Roaches have been able to survive the vagaries of climate change since creation, and will continue to escape its clutches. Wonder why? A new study has found that cockroaches can hold their breath to save water, and this trick helps them thrive even in changing weather conditions.
When cockroaches are resting, they periodically stop breathing for as long as 40 minutes, though why they do so has been unclear.
According to a report in New Scientist, to investigate the mystery, Natalie Schimpf and her colleagues at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, examined whether speckled cockroaches change their breathing pattern in response to changes in carbon dioxide (CO2) or oxygen concentration, or humidity.
They conclude that cockroaches close the spiracles through which they breathe primarily to save water. In dry environments, the insects took shorter breaths than in moist conditions.
"Cockroaches lose water across their respiratory surfaces when they breathe, so taking shorter breaths in dry conditions reduces the amount of water they will lose," said Schimpf.
The nifty breath-holding adaptation has allowed cockroaches to colonise drier habitats and may allow them to thrive in climate change, according to George McGavin of the University of Oxford.
"Cockroaches have an awesome array of adaptations to life on dry land," said McGavin.
"Living in the humid conditions of a rainforest, where they evolved, might be plain sailing, but cockroaches are adaptable and can cope in a wide range of environmental conditions," he added.
According to McGavin, "Two hundred and fifty million years of physiological fine tuning has produced a creature that will be around for a long time to come. Cockroaches, I'm afraid to say, will do well in the face of climate change."
The study deals a blow to the theory that cockroaches hold their breath to survive underground, where CO2 levels can be poisonous.
"They held their breath no longer in high-CO2 than in low-CO2 conditions," said Schimpf.