Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Biotech Bug Science

Universal "Death Stench" Repels Bugs of All Types 248

Posted by kdawson
from the was-it-something-i-said dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Wired reports that scientists have discovered that insects from cockroaches to caterpillars all emit the same stinky blend of fatty acids when they die and that the death mix may represent a universal, ancient warning signal to avoid their dead or injured. 'Recognizing and avoiding the dead could reduce the chances of catching the disease,' says Biologist David Rollo of McMaster University 'or allow you to get away with just enough exposure to activate your immunity.' Researchers isolated unsaturated fatty acids containing oleic and linoleic acids from the corpses of dead cockroaches and found that their concoction repelled not just cockroaches, but ants and caterpillars. 'It was amazing to find that the cockroaches avoided places treated with these extracts like the plague,' says Rollo. Even crustaceans like woodlice and pillbugs, which diverged from insects 400 million years ago, were repelled leading scientists to think the death mix represents a universal warning signal. Scientists hope the right concoction of death smells might protect crops. Thankfully, human noses can't detect the fatty acid extracts. 'I've tried smelling papers treated with them and don't smell anything strong and certainly not repellent,' writes Rollo in an e-mail. 'Not like the rotting of corpses that occurs later and is detectable from great distances.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Universal "Death Stench" Repels Bugs of All Types

Comments Filter:
  • This is nonsense (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Rooked_One (591287) on Friday September 18, 2009 @09:01AM (#29465195) Journal
    Maybe for some bugs, but for those nasty caca roches, I get a bowl, wipe the top 4 inches around inside with vegtable oil then put whatever inside... coffee grounds, bananas... whatever... There are tons of dead ones in there but that doesn't stop more from coming. Also, cockroaches are cannibals.
    • by Fred_A (10934) <{fred} {at} {fredshome.org}> on Friday September 18, 2009 @09:10AM (#29465287) Homepage

      Your anecdote does nothing to invalidate the article's data.

      It makes sense for any animal to avoid a site where its own are dead.

      It's the same category of reflex that makes us want to throw up when someone pukes (being social animals we often eat together), that makes us universally find some smells offensive (pretty much always originally attached to something potentially toxic), etc.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by bcmm (768152)

        It makes sense for any animal to avoid a site where its own are dead.

        Except for cannibals which are so hard to kill that whatever happened to the dead one was probably just bad luck. Like, for example, roaches. IIRC, their attraction to the smell of their own dead is pretty well documented.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by orangesquid (79734)

          I have ants where I live, and I've experimented by killing and collecting dead ants, then crushing them and spreading the juices around.

          The ants don't care about their own dead, apparently. I find trails of ants all the time where dead ants are scattered along the trail. It doesn't deter them one bit...

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Shakrai (717556)

            I have ants where I live

            I would hope so, unless you are posting from the ISS ;)

            The ants don't care about their own dead, apparently

            Actually a lot of ants will collect their dead. It's really quite amazing to watch too.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Alcoholist (160427)

            Here's what I do for ants, works better than any of those nerve agent poisons. Plain old diatomaceous earth (diatomite, silica powder, kisselgur, etc...) Some farmers use it to protect grain and stuff, but it works on ants and other crawly pests too. You put it in places where ants like to run around, like say, the base of a door, along a foundation or on top of an anthill. It kills some of them, injures others but they seem to hate it so much eventually the colony gives up and moves away from your house

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Well, that convinces me. The anecdote that you're not quite sure you've recalled correctly sure outweighs this report from scientists. Kudos!

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Rooked_One (591287)
        Ah I see your analogy about the puking part... I won't go anywhere someone has puked unless i'm really messed up... so given all the chemicals that i've sprayed in my garage, good chance they are probably tripping their antennae off.
    • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohnNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday September 18, 2009 @09:11AM (#29465299) Journal

      Maybe for some bugs, but for those nasty caca roches, I get a bowl, wipe the top 4 inches around inside with vegtable oil then put whatever inside... coffee grounds, bananas... whatever... There are tons of dead ones in there but that doesn't stop more from coming. Also, cockroaches are cannibals.

