A 42-year-old Indian woman was in deep slumber last Tuesday night until she awoke around midnight to a “tingling, crawling sensation” in her right nostril.
At first, the woman, a domestic worker named Selvi, brushed the feeling off, assuming she might be catching a cold, the Times of India reported. But she soon felt something move.
She spent the rest of the night in discomfort, waiting for the sun to rise so she could go to the hospital.
“I could not explain the feeling but I was sure it was some insect,” she told the New Indian Express. “Whenever it moved, it gave me a burning sensation in my eyes.”
As dawn arrived, with her son-in-law in tow, the woman visited the clinic closest to her home in Injambakkam, in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
Finally, in her fourth doctor visit — at Stanley Medical College Hospital — doctors used an endoscope to find the culprit: a blob with a pair of antennae.
“It was a full grown cockroach,” M.N. Shankar, the head of the ear, nose and throat department, told the Times of India. “It was alive. And it didn’t seem to want to come out.”
The insect was sitting in the skull base, between the eyes and close to the brain, Shankar said.
Doctors first tried to use a suction device to remove the cockroach, but the insect clung to the tissues. After a 45-minute process, using suction and forceps, doctors were able to extract the bug, still alive.
Because of the critter’s location, doctors had to first drag it to a place from which it could be extracted. It had been lodged inside for about 12 hours, the Times of India reported.
“If left inside, it would have died before long and the patient would have developed infection, which would have spread to the brain,” Shankar added.
Shankar said this was the “first such case” he has seen in his three decades of practice, the New India Express reported. In the past, the hospital’s ENT department has removed a leach, houseflies, and maggots from patients’ nasal cavities. “But not a cockroach, said S Muthuchitra, one of the doctors, “especially not one this large.”
This is by no means the first time a cockroach has crawled and nestled into a human body. A 1994 story in The Washington Post described a similar local case involving a one-inch cockroach that crawled into a George Washington University graduate student’s ear.
Shannelle Armstrong, the student, woke up screaming before dawn with a piercing pain in her left ear. She was taken by ambulance to the emergency room, where doctors flushed out the live cockroach.
One ear specialist quoted in the story said hospital doctors are sometimes called upon to remove different kinds of bugs from patients’ ears, especially in the summer. In urban areas, he said, roaches are the most common.
The graduate student’s medical report added the following advice: “Consider sleeping with hat on.”
So … the other night, Dear Reader, a cockroach climbed onto our hand in bed, causing a big yelp, a hurried leap out of bed, and frantic smashing with a slipper.
And then the other day, Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink popped her bathrobe on which had been drying on the washing line, and found a cockroach inside.
Thinking we may invest in a few cans of whatever passes for industrial-strength DDT nowadays.
Interestingly, cokroaches are much more sophisticated than we might imagine.
Gregarious cockroaches display collective decision-making when choosing food sources. When a sufficient number of individuals (a “quorum”) exploits a food source, this signals to newcomer cockroaches that they should stay there longer rather than leave for elsewhere. Other mathematical models have been developed to explain aggregation dynamics and conspecific recognition.
Group-based decision-making is responsible for complex behaviours such as resource allocation. In a study where 50 cockroaches were placed in a dish with three shelters with a capacity for 40 insects in each, the insects arranged themselves in two shelters with 25 insects in each, leaving the third shelter empty. When the capacity of the shelters was increased to more than 50 insects per shelter, all of the cockroaches arranged themselves in one shelter. Cooperation and competition are balanced in cockroach group decision-making behavior.
Cockroaches appear to use just two pieces of information to decide where to go, namely how dark it is and how many other cockroaches there are. A study used specially-scented roach-sized robots that appear to the roaches as real to demonstrate that once there are enough insects in a place to form a critical mass, the roaches accepted the collective decision on where to hide, even if this was an unusually light place.
Gregarious German cockroaches show different behaviour when reared in isolation from when reared in a group. In one study, isolated cockroaches were less likely to leave their shelters and explore, spent less time eating, interacted less with conspecifics when exposed to them, and took longer to recognise receptive females. Because these changes occurred in many contexts, the authors suggested them as constituting a behavioural syndrome. These effects might have been due either to reduced metabolic and developmental rates in isolated individuals or the fact that the isolated individuals hadn’t had a training period to learn about what others were like via their antennae.
But frankly, we don’t give a sh*t. They could be insect Einsteins. They ain’t coming anywhere near our ears.