Cockroaches are getting respect and admiration at a Japanese zoo

Petting zoo, this is not.
Petting zoo, this is not.
Image: Reuters/Sukree Sukplang
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A zoo in Japan is exhibiting one of the world’s most universally reviled creatures: the cockroach.

Yamaguchi’s Tokuyama Zoo (link in Japanese) has around 15 species and 200 individual cockroaches on display at a new attraction. Visitors can enjoy a hands-on experience with the Madagascar hissing cockroach, which grows to a length of 7.6 cm (3 inches)—about the size of a child’s hand. And they can witness cockroach races to see which species is quickest.

Japan perhaps looks at insects a bit differently than the rest of the world. The 2009 documentary Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo explores the culture’s respect, fascination, and even adoration for the creatures. The yuck factor is still present, but perhaps less so: In one Japanese TV gameshow, contestants try to blow a dead cockroach down each other’s throats.

The zoo’s exhibit shows only a tiny fraction of the world’s 4,000 species of cockroach, so it’s hardly comprehensive. Instead, it’s more about sharing admiration for the insect’s abilities and vital natural role, which includes eating rotting carcasses and dead plants on forest floors.