Why Do Cockroaches Die Upside Down? How Does That Always Happen?

Have you ever walked into your home and found a dead cockroach? Ugh. Have you noticed that it flips over on its back? It is common for people to assume that a cockroach is dead if it is found in an upside-down position. The default position for a dead cockroach is upside down.

This raises the question: why do cockroaches die upside down?

  • Cockroaches flip upside down when sprayed with insecticides
  • Since the neurotoxic chemicals in the insecticides affect their nervous system, their muscles lose control
  • Insecticides cause muscles to spasm, causing the cockroach to flip upside down aggressively

There is an extensive process behind cockroaches dying upside down since there’s an array of bodily reactions that cause this result.

Let’s look further into this.

Why do cockroaches die upside down?

Once you spray an insecticide on one of these nasty buggers, their bodies react aggressively to it. These sprays contain various neurotoxic chemicals which negatively impact the nervous system, causing them to lose control of their muscles.

When a cockroach loses control of its muscles, they spam violently due to the poison taking effect, leading the cockroach to flip upside down.

When a cockroach loses control of its muscles, they spam violently due to the poison taking effect, leading the cockroach to flip upside down.

Cockroaches have a high center of gravity, making it difficult for them to get back into their normal positions.

However, a cockroach turning on its back is not evidenced enough to prove that it is dead. In most cases of an insecticide attack, the cockroach isn’t dead as soon as it flips upside down.

Instead, it is paralyzed and will remain in that position until it dehydrates or starves to death.

Sometimes, the chemical inside the insecticide isn’t effective enough to paralyze the cockroach for a long time. In this case, the effect wears off, and they move on with their lives after a few hours of sedation.  

If an insecticide chemical fails to poison a cockroach, the cockroach will die on its side or belly rather than its back. However, cockroaches can fix their positions from upside down to upright by using their surroundings when they are out in the wild.

What causes cockroaches to die upside down?

Normally, cockroaches within homes are found dead upside down. However, contrary to popular belief, this isn’t an instinctive reaction of a cockroach when death is approaching them.

On the other hand, this results from exposure to the poison, which causes their body muscles to spasm aggressively.

Certain insecticides operate by focusing on a cockroach’s nervous system. Once they do their job of negatively affecting the nervous system, they lose control of their body muscles entirely.

This causes extensive muscle jitters, which leads a cockroach to flip on its back completely.

Cockroaches have a high center of gravity and carry most of their weight on their backs. This leads them to be pinned down once they flip on their back. Therefore, the only way to turn upright is to reach out to an object nearby to steady themselves onto their front.

The efficiency of the poison varies from one spray to the other.

Some sprays cause the cockroach to be paralyzed for multiple hours, while some lead them to be paralyzed for days. As long as a cockroach is paralyzed, it won’t have the ability to reach out to a nearby object and flip to its original front.

If a roach stays in this state for too long, it will likely die from dehydration or starvation — one less roach infesting your home! Moreover, this state of ultimate vulnerability strips them of their ability to defend themselves or move at all.

How do insecticides affect a cockroach’s nervous system?

Neurotoxins are the core chemicals that make up insecticides, which aim to affect a cockroach’s nervous system by stimulating neurons negatively. These neurons reside in certain ion channels, which are a kind of protein. These manage the voltage that goes on between cells within a cell membrane.

When the neurotoxins stimulate the neurons, this combines to send electrical signals throughout the nerve fiber. This causes a wave of neurotransmitters to be released.

The effect is that various parts of the cockroach’s body receive signals. These include:

  • Nerve cells
  • Muscle cells
  • Gland cells

All of this combines to restrict movement in a cockroach.

For example, if a cockroach wants to move its leg, the brain sends a signal to the ion channels within the cell membrane. These ion channels then release neurotransmitters that provide signals to the muscle cells. Once the muscle cells receive the signal, the cockroach can move its leg. This entire process occurs essentially instantaneously.

However, this entire process is completely disrupted when a poisonous insecticide joins the party. The neurotoxins in these eradicate the effectiveness of the most significant enzyme used in neurotransmission, also known as acetylcholine.

How do insecticides cause cockroaches to flip upside down?

The most important neurotransmitter in a cockroach is acetylcholine. This plays a major part in various unconscious movements within cockroaches. These include:

  • Slowing down the cockroach’s heart rate
  • Dilating its blood vessels
  • Stimulating the muscles
  • Stimulating responses to smooth muscles

When the neurotoxins present in the insecticide break down the acetylcholine, it multiples extensively. A large amount of acetylcholine causes a cockroach to lose control over its muscles and undergo various muscle spasms.

Too much of this neurotransmitter leads to overstimulation of the muscle cells. Therefore, going against the signals that the cockroach’s brain is sending its body, it shakes uncontrollably until it flips onto its back and gets pinned due to its high center of gravity.

Conclusion: poisonous insecticides are the real culprit!

Seeing dead cockroaches on their back so often may have led you to believe that this is a default position that these cockroaches take when death approaches them.

However, this is simply a sign of a poisoned cockroach.

Therefore, the next time you see a seemingly dead cockroach on its back, know that it may not be dead! It may just be paralyzed from the poison of an insecticide, and you should get rid of this unwanted semi-dead guest from your home permanently!

Moreover, this phenomenon also proves that if we wish to slow down or capture a cockroach, we can attempt to flip it. This will put the cockroach in a vulnerable state due to its high center of gravity and make it an easy target to kill or trap in a jar.