Cockroaches are getting respect and admiration at a Japanese zoo

In one Japanese TV game shows, contestants try to blow dead cockroaches down each others throats.

Adapted from QZ and CTVNews | July 23, 2015

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.

A Japanese zoo is trying to do the impossible — improve the image of cockroaches, putting on an exhibition of one of the world’s most hated insects. (©Lovely Bird/Shutterstock)

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.

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.

With a whopping — and disgusting — 4,000 species around the planet, the hardy creature can survive almost anywhere, but is most commonly encountered by city-dwellers in grubby corners of the kitchen, or roaming around the floor at night.

Staff at another zoo, Shunanshi Tokuyama Zoo in Yamaguchi, western Japan, say the cockroach gets a bad press, and actually performs a vital job.

“They have such a negative image,” a zoo spokeswoman told AFP. “But they’re actually playing an important role in the food chain.”

Important, but not very pleasant-sounding: eating rotting carcasses and dead plants on forest floors.

One highlight of the exhibition will be a five-way race among cockroaches, where visitors can watch the worryingly speedy bugs whizz down a track.

If that’s not entertainment enough — hard to credit — the zoo is offering the chance to get your hands on a Madagascar Hissing Cockroach.

No need to worry about this, though, assures the zoo — Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches can’t fly. But they can hiss