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

The cockroach genus Ectobius now lives and thrives among us – and our dirty dishes – but it hasn’t always. Specimens from the Balkans, preserved in amber, go back 44-million years.  But Ectobius didn’t show up in America until just 65 years ago.  So entomologists have always blamed Europe for introducing this pest to our shores.

But, au contraire!  A recent discovery tells a different story.  Ectobius fossils have now been found deep in the sediment of Colorado’s Green River Formation.  And these little buggers are 49-million years old – predating their Eurasian cousins by 5 million years!  Where have they been all this time?

Researchers surmise that Ectobius ditched North America for warmer European climes.  But over time, they adapted in ways that allowed them to survive a cooler habitat.  And back they came to conquer the New World.

So, welcome back, all-American cockroaches!  We’ve booked you this very lovely motel room.

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The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, in partnership with the University of California, Irvine, and 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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