      Well, to be fair, your observations are from cockroaches that have lived in close quarters with humans and not those in nature. Notice that in the article, it's only Wired who suggests this would protect you from an infestation. The scientists say this may protect crops--which are in a more natural setting. And I think you would see a much higher success rate on cockroaches or wood beetles that live in the wild versus those in your home. Many animals behave very differently in their natural environment.

      Whatever the case, I'm really excited to see fatty acid extracts used instead of chemical compounds on the food that I eat. Especially for people that have small gardens of tomatoes and vegetables. I'd personally pay a small premium on my produce for crops grown and repelling insects with this technology.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by nameer (706715)
        But fatty acid extracts are chemical compounds. And lets be clear, if they figure this out to the point that it works reliably, the next step is bring in the chemists and chemical engineers to figure out how to scale this up to industrial proportions. That will mean building the compounds in bulk, not extracting them from cockroaches. Which to be fair, is better for the roaches.
        • Re:This is nonsense (Score:4, Interesting)

          by ShadowRangerRIT (1301549) on Friday September 18, 2009 @11:45AM (#29467147)

          I think bulk breeding and crushing of roaches would likely be a fairly effective means of building these compounds in bulk (assuming, of course, that roaches have a decent amount of these chemicals in them). Paraphrasing and condensing from Wikipedia: In favorable conditions, one female roach can, in her one year lifespan, produce 300-400 offspring, and she only needs to be impregnated once to do so (though the eggs are only laid in groups of ~40 at a time). Aside from one or two commonly available nutrients, their gut bacteria synthesize all other nutrients required to live from whatever they eat, from wood to postage stamp glue to corn oil, so you can feed them otherwise worthless semi-edible plant matter as a form of accelerated composting.

          Besides, I think we can safely say that no matter how much of a threat we pose to the survival of other species (say, most of the world's fish stock), we're in no danger of running out of roaches. And aside from PETA, not a whole lot of people are going to protest a roach crushing facility that enables them to repel roaches. Just don't build it too close to people, or you'll get a whole NIMBY movement going.

      • by Jeffrey_Walsh VA (1335967) on Friday September 18, 2009 @10:09AM (#29465945)
        Roaches have lived among humans for long enough that their natural eviroment is our home.
      • Whatever the case, I'm really excited to see fatty acid extracts used instead of chemical compounds on the food that I eat.

        Yeah, I can't wait to have dead roach slime smeared all over my food. That sounds much more appetizing. ;)

    • I was always led to believe that Cockroaches favourite food was dead Cockroach go figure.
    • Oil is a remarkable sealant - something to keep in mind. I don't have a cockroach problem but, here in Michigan, the wolf spider [google.com] (and various other species scare the bejebus out of me (ever hear a 12 year old girl scream?) so I have discovered that eucalyptus oil is handy to keep them at bay.

    • by strength_of_10_men (967050) on Friday September 18, 2009 @09:42AM (#29465597)

      Doesn't work for me either! My car's windshield and hood are plastered with dead insects. You would think that would warn other insects to stay away but no, after every road trip, there are just MORE bugs splattered on my car. I call BS.

      • by bcmm (768152)
        If you're moving faster than the wind, nothing is going to smell you coming.



        (Please somebody say WHOOSH!)
    • by Follier (901079) on Friday September 18, 2009 @10:01AM (#29465843)
      A friend of mine would kill one roach, and stick it on a toothpick (or a "pike" as he called it) and stood it up on a bottle-cork at the entrance to a hole -- as an "example to the others!" He swore it worked.

      I just thought he was crazy. Apparently he was on to something.
    • Less nonsense (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Maybe for some bugs, but for those nasty caca roches, I get a bowl, wipe the top 4 inches around inside with vegtable oil then put whatever inside... coffee grounds, bananas... whatever... There are tons of dead ones in there but that doesn't stop more from coming. Also, cockroaches are cannibals.

      Got a roach problem? Cheap boric acid, sold in plastic bottles everywhere. Don't dump it, pour it, spoon it. Don't waste time preparing mixtures of food and boric acid. Snip the top off of the plastic top. Tip the bottle a little bit, and squeeze. Practice until you can create clouds of fine particles floating in the air. Globs and clumps of white powder do you no good at all - you want a very fine cloud to float out, so that it can settle and coat everything.

