Do cockroaches get lonely?

It was just like Romeo and Juliet.

But with cockroaches. In the bathroom. And I was the one keeping them apart.

It all started when I discovered two big, licorice-black cockroaches scuttling out of the bathroom floor drain in my Bangalore hotel. (Not a criticism of Bangalore! It's a fascinating city!) Spooked, I hatched a plan: I waited for the cockroach couple to descend back down the drain, duct-taped over it, and tried to shake off the six-legged heebie-jeebies.

But when I cracked the bathroom door open once again, what stared back at me but...a cockroach. Just one cockroach. I had accidentally separated them. Forever! I had committed a crime against cockroach courtship! (Or cockroach friendship. Or cockroach searching-for-food-together-ship.) In any case, some crime had been committed, and I thought the cockroach looked lonely.

Now, I find that my guilt was grounded in science. Cockroaches are indeed traumatized by social isolation, according to a report which appeared earlier this year in the journal Behavioural Processes.

Scientists have known for decades that monkeys raised in isolation--separated from their mothers and their peers--are forever scarred. It's not so great for people, either. But could invertebrates be vulnerable to isolation, too?

Researchers set up a little cockroach nursery to find out, and discovered that "gregarious cockroaches" called Blattella germanica acted strangely when raised in isolation. They didn't want to hang out with other cockroaches, they didn't know how to pick mates--they didn't even like foraging for food. (I thought cockroaches loved that!)

I guess it's a comfort to know that, even though I came between the two Bangalore cockroaches, they didn't suffer the kind of isolation-from-birth which does the worst damage. Hopefully they went on to meet other cockroaches and live full, happy lives.

I just hope they did it in someone else's bathroom drain.

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