'Alien' Cockroach Sports a Halo

And it’s really weird.

Found in the Lava Caves of Vietnam, this particularly ugly, helmeted cockroach looks like it should be a villain in Men in Black, or, as Peter Vršanský jokes: “It looks like a forthcoming Star Wars personality.”

Found by Peter Vršanský and his team in the Lava-tube Cave system of Tan Phu, these hideous looking bugs suckle off bacteria and fungi, unlike other cave dwelling cockroaches which feed on bat guano (bat faeces).

Though the cockroach doesn’t eat the bat guano, it still makes good use of the bats. These cockroaches like to ride on the back of bats as a means of transportation. Which may shed some light on their strange appearance.

The cockroach is barely visible, measuring only 3 millimetres long, and basically transparent.

“Morphologically, it is apparently the most bizarre cockroach which has ever lived that we know of…. The most interesting features are hidden at the back,” - says Vršanský.

On the back of the cockroach is a large helmet giving the creature its halo-like appearance. It also has a large nipper and hooks further down its back. These features may be used so the male can quite literally attach to a female for reproduction. However, they may also help the creatures hook together when travelling on the back of bats.

The weird looking creature also sports a “Tergal Gland”. This gland secretes a liquid usually given as a gift to the female cockroach. True of most cockroach species, these cave dwellers do things their own way.

“This new species lacks the typical fat nitrogen-rich body found in other cockroaches, so it cannot make a really valuable nutritious morsel for the females. Instead, it lures the female with scented promises and then grabs her tightly.” Says Vršanský.

This species of cockroach will wait until a female is close enough and pin her down with its helmet and hooked nipper. Vršanský describes what a mating ritual for the alien cockroach may look like:

“First, the four modified wings hold the female’s head and place the head under the helmet-like structure. Then the nipper, a sort of pliers, grabs onto the female’s abdomen and the hook fixes on the genitalia. Together, these structures effectively capture the female and secure mating.”

Geologically the caves where the cockroaches were discovered are fairly young, Vršanský suggests that the species is less than 2 million years old.

Either way, Men in Black need to be called because one of their aliens is loose.

Header: Image from Slovak Academy of Sciences

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