      Get rid of kids and pets for a couple days - som

    • by Abcd1234 (188840)

      Maybe for some bugs, but for those nasty caca roches, I get a bowl, wipe the top 4 inches around inside with vegtable oil then put whatever inside... coffee grounds, bananas... whatever...

      So, what you're saying is that either the scientists are flat out lying when they claim this works for cockroaches, or that they're so incompetent that they can't even tell when an insect is avoiding some area due to an applied chemical? Really?

      Honestly, what the *fuck* is with Slashdotter arrogance? I mean, I've been ar

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by tuxedobob (582913)

        Did you take your Cheerios with extra piss this morning?

        I found his comment pretty entertaining. Just wish I'd read it before moving out of my old apartment.

    • by Culture20 (968837)
      What is the distance of the repulsive death-stench versus the attractive food-stench? No matter how repulsive the death-stench is, if it's only a few cm, then the roaches are drawn by the food, whereupon they get trapped before realizing "ZOMG dead roaches!"
  • ... quit coming to my roach motel.

  • Smelling death (Score:2, Interesting)

    by spgass (1217724)
    The article says humans cannot detect the fatty acid extracts, but I wonder if this theory expands to mammals. After getting a couple of squirrels with my tube trap [olddominionwildlife.com], squirrels now seem afraid to enter. My wife thought they might "smell death"
  • Sharks, too (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Das Auge (597142) on Friday September 18, 2009 @09:09AM (#29465271)
    The same thing works on sharks. I watched a Discovery show where they got the sharks into a feeding frenzy, dropped some of the repellent (dead shark material) into the water, and all of the sharks took off in seconds.

    Thinking about it, I doubt very much that humans millennia ago smelled dead human and though, "Hey, I wonder what killed him. I'm going to go see."
    • by travdaddy (527149)
      Thinking about it, I doubt very much that humans millennia ago smelled dead human and though, "Hey, I wonder what killed him. I'm going to go see."

      I guess we have now evolved to that point? Or maybe past it, "Hey, I wonder what killed him. I'm going to go see, and we'll base a CSI episode off of it."
      • Re:Sharks, too (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Nadaka (224565) on Friday September 18, 2009 @10:08AM (#29465933)

        Not really. It takes a lot of practice to overcome revulsion of the dead. There is nothing that smells quite as bad like a dead person, even a fresh one has a smell that will tie your stomach in a knot. My fiance is a mortician and it took her quite some time to get over the smell. It still creeps me out when I end up having to wait on her at the funeral home.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by smoker2 (750216)

          It still creeps me out when I end up having to wait on her at the funeral home.

          Anything good on the winelist ?

    • by Archon-X (264195)

      Now we can just use youtube!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 18, 2009 @09:09AM (#29465275)

    Join the Mobile Infantry and save the Galaxy. Service guarantees citizenship. Would you like to know more?

  • ...an insect repellent.
  • Folklore (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Maximum Prophet (716608) on Friday September 18, 2009 @09:11AM (#29465307)
    Several gardening experts claimed that grinding up bugs and spraying them on crops would repel bugs, but field tests have shown no special results. Perhaps this only works in confined spaces like were cockroaches live.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by BeardedChimp (1416531)
      By sprinkling the bugs over a large area you will quickly dilute the fatty acids. It's very possible that if they take the compound and produce it in large quantities that this approach would work.
  • I vote we hose down K Street with it. We'll have a representative democracy in under 5 minutes!

    • by FauxPasIII (75900)

      Thanks. If I see my congressman surrounded by lobbyists in gas masks, I'll know who to talk to.

    • Alas, there would be no effect. You forget that Washington power brokers are not just vermin, but undead vermin.

  • Crops (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Stile 65 (722451) on Friday September 18, 2009 @09:13AM (#29465323) Homepage Journal

    How are they going to use this for protecting crops? If ants are repelled, wasps and bees will be, too, and there goes your pollination.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by T Murphy (1054674)
      It creates a niche market for bee gas masks. Brilliant business strategy, I say.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Gorath99 (746654)

      How are they going to use this for protecting crops? If ants are repelled, wasps and bees will be, too, and there goes your pollination.

