Today I had a brief after-lunch session in the lab to look at the nervous system of a cockroach, as part of Betsy Sherman’s Neurons, Networks, and Behavior class. Betsy has the wonderful ability to make people excited about things they would normally ignore, or even be repulsed by, such as cockroach neurology. I am going to try to do the same thing here, by sharing an interesting factoid and two pretty pictures.
First factoid: Cockroach nervous systems are not structured like ours in that we have a single, centralized nervous system in our head. Instead, the nervous system is distributed. What does this mean? It means that if a cockroach loses its head, it will continue living. It will later die only because it is no longer able to eat, not having a head and all. If you cut off the leg of a cockroach, you can consider that leg to be “alive” in that it has a functional nervous system. If this is making you squeamish, try to get it over it so you can realize how jaw-droppingly badass it is.
I snapped some photos through the microscope lens today of the nervous system of a cockroach, as well as the hairs on its body that enable it to escape from predators by sensing gentle puffs of wind (as soft as a pop of the lips, if you are trying to sneak up on a cockroach, you’ll probably fail because of the air currents created by your feet hitting the ground). Out of courtesy to the entomologically un-inclined, I will link to these photos rather than make you look at them unwarned. Some think they’re gross, I think they’re beautiful.