Geoff and I were watching an episode of Criminal Minds the other night and a super familiar thing happened. It’s something that happens a lot on TV and it always makes me roll my eyes, but this time it irritated me enough to make me want to come here and get all science-ranty about it.
I should probably say before I get started that I genuinely like Criminal Minds and that I’ve been watching it off and on since Season 1. This problem is not specific to any particular show but to all TV and Movies that need a Big Scary Bug and science be damned.
Btw, there are photos of bugs after the jump. Lots of them. You have been warned.
The episode we were watching is called “The Itch” and it is E4 from S10. Like a lot of shows that need to use large bugs to scare people, Criminal Minds used Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches in the scene below.
Here’s the thing, while this guy looks terrified, there are a couple basic problems with this scene. Some are scientific and some are with the plot.
- Science: Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches, while large, are herbivores and don’t bite people or have venom.
- Plot hole: The guy in the photo above was supposed to be a Ph.D. Insect researcher. Despite the fact that he was being held captive by a crazy man, he should have known that the critters being dumped on him were harmless.
- Science: Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches get their name because they force air through their exoskeletons to indicate irritation, fear, and when males are fighting over a female when mating. We’re not talking about snake hissing here, it’s pretty low key. Adorable even.
- Plot hole: Two different characters, including the guy above, were supposed to have bites from these guys. Nope, see: herbivore.
- Science: These little critters can be kept as pets. Seriously. I know people who do.
Here’s what they look like.
And this is what they look like all decked out in jewels.
Like all insects, Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches shed their exoskeletons. That means all the bling is temporary. It also means that people wear them, on leashes no less, while they are jeweled, as fashion accessories. Live roaches as fashion accessories.
Cockroaches, as a group, are tough critters. They’ve been around in their current state for millions of years. They can withstand long periods of drought and famine and are famous for their ability to handle radiation. It’s also important to note that the cockroach family, Blattaria if we’re going to be specific, has more than 3,500 species. Of those thousands of species, only about 70 are found in the US, as evidenced by the Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches. They’re from, uh, Madagascar. Of all the species found in the US, only 5 or 6 species, depending on where you live, are considered pests. Primarily they are:
- German Cockroaches
- Brown Banded Cockroaches
- American Cockroaches (Palmetto Bugs)
- Smoky Brown Cockroaches
- Oriental Cockroaches (Water Bugs)
So, the long and the short of it is this, stop treating Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches like Amazonian Piranha Cockroaches*, not only because there is no such thing as the latter but also because the former, were you to run into them in the wild in Madagascar, are afraid of light and more likely to be interested in a salad than you.
*This is the term Geoff came up with when I started complaining about seeing harmless bugs being treated like the proverbial boogeyman over and over again.