Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Cockroaches Quit Sugar

By Magdeline Lum

Cockroaches have learnt to avoid sugar, rendering many baits ineffective.

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The sugar-free diet is one of the latest fad diets to catch on in the human world. Now cockroaches have joined in, with US research that cockroaches will eat anything besides sugar – confirming what professional pest controllers have known for years.

Cockroaches have learned to detect and avoid the type of glucose used in commercial baits and traps. This was first noticed in the early 1990s after the use of glucose became common. It was not certain whether cockroaches learned to avoid the traps or evolved to dislike sugar. Now Prof Coby Shal of North Carolina State University has found that this aversion to glucose is inherited.

Cockroaches use their small taste hairs to sample food sources first. Glucose-laden food and baits taste bitter instead of sweet to the cockroaches with a genetic inheritance. When they detect glucose, they avoid the food source.

This gets complicated because it is unclear what proportion of cockroaches has the genetic inheritance. In 19 populations of cockroaches in the study sampled from the US, Russia, Puerto Rico and South Korea, seven had cockroaches that were glucose-averse.

Further tests were carried out where cockroaches had to choose between fructose-based jam and one that contained glucose. Video footage showed that cockroaches avoided the glucose-based jam. Cockroaches also preferred peanut butter over jam...

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