Sure they are one of the only things besides Twinkies that can survive nuclear winter. And yes, they have been around since before the dinosaurs. But have you ever really gotten to know a cockroach? The Shunanshi Tokuyama Zoo in Japan wants to move cockroach-human relations into the twenty-first century by having visitors pet some of their scavenging residents.
In all, there are over 4,000 species of cockroaches in the world, but the staff members at the zoo only have around two hundred participants representing fifteen species that you can get to know better. For those willing to take a closer look at these cockroaches and appreciate how evasive they can be, there’s a five-lane race track set up for the roaches. Although many of the participants are nocturnal, they can still make quite the spectacle speeding around the track. A number of people on the zoo’s staff have actually set up an unofficial betting stand to further entice people to interact with the insects. So far, the biggest winner was a twenty-seven year old male who won $45.
Even after watching the cockroaches blaze around the track at speeds up to 2.5 miles per hour, some visitors might not be sold on the misunderstood creatures. For instance, most people believe that cockroaches carry diseases, which is untrue. Others feel that they contribute nothing beneficial to humanity, when in reality it was cockroaches eating human feces in our cave-dwelling days that prevented diseases from spreading.
For anyone who has opened a cabinet and had a cockroach scurry out, it is understandable why so many people rush to get traps for them or to call the exterminator. The staff at the Shunanshi Tokuyama Zoo wants to help visitors to the petting zoo realize what it feels like to be in the cockroach’s shoes during those situations. As such, they have built a human-sized trap that is quite popular with guests.
Finally, for those still on the fence, there is the chance to come face-to-face with one of the largest cockroaches: the Madagascar Hissing Cockroach. These critters grow to over four inches in length, but at least they cannot fly. There is a true petting zoo atmosphere surrounding these particular cockroaches and visitors have left impressed and with a greater level of respect for the insect after holding and stroking one of the scavengers in their hands. One staff member described this particular species as similar to a hamster in a roach shell. That’s a pretty weird description, but for 80% of the visitors to the zoo, they feel similar after visiting the exhibit. Pet stores in the western part of Japan have even seen an uptick in requests to purchase the large, exotic cockroach.