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Photo via Flickr/Lynette/American cockroach
Photo via Flickr/Lynette/American cockroach

We’ve long known that cockroaches are highly adaptable survivors, but a new study shows that the little buggers may be more talented than we think: They may even have personalities.

Researchers from the Université libre de Bruxelles in Brussels, Belgium, have found that “not only do cockroaches have unique individual personalities, but their differences can also have an impact on group dynamics,” according to Phys.org. They’re publishing the study’s results in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 

The intent of the study was to try to understand why roaches are so great at surviving in different environments. Using the American cockroach over a three-month period, they had 16 roaches they would release in a round area beneath a bright light. In the middle of the area were two round “shelters.” Each roach had a small chip on its back to record its movements. Upon release, they were left alone for three hours.

Photo via Reuters Video
Photo via Reuters Video/Cockroaches in experiment under the “shelter”

How did the little roaches react? The researchers expected the light-averse, group-happy roaches to bunch under the shelters right away, but found they followed a completely different pattern. It took time for the entire group to settle under the shelters, and it depended on the roaches’ individual behaviors: If one settled right away, it would encourage others to do the same.

But the roaches also showed free will in how much time they spent under the shelters, which makes them different than other insects that act as a group according to social hierarchy, like ants.

“Cockroaches are a simple animal, but they can reach a complex decision,” said Issac Planas, the lead researcher on the project and a Ph.D. candidate. “So with little information, with little interactions, only knowing if I have a partner here or not, only with this information, they can make complex decisions.”

Planas told Reuters the findings were “amazing” because it shows that roaches are a group of individuals that can reach a consensus to make a choice, much like species we consider more advanced, including humans. He added that the findings may support why roaches are so great at surviving: the “braver” ones go out and seek new environments, while others remain behind to ensure the new surroundings are safe.

Next up? Studying how an individual cockroach’s decision-making and behavior can impact the entire group.

Watch and cringe at the Reuters video below.

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