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article imageWould cockroaches really survive a nuclear apocalypse?

By Tim Sandle     Mar 27, 2019 in Science
It’s one of those commonly accepted 'facts' – that ants and cockroaches would be the only life-forms to survive a nuclear apocalypse. But how true is this? Australian researchers think they have the answer.
It’s a popular idea, often repeated in the media and movies, that cockroaches could survive a nuclear disaster. The ‘myth’ seems to derive from rumors that circulated about insects not only surviving but thriving in the aftermath of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Cockroaches are also adept at surviving in extreme environments. The species Eupolyphaga everestiana, for example, is a montane specialist that lives on Mount Everest at well over five thousand meters. above sea level.
Is there any truth in this? There’s certainly no hard evidence, according to Professor Tilman Ruff of the University of Melbourne’s School of Population and Global Health. Ruff has studied the health and environmental consequences of nuclear explosions for many years. The researcher states that he has not come across any documented evidence that cockroaches have ever survived a nuclear event, including the major events that closed out World War II.
Test Bravo  a 15-megaton nuclear detonation 1 000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped o...
Test Bravo, a 15-megaton nuclear detonation 1,000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
United States Department of Energy
Professor Ruff tells Laboratory Manager magazine: “I’ve certainly seen photographs of injured people in Hiroshima that have lots of flies around, and you do imagine some insects would have survived. But they still would have been affected, even if they appear more resistant than humans.”
To try to test out the theory, scientists supporting a television series in the U.S. exposed cockroaches to radioactive material to determine whether or not they survived. It was found that cockroaches survived longer than humans would have; however, in the end they also died due to the extreme levels of radiation. The study did not extend to see if the eggs of cockroaches would survive.
Similar tests on insects have shown that when subjected to radiation, cockroaches are six to 15 times more resistant than humans. This degree of protection only lasts for so long. Even here the cockroach is not a resilin tin the face of radiation as the fruit fly.
Moreover, even if cockroaches survived (or survived for a longer time period) species need to interact with each other. There are also other factors other than radiation directly that can influence survival, such as environmental factors; the effect of radiation exposures across generations; and food shortages.
More about Nuclear war, Armageddon, Cockroach, Ants, Insects
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