Cockroaches at Memorial Demonstrate the Science of Invasive Species
by Annie Shao, age 17
Last semester, I was the teacher’s aide in an Advanced Placement (AP) Biology class. My former teacher Ms. Cindy Kellor assigned me all sorts of odd jobs: cleaning up after labs, organizing the science department’s chemicals and supplies, and filing. I truly enjoyed being an aide; it was such a great experience that it was not even dampened by a case of escaped cockroaches.
One afternoon, Ms. Kellor asked me to clean an aquarium that used to house tree frogs. The job seemed pretty straightforward: scoop out the old woodchips and clean the sides. As I was shoveling out the woodchips, however, something very unwood-like scuttled across the bottom of the tank: a cockroach. I bolted out of the room to report the vermin to my teacher, who immediately replied, “Kill it. Absolutely kill it.”
Not a big fan of nasty insects, I returned to the tank with very little enthusiasm. Furthermore, I later discovered more cockroaches in the tank. A pair or two must have mated and populated the empty tank. Armed only with a plastic Petri dish and a pair of thin rubber gloves, I destroyed the infestation as quickly as possible.
I later asked Ms. Kellor how on earth the cockroaches had gotten into our school. Apparently, another teacher brought roaches for a class activity, but they accidentally escaped. Although I annihilated a good number of cockroaches, it’s likely that Memorial High School still has more of them crawling around.
The cockroach problem at Memorial is a microcosm of an invasive species in the wild.
When a foreign organism is introduced into a new habitat, it can quickly invade that environment if favorable conditions exist. First, if it has the right food, an animal can survive in the new habitat. Secondly, if the habitat has conditions similar to its original home, the animal will probably survive well. Lastly, if the animal has no predators in the new habitat, it can multiply out of control.
As cockroaches will eat almost anything, Memorial probably unknowingly provided them with plenty of food. The cockroaches found the moist woodchips in the tank and settled into a familiar environment. Since nothing in Memorial eats cockroaches, they easily infested the building.
This chain of events happens in places other than the halls and rooms of Memorial High School. Burmese pythons invaded Florida in the early 90’s after a hurricane damaged zoos, releasing the snakes into the Everglades Marsh. Zebra mussels came from Balkan waters and ended up on the Canadian side of Lake Saint Clair through a trading process. These mussels have been invading U.S. freshwaters since 1988.
It was interesting, albeit disgusting, to know that the cockroaches were acting just like other invasive species, only on a much smaller scale and in the artificial environment of my school.