Cockroaches in popular culture


Because of their long, persistent association with humans, cockroaches are frequently referred to in art, literature, folk tales and theater and film. In Western culture, cockroaches are often depicted as vile and dirty pests. Their size, long antennae, shiny appearance and spiny legs make them disgusting to many humans, sometimes even to the point of phobic responses.[1][2] This is borne out in many depictions of cockroaches, from political versions of the song "La Cucaracha" where political opponents are compared to cockroaches, through the 1982 movie Creepshow and TV shows such as The X-Files, to the Hutu extremists' reference to the Tutsi minority as cockroaches during the Rwandan genocide in 1994[citation needed] and the controversial cartoons published in the "Iran weekly magazine" in 2006 which implied a comparison between Iranian Azeris and cockroaches[citation needed]. In Dutch Soccer the term "kakkerlakken" (Dutch for cockroaches) is used as a colloquial, often derogatory term for the supporters of Feyenoord[citation needed].

Not all depictions of cockroaches are purely negative, however. In the Pixar film WALL-E, a cockroach that has survived all humanity is the lead character's (a robot's) best friend, and waits patiently on him to return. The same cockroach survives getting squished twice. In the film Joe's Apartment, the cockroaches help the titular hero, and the narrator of the book Archy and Mehitabel is a sympathetic cockroach. In the book Revolt of the Cockroach People, an autobiographical novel by Oscar Zeta Acosta, cockroaches are used as a metaphor for oppressed and downtrodden minorities in US society in the 1960s and 1970s. The image of cockroaches as resilient also leads people to compare themselves to cockroaches. Madonna has famously quoted, "I am a survivor. I am like a cockroach, you just can't get rid of me."[3] "Cockroach", or some variant of it is also used as a nickname, for example Boxing coach Freddie Roach, who was nicknamed La Cucaracha (The Cockroach) when he was still competing as a fighter.

For on-screen moments, TV shows and movies often employ the Madagascar hissing cockroach due to its large size and very slow speed.

In filmEdit

  • Gagamboy — There is a super villain named Kuanting (Cockroach Man) portrayed by Jay Manalo who later became Gagamboy (portrayed by Vhong Navarro)'s nemesis who accidentally ate a cockroach in a sandwich.
  • Joe's Apartment — The bugs are cheerful, swinging party-goers who help the titular human hero.
  • Twilight of the Cockroaches — A hybrid anime/live-action Japanese film featuring a society of cockroaches living in a bachelor's apartment that faces extermination when a cockroach-phobic woman moves in.
  • Creepshow — Swarms of them terrorize a cantankerous and verminophobic old man in the segment, "They're Creeping Up On You."
  • Damnation Alley — A post-apocalyptic Salt Lake City, Utah is infected with a four-inch long, flesh-eating mutant variety (played by the Madagascar hissing cockroach).
  • Mimic — Diseased cockroaches are the target of the genetically-altered titular species.
  • Bug — also starred Madagascar hissing cockroaches, this time able to produce fire from their abdomens, wreaking havoc.
  • Men in Black — Edgar the Bug's actions threaten to lead to the destruction of the Earth.
  • An American Tail — the chief villain, Warren T. Rat, carries with him a cockroach named Digit whom he forces to count his money and frequently abuses, even threatening to eat him at one point.
  • Godzilla vs. Gigan — both King Ghidorah and Gigan are controlled remotely by Nebulans, an alien race of giant cockroaches that inherited a waste planet after the dominant species on it polluted it into oblivion.
  • Scarface (1983 version) — Tony refers to Gaspar Gomez and the Diaz Brothers, rival gang leaders to Frank Lopez, as cockroaches in one of the film's most famous lines: "I'll bury those cock-a-roaches."
  • Pacific Heights — The Michael Keaton character breeds and releases cockroaches in the apartment building as part of his plan against the landlords.
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master — Freddy Krueger kills Debbie by transforming her into a cockroach and trapping her inside a roach motel before crushing the trap.
  • WALL-E — WALL-E keeps a cockroach as his pet.
  • West Side Story — in both the Broadway musical (1957) and film (1961), the Jets, the Anglo-American gang, refers to the Sharks, the Puerto Rican gang, as cockroaches.
  • Enchanted — Cockroaches (and other pests) assist a princess with housecleaning duties such as scrubbing the bathtub.
  • Oggy and the Cockroaches: The Movie — features three fictional cockroaches as main characters. Their names are Dee Dee, Joey and Marky.
  • The Nest

In televisionEdit

  • X-Files episode "War of the Coprophages", cockroaches are seen to group together to murder people. The character Dr. Berenbaum (based on the University of Illinois entomologist) suggests that it is actually swarms of cockroaches that are responsible for most UFO sightings because they can generate an electrostatic field which can be illuminated dependent on atmospheric conditions. In one of the scenes, a cockroach that escaped can be seen crawling over the camera, making it appear that the viewer's television has become infested. Though the shot was not planned, the producers decided to leave it in the episode.
  • ALF, Alf inadvertently releases a cockroach from his home planet in the house. When it is sprayed with insecticide, it grows bigger until it is large enough to eat him. He discovered by accident that a bottle of cheap perfume could kill the cockroach.
  • The short-lived kids television show Freaky Stories was hosted by a cockroach named Larry.
  • Transformers Animated, an experiment on a cockroach goes wrong, causing it to grow and absorb everything in its path. Sari caught and damaging Prowl.
  • In the television show King of the Hill, the character Dale Gribble has been shown as a breeder of cockroaches. He attempts to breed a colony of Madagascar hissing cockroaches to do his bidding, theorizing that they will believe he is their mother and obey if he is the first thing they see when they hatch.
  • In the popular television show Heroes, cockroaches are often shown near the main antagonist of the series, Sylar. The series' creator Tim Kring has stated that, because of their ability to survive and adapt so well, cockroaches present the embodiment of evolution to him, so he included them because of the show's evolutionary theme.[4]
  • In The Cosby Show, Theo's friend is nicknamed Cockroach.
  • In the Family Guy episode "Screwed the Pooch", while at the motel Brian is being given a tour of his motel room. When the owner reaches the bathroom and states that they have a roach problem, he opens the door to reveal two giant roaches in gang attire threatening to cut them.
  • In All That Season 6 Episode 4, there is a skit about a game show called "Cockroaches in Your Pants" where Jerry Futile, the host, stuffs cockroaches down peoples pants.
  • Oggy and the Cockroaches features three anthropomorphic cockroaches as main characters. Their names are Dee Dee, Joey and Marky.
  • In The Powerpuff Girls episode "Insect Inside", an evil man named Roach Coach possesses a swarm of cockroaches as his pets and uses them to attack and rule the City of Townsville. After his defeat, Roach Coach turns out to be a sentient, talking cockroach that controls a mech resembling a human. Also, in the episode "Bubble Boy", Brick (Blossom's male counterpart) of the Rowdyruff Boys challenges Bubbles (disguised as Boomer) to eat a cockroach.
  • In Yin Yang Yo!, one of the main antagonists in the series is Carl the Evil Cockroach Wizard.
  • In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Donatello installed cameras on cockroaches to use as spying devices. One of these fell into a vat of mutagen, and transformed into a giant cockroach. Raphael was also revealed to have a paralysing fear of cockroaches, a fear he eventually learns to control.

In written worksEdit

  • In Franz Kafka's story The Metamorphosis, the character Gregor Samsa awakes to find himself transformed into a giant "vermin." Although the type of bug Gregor changes into is not specified, the physical description offered implies that it is a cockroach. This novel has been parodied in various ways, including at least two other published works: Marc Estrin's 2002 Insect Dreams: The Half Life of Gregor Samsa, where Gregor Samsa prospers despite his transformation, becoming an important figure in society, and Tyler Knox's 2006 noir comedy Kockroach in which a cockroach wakes up one morning as a man and becomes a leading gangster in Times Square during the 1950s.
  • Daniel Evan Weiss's novel The Roaches Have No King tells the story of a humanized colony of cockroaches, who swear revenge against their hosts for renovating the kitchen and thus preventing easy access to food supplies.
  • In Arabic and other eastern societies, sometimes a traditional method to protect books and scrolls was a metaphysical appeal to "Kabi:Kaj" (كبيبكج/كَبِيكَج), the "King of the Cockroaches." By appealing to the king to protect a manuscript, cockroaches of less nobility (or lesser insects) would refrain from intruding on documents which could be eaten by the king only. Since many manuscripts were made with fish-glue, starch-paste, leather and other edible substances, insect appetites were a constant problem to Arabic books and scrolls.[5] A similar technique from Syria was to name the first and last page of a document or manuscript "The Page of the King of the Cockroaches", in the hope that the Cockroach King will control all other insects. Translated appeals include "O Kabi:kaj, save the paper!", "O Kabi:kaj, save this book from the worms!" and "O Kabi:kaj, do not eat this paper!"[6] "In Maghribi manuscripts, the word appears in its evidently corrupt form, "Kaykataj" and is clearly used as a talisman... and mentions, after a certain Muhammad al-Samiri, that when one writes "Kaytataj" on the first and last folio of the book, one can be sure that worms will not attack it."[7]
  • Along with rats, cockroaches are frequently seen infesting various locations in Steve Purcell's comic book series Sam & Max, and one storyline features a race of gigantic cockroaches living on the moon.
  • Archy is a sympathetic cockroach in an historic series of newspaper columns by Don Marquis.
  • Revolt of the Cockroach People, an autobiographical novel by Oscar Zeta Acosta, cockroaches are used as a metaphor for oppressed and downtrodden minorities in US society in the 1960s and 1970s, particularly Mexican-Americans. There are several references to the folk song La Cucaracha throughout the novel.
  • In Vertigo comics' The Exterminators the main villain is a breed of cockroaches named Mayan Hissers, being responsible for "destroying" Mayan civilization.
  • Milquetoast the Cockroach was a character in the comic strips Bloom County and Outland by Berkeley Breathed.
  • In the young adult fiction series Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins there are giant cockroaches beneath the Earth that are shy and emotional and help Gregor on his Quest. They are perceived by the other people under the Earth (Underlanders) as slow, weak, and cowardly things, but prove to be loyal to their allies and wiser than they appear.
  • In the comic series Badger there is a villain known as the Roach Wrangler, who holds supernatural control over an army of cockroaches.
  • In the manga series Terra Formars giant mutated humanoid cockroaches with incredible physical strength are the main antagonists.
  • The second in the Harry Hole crime novel series by Norwegian writer Jo Nesbø is entitled Cockroaches, with cockroaches used here as a metaphor for the murky Thai underworld into which the protagonist must plunge.
  • Naked Lunch — the main character, William Lee's "case worker" appears to him in the form of large cockroach that speaks through a hole in its abdomen. Later, this cockroach appears again as a hybrid of a cockroach/typewriter that has a keypad on its face. The case worker reveals his name as "Clark Nova", which also happens to be the name of Lee's typewriter model.
  • In the independent 1980s comic book series Domino Chance, both the title character and his sidekick Arnie are space-faring anthropomorphic cockroaches.
  • In Clarice Lispector’s 1968 novel The Passion According to G.H., a woman (G.H.) experiences an encounter with a cockroach that changes her perception of herself as a human being.[8]

In video gamesEdit

  • In Bad Mojo, which is subtitled "The Roach Game" and loosely based on Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis, the player takes on the role of a person turned into a cockroach. Other cockroaches provide the player with clues throughout the game.
  • Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas, Fallout 4, and Fallout 76 have a mutant form of the American cockroach called the Radroach. It is about the size of the house cat and is hostile towards the player if encountered.
  • In the Silent Hill series of games, monsters resembling cockroaches are featured in some enclosed spaces.
  • Cockroaches may be combined with other creatures in Impossible Creatures. Half-cockroaches can be used to spread the plague or defile an area of land, spreading disease to enemy creatures that cross the defiled land.
  • Half-Life allows the main character to crush cockroaches.
  • The character Sal in Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse is an anthropomorphic human size cockroach. Smaller cockroaches also appear in the series.
  • In the real-time strategy game StarCraft II, Zerg forces feature a unit known as the Roach, although taxonomically this creature has no relation to actual cockroaches.
  • In Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, one of the main protagonists, Gary Sanderson is nicknamed 'Roach'.
  • In every game in the Animal Crossing series, cockroaches can appear as household pests if the player hasn't entered their house for a while. The roaches will increase in number the longer the player leaves their house unattended (sometimes hiding under furniture), and can be crushed. In Animal Crossing and Animal Crossing: Wild World, cockroaches can be caught, donated to the Museum, and sold for 5 Bells (the game's form of currency), and in Animal Crossing: City Folk and Animal Crossing: New Leaf, a congratulatory message is played after clearing a room of cockroaches.
  • In Resident Evil 5, the Reaper is a Biological Organic Weapon formed by cockroaches mutated by Uroboros virus. They have sharp legs which can pierce their prey as well as high agility.
  • In Pokémon Sun and Moon, there's a cockroach-themed Pokémon called Pheromosa.

In musicEdit

Use as nicknameEdit

  • Boxing coach Freddie Roach was nicknamed La Cucaracha (The Cockroach) when he was still competing as a fighter.
  • Former England cricket captain-turned-media cricket analyst and commentator Michael Atherton was nicknamed as 'The Cockroach' by the former Australian cricket captain Steve Waugh because he was extremely difficult to stamp out.[9]
  • On the television series The Cosby Show the Huxtables' son Theo has a best friend nicknamed "Cockroach".
  • It is also the colloquial term for a resident of New South Wales and their Rugby League team in the State of Origin.
  • During the 2019–20 Hong Kong protests, members of the Hong Kong Police Force have called the protestors "cockroach-like rioters",[10][11] describing the protestors as non-human, an act that activists and protestors consider to be hate speech.[12]
  • In South Korea, during the wake of the Korean Wave, the term "international cockroach" (sometimes shortened to "I-roach") used pejoratively by the internet community referring to overzealous international fans.


  1. ^ David Berle (2007) Graded Exposure Therapy for Long-Standing Disgust-Related Cockroach Avoidance in an Older Male. Clinical Case Studies 6(4):339-347 doi:10.1177/1534650106288965
  2. ^ C.M. Botella, M.C. Juan, R.M. Banos, M. Alcaniz, V. Guillen, B. Rey. (2005) Mixing Realities? An Application of Augmented Reality for the Treatment of Cockroach Phobia. CyberPsychology & Behavior. 8(2): 162-171. doi:10.1089/cpb.2005.8.162.
  3. ^ a b "I am a survivor. I am like a cockroach, you just can't get rid of me." - Madonna
  4. ^ "Heroes" Post-Game Report with Tim Kring, Part One
  5. ^ Pollock, James W. "Kabi:Kaj to Book Pouches: Library Preservation Magic and Technique in Syria of the 1880s and the 1980s West." Middle Eastern Library Association Notes (MELA Notes), Number 44, Spring, 1988, pages 8-10.
  6. ^ Gacek, Adam. "The Use of Kabikaj in Arabic Manuscripts." Manuscripts of the Middle East. Volume I, 1986. Pages 49-53.
  7. ^ Gacek, Adam. "The Use of Kabikaj in Arabic Manuscripts." Manuscripts of the Middle East. Volume I, 1986. Page 49.
  8. ^[bare URL PDF]
  9. ^ Lynch, Steven (April 2, 2007), "Four wickets in an over, and who's the Cockroach?", Cricinfo magazine, ESPN
  10. ^ "Police group calls protesters 'cockroaches' - RTHK". Retrieved 2019-09-08.
  11. ^ "Exclusive: Hong Kong police assistant district commander tells officers to stop calling protesters 'cockroaches'". Hong Kong Free Press HKFP. 2019-08-30. Retrieved 2019-11-10.
  12. ^ "Hong Kong police group calls people who vandalised grave 'low lives,' 'cockroaches', 'not human'". Hong Kong Free Press HKFP. 2019-07-29. Retrieved 2019-11-10.