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Totems: Cockroach, Part 2

by Cie Simurro, a.k.a. Thunderbird Starwoman

Have you done any Spring cleaning this year? It’s not too late. Because cockroach will eat both food and non-food substances, as scavengers, they “clean up.” This reminds us to clean out, sell, and give away things we no longer use or need. We can apply this to other areas of our lives as well. Are you still doing certain things in a certain way, just because you were taught to do them that way, or because you always have? Cockroach also teaches us to be willing to change our routines. The world won’t end if we don’t straighten up the house before settling into a project (or working on a Totems article!). Though we might prefer everything to be neat and tidy beforehand, the energy caught up in that might not be so available and fresh later in the day.

Are you hesitating getting yourself or your work/art “out there” because you are afraid of how you or your work/art may be received? Being hated by so many, cockroach teaches us how to move in a potentially hostile environment successfully, without taking on how others feel about us. It comes down to being willing to be outside one’s comfort zone; putting oneself out there and taking a risk to achieve a heart’s desire.

Cockroach is a great totem for teaching us to pay attention. Paying attention makes us more aware, which puts us in a state of greater consciousness. When cockroach is your power animal, or you are in its sphere of influence, you become sensitive to even the smallest changes or inconsistencies around you. You know how to sidestep any weird or dangerous situations quickly, and you have the ability to make decisions on a dime. Each antenna has 356 segments, each of which tells the cockroach something about its surroundings.

You may wonder why I would write a Totems article about cockroaches? The answer is because even cockroaches belong to the one big family we all do – beings that live on earth. We are connected and interdependent on each other. There are other reasons too. They have much to offer to the world, and though you don’t believe me yet, they are quite interesting - wait and see. 

Cockroaches are fascinating when you begin to study them. For example, they might provide advances in cryogenics as they can be entirely frozen, then thawed, and still crawl around like nothing ever happened. Their little lives have produced advances in the fields of heart disease, cancer, and brain science. Still unconvinced? Well, the disappearance of cockroaches would mess with the nitrogen cycle, which affects us all. Cockroaches feed on decaying organic matter, which traps lots of nitrogen. A feeding cockroach releases that nitrogen in their feces, which then gets into the soil, and in turn is reused by plants. The extinction of cockroaches would have a sizeable impact on forest health, and eventually on all the species that live there. Said another way, we really need cockroach poop! There is a downside to their poop though. Though you can’t see roach poop, it has been known to aggravate asthma, causing wheezing and gasping.

Roaches are prolific. They multiply exponentially. One German cockroach and her offspring can produce 500,000 progeny a year. Cockroaches in the tropics are much larger than your common house roach. If a cockroach is in your kitchen, you probably think it’s big. But consider yourself lucky, because most domestic roaches don’t come close to the size of their giant, tropical cousins. The Hissing Cockroach from Madagascar is as big as a mouse. The hissing noise is them forcing air out of their respiratory organs (spiracles). Aren’t you glad these cockroaches aren’t running around on your kitchen counters? Oh, here’s something amazing. If this cockroach comes down with E.coli, it will risk being eaten by predators to lie in the sun, raising its body temperature to kill the bacteria.

Would you be surprised to learn that some cockroach species (like the wild wood roach) mate for life? Furthermore, they have only one brood, providing for their offspring throughout the 3-4 years it takes for them to reach their adult instar (moult). A mother cockroach will incubate up to 50 eggs, sheathing them within a thick, nutrient-rich protective case protruding from her abdomen called the ootheca. Some cockroach moms will remain with the ootheca, carrying it with them until the eggs are ready to hatch, because cockroaches have no larval or pupal stage. They go directly to the nymph stage, a smaller version of the adult, except for darker coloration. That would be comparable to our stages of early childhood/adolescence. Sadly, some human children have lost parts of their childhood to abuse, the onset of illness, or too much responsibility before an appropriate age. Yes, these are true survivors. What better totem to work with than cockroach?

