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A Cockroach Can Bite With a Force 50 Times Its Body Weight

As if cockroaches didn’t already have enough supervillain powers, lab tests have revealed another fascinating yet repulsive fact: Cockroaches can bite with a force 50 times greater than their body weight. Scientists from the U.K. and Germany delved into this katsaridaphobic nightmare to fill in some important gaps in our understanding of certain basic biological workings, such as how their jaws function. The team turned to the American cockroach as a starting point for figuring out insect mouth morphology, since roaches eat practically anything and have relatively primitive mandibles.

To measure the insects’ bite force, the researchers put the cockroaches into what looks like a miniature medieval torture device. Cockroaches were strapped upside down to a metal podium with their heads thrust under a guillotine-like plate where they bit down on a sensor tip of a device for measuring mandible strength.  wo of the roaches clamped down so hard on the sensor that they actually chipped their distal teeth, resulting in their data being disqualified from the study. The researchers were able to collect data on 300 different bites. They also filmed each of the bites to determine mandible kinematics.

The roach bites were surprisingly strong—relating bite force to body weight, a roach bite is about five times more powerful than a human chomp, on average. Not all bites were equally forceful, however. The team found that roaches roughly divided their efforts into short, weak bites produced by fast-moving muscle fibers and long, strong bites that required muscles to “power up” before reaching their maximum force. The latter version is likely reserved for working through tough material such as wood and leather.


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