Ask Allison: How do I become a cockroach?

Dear Allison,

In light of recent news, I’m becoming increasingly concerned of impending nuclear attack. I feel that regardless of protest and unpopular opinion, President Trump will make rash decisions. With that being said, I heard cockroaches will survive both nuclear attack and the radiation that follows. Who are some scientists I can get in touch with to help me transform into a cockroach? Like, I don’t know if I want to be a human sized cockroach, or a cockroach sized cockroach; I’m flexible.

Sincerely Hopeful,

Girl Turned Pest


Dear Girl Turned Pest,

Wow, when you put it like that, maybe becoming a cockroach would simplify things… has anybody figured out transfiguration? Somebody, quick! Call JK Rowling!

While somebody is surely contacting her, let’s talk about some interesting myths surrounding cockroaches. Specifically, the nuclear related theories we’ve all heard.

Cockroaches give me the heebie jeebies. But while many people share my dislike, all cockroaches are not pests. In a BBC report, George Beccaloni, curator of orthopteroid insects at the Natural History Museum in London argues that only 1% of the species even bother humans. They thrive in every part of the world; varying in size, color and habits. He goes onto say that giving them the label of “pest” is like labeling all mammals rats.

Thanks to their diversity, cockroaches have the amazing ability to adapt to their surroundings. The thousands of species are a testament to millions of years of evolution. So it should come as no surprise they can thrive in unfavorable environments.

But is it reasonable to say they could survive a nuclear detonation?

The answer has a few layers:

Yes, cockroaches CAN survive a nuclear blast.

But it’s a bit more complicated than that. A cockroach can survive the explosion that a nuclear weapon creates, but there is another sinister layer that a cockroach CANNOT survive: radiation.

On, the information on a nuclear blast states: “A nuclear blast is an explosion with intense light and heat, a damaging pressure wave, and widespread radioactive material that can contaminate the air, water, and ground surfaces for miles around.”

This means that on top of the devastating nuclear explosion, there are all these particles contaminating anything within the range of the blast AND downwind. The only thing protecting you from all of these factors are distance (read more about it here).

So let’s imagine you’re a cockroach.

You scuttle through the streets when- BOOM!

Blinding light, heat and confusion. But you’re a cockroach! No worries, right?

WRONG. Here comes the radiation exposure.

The United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission states, “The dose of radiation expected to cause death to 50 percent of an exposed population within 30 days (LD 50/30). Typically, the LD 50/30 is in the range from 400 to 450 rem (4 to 5 sieverts) received over a very short period.”

That’s a lot of jargon basically saying humans have a 50 percent survival rate after being exposed to this level of radiation for 30 days. So how about those six-legged friends who survived the blast?

Beccaloni goes on to explain “Cockroaches are only about five times more resistant [than humans].” And, apparently, that is fairly low on the radiation tolerance spectrum. Other insects’ tolerance is ten times higher.

In summary:

A cockroach will outlive a human during a nuclear blast. However, they only have a slightly higher tolerance to radiation from a nuclear detonation than we do. These weapons cause a large, scary explosion (understatement of the year), but they also have long term effects in the area of the explosion. Radiation exposure is catastrophic to people and the environment.

There are ways to protect yourself during a nuclear attack. But the safest option for us and cockroaches is PREVENTION. 

Preventing nuclear conflict is the only way to ensure there is a 100% survival rate. Asserting pressure on our local and federal officials is part of this prevention. But if you want to start small, simply starting a conversation about nuclear weapons is enough.

So, Girl Turned Pest, while I can’t promise we will find a way to transform into an insect, I can say that we can try and take control of the situation by making our voices heard. Thank you for your question – and for the humor. Because while these are tense times we’re living in, it’s important to be comfortable in these discussions.




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