      Still useful (if it really works) for protecting fruit though. Once the blossom is gone and the fruit starts to develop, pollination is no longer an issue.

    • Re:Crops (Score:5, Informative)

      by Kirijini (214824) <kirijiniNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Friday September 18, 2009 @10:58AM (#29466551)

      How are they going to use this for protecting crops? If ants are repelled, wasps and bees will be, too, and there goes your pollination.

      Corn [wikipedia.org] is pollinated by wind. I'm not going to bother to find sources for each kind of corn, but here's links for maize [osu.edu] (American corn), wheat [answers.com] (European corn), and barley barley [wikipedia.org]. (I guess that link only indicates that Barley self-pollinates, not pollinates by wind. whatever.) Rice [wikipedia.org] is also wind-pollinated.

      Potatoes [cornell.edu] don't need to be pollinated at all.

      Therefore, if a product is developed from cockroach juice, it might be most useful for these kinds of crops. Note that "cereals" and "roots and tubers" are the 1st and 3rd most produced [wikipedia.org] type of crop.

  • Great... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Gage With Union (1174735) on Friday September 18, 2009 @09:19AM (#29465373)

    So the solution to live cockroaches on my floor is dead cockroaches?

    As someone living in a gentrifying neighborhood, any chance this works on hipsters?... (some ground up Converse All-Stars and stovepipe jeans?)

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by secretcurse (1266724)
      Well, the one nice thing about hipsters is that they have some level of reasoning. Just nail one to the front door with a sign that reads "no Pabst" and you shouldn't have to deal with any others.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by maxume (22995)

      I believe you would actually have to grind up the hipster.

  • What sort of stench does slashdotters emit that predominantly serve as a warning signal to females? And why is there no research on it?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by mcgrew (92797) *

      Rotting pizza and the smell of coding for 36 hours in a hot room without a bath, maybe?

  • Image: Flickr/bensheldon. Note: This photo was chosen from a disturbingly large volume of dead cockroach images on Flickr.

    Every once in a while the internet totally redeems itself. :-P

  • Just the stuff I want to read over breakfast.
  • All the time I spent vacuuming out dead roaches from my computer cases... wasted. If I'd mashed them flat instead, obviously I'd have had a lot fewer live bugs to eliminate from my code as a result.

  • by Elwar123 (1053566) on Friday September 18, 2009 @09:51AM (#29465695)
    Is this why there's an article today that RAID's days may be numbered? [slashdot.org]
  • This is really interesting, especially considering the potential application for protecting crops. I have 2 concerns though:

    1) How quickly does the substance dissipate? Would a farmer have to spray the every time it rains/there's a light breeze?
    2) How long before some bugs say "ah, screw the smell, i'm hungry, dammit!" Some insects might evolve to sacrifice their natural defense from disease for the sake of a good meal, thus making the process useless... Thankfully there aren't really a whole lot of dis
  • Is this new? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Nerdposeur (910128) on Friday September 18, 2009 @10:15AM (#29466021) Journal

    A few decades ago, Edward O. Wilson proved that ants mark their trails with scent by removing their organs individually and smearing them around. Eventually he found one that would cause them to follow the trail, and would demonstrate his discovery by writing his name in ants.

    I heard a recorded lecture where he told this story, and he also mentioned that they discovered the "dead ant" smell that would signal the colony that "this one is dead, go put it on the pile." When they put the scent on a live ant, the other ants would carry it off to the pile, ignoring the fact that it was squirming the whole way there. And until the stinky ant cleaned itself off enough, they would keep putting it back every time it left the pile.

  • Call me a skeptic (Score:3, Interesting)

    by daveywest (937112) on Friday September 18, 2009 @10:57AM (#29466533)
    This seems like bunk to me. I've cleaned some very nasty rentals, and I've removed roach grave yards by the pound. Every roach I've ever seen doesn't bat an eye at eating their departed comrades.
  • I'm guessing this would be a pretty non-toxic bug deterrent as it wouldn't need to kill them, just fool them into thinking the sprayed area was deadly. So you could spray it into areas containing food items. As someone who recently had a pest infestation, I'd welcome this. (Double infestation, actually. Termites which were only found when we called an exterminator to examine the