Whether nymph or adult, just like young human children and baby animals, they like to feel themselves swaddled. It’s called thigmotropic, and it explains why they squeeze into really thin cracks. Even pregnant females will seek narrow crevices and be totally comfortable. They can take a crushing amount of pressure – 12 times the force of normal gravity. An astronaut would pass out with this amount of pressure, but a roach can go up to 126 G’s. They can also survive much greater levels of radiation than humans.

Cockroaches like to be touched, and they like to be warm. There’s a species we might call, “the couch potato” (the brown-banded cockroach) because they gravitate to warm electronic equipment like TV’s. And how’s this for wild: a cockroach can live for weeks without its head. Why? Because its head isn’t all that important to how it functions. Their brains and memory capacity are in their very DNA (cells). Even a week or two later, they will still respond to stimuli. Cockroaches don’t have veins or arteries, but they do have open circulatory systems so they aren’t prone to bleeding out. Eventually, the cockroach will either dehydrate or succumb to mold.

Since these creepy crawlies are traditionally associated with disease, dirt, and squalor, you may be stunned to learn that cockroaches are very clean. They spend hours a day brushing their bodies clean with their spiny legs. They pay particular attention to their long, slender antennae, which detect food, and their feet, covered with leg spines, which are really their taste-testers. Just as Pavlov conditioned his dogs to anticipate a treat, Japanese professors used the scent of vanilla and peppermint before receiving a sugary treat. Later, when the cockroaches’ antennae detected one of the two scents in the air, they would salivate and drool.

Another more dangerous form of conditioning has chosen cockroaches as their target: a company has created a cyborg cockroach kit called RoboRoach. Electrodes and a backpack are super-glued in place on the cockroach’s back, after which a ground wire is then inserted in the roach’s body; so there’s the issue of surgery on these insects without any benefit to them. Though the cockroach can mostly adapt, it’s also receiving electrical stimuli by which the operator of a smartphone can direct the roach left or right. The company claims it will teach budding neuroscientists, but after it’s sold, there is no saying it won’t be used strictly for cruel entertainment. So the real issue that pops up with a creature like cockroach is whether humans have the right to mutilate another living creature, either for science or perversion. Can anyone really believe that any living creature doesn’t feel pain? As Marion Copeland says in her excellent book, “Cockroach”, both very young and very old cockroaches have weaker immune system responses than adults, and females have stronger immune systems than males – just like humans! Their nervous systems and brains communicate like ours too. I write these columns so people have a greater understanding of the larger picture, and the place of all living beings in the web of life. Insects will have the last say, if for no other reason than that they are primal to the food chain. Our job is to care about the rest of life. If we care, right action will follow.

Cockroach totem will help you embrace your shadow side. Your shadow encompasses your deepest fears and worries. You can be sure that if you are afraid of cockroaches or have any other primal fear, that there is an aspect of yourself that you are not accepting, or aren’t in alignment with. Remember, this is a time when we humans are called to face our fears and weaknesses, transmuting them, so that we can move into our multi-dimensional selves and be all we are meant to be. If you ask for help, cockroach’s power will enable you to shapeshift these fears and learn to replace them with more positive thoughts. Ask for cockroach to protect you from yourself, if and when your dark side comes looming. This totem will assist you in digging deep into your spirit’s resources to overcome the most challenging, over-the-top times of your life. Cockroach totem speaks for the weak and downtrodden, the disenfranchised, outcast, and so-called “marginal” people like the homeless.

For over 40 years, Cie Simurro ~ Thunderbird Starwoman has been bringing forward the healing arts and ancient universal wisdom through her writing, healing work, and teaching. For the last 15 years, she has been a contributing writer to Wisdom Magazine. For healing for you or your animal, spiritual training, to invite Cie to give her presentation: “Our Partnership With Nature” in your area, or purchase her book, Totems for Stewards of the Earth ($22 to PO 295, Shelburne Falls MA 01370), call 413 625-0385 or email: cie@ciesimurro.com 

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