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How a cockroach lost its sweet tooth.

A decade ago, lots of homeowners got rid of cockroaches by placing small black plastic containers in inconspicuous spots throughout their houses and apartments. These bait trays contained food mixed with a poison. The insects ate the bait, died, and eventually disappeared.

These days, however, the bait trays sometimes don't seem to work as well. It's not because cockroaches have become resistant to the poison, report Jules Silverman and Donald N. Bieman, entomologists at the Clorox Technical Center in Pleasanton, Calif. Instead, cockroaches have evolved a dislike of the bait's glucose, Silverman says.

He and Bieman discovered that the insect had lost its taste for sweets after they collected German cockroaches from apartments where the bait had ceased to be effective. They evaluated each bait component by comparing the responses of these apartment insects with those of insects reared in the lab with no prior history of exposure to the bait trays. The poison killed both groups, but when apartment cockroaches touched glucose with their antennae, they quickly backed off, Silverman reports.

Very few animals avoid glucose, he notes. But because this glucose aversion showed up in populations of cockroaches from apartments as far apart as Florida and California, the researchers suspect such mutants exist throughout the cockroach world. Because the mutants avoided the bait trays, they survived while their sugar-loving peers did not; so eventually an aversion to sugar became common, say the scientists.

Fortunately for the bait makers, these cockroaches still like other kinds of sugars, they add.
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Title Annotation:research on resistance to poison
Author:Pennisi, Elizabeth
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Jan 9, 1993
Words:250
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