MadSci Network: Zoology

Re: Do cockroaches have a structured society as do ants and bees?

Date: Thu Sep 16 15:07:09 1999
Posted By: David Bellamy, Grad student, Entomology, The University of Arizona
Area of science: Zoology
ID: 937176423.Zo

Great question, Medhavi. To fully answer your question, it is important that we define the term “structured society”. All termites, most ants, and most bees fall into a category of insects that entomologists (those who study insects) refer to as “truly social” or eusocial (pronounced you-social).

To be considered eusocial, the insect must have three important behaviors. First, individuals of the same species must cooperate in caring for the young. This means that more than two individuals are responsible for making sure that the young have food, water, and are protected from harm. Secondly, there must be a reproductive division of labor. Those that can’t reproduce are usually sterile and work for those that can reproduce. That’s why there are queens (who can reproduce) and workers, solders, etc. (who can’t reproduce and work for the queen). Finally, there has to be an overlap of at least two generations, with each generation capable of contributing to the colony. This simply means that the offspring help the parents during some time in their life.

So using these three standards to define truly social behavior, we can say that most cockroaches do not have a structured society similar to bees and ants. What makes your question so interesting, however, is that there is one cockroach, a wood-eating cockroach named Cryptocercus punctulatus, that has two of the three criteria for being considered truly social. It simply lacks a reproductive division of labor. Entomologists call these types of insects “subsocial” or “semisocial”. So this cockroach does in fact show some signs of having a structured society. There’s simply no “queen cockroach”. Furthermore, this wood-eating cockroach is very important to many entomologists because it is believed to be the termite’s ancestor. It is important when doing research on these insects not to confuse them with the wood cockroach, a pest insect, which is a totally different cockroach.

I hope this answers your question. If you want to look further into cockroaches or the social behavior of insects, I’ve included a list of books and articles that may be found at your local library. I’ve also included some websites you may be interested in seeing, as well.

Cheers, and keep asking great questions.

David Bellamy


Choe, J.C. and Crespi, B.J. The Evolution of Social Behaviour in Insects and Arachnids. 1997.

Nalepa, C. A. 1984. Colony composition, protozoan transfer and some life history characteristics of the wood roach Cryptocercus punctulatus Scudder (Dicytyopotera: Cryptcoceridae). Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol. 14:273-79.

Wilson, E.O. The Insect Societies. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Cambridge, MA. 1971. (this web page describes the wood-eating cockroach mentioned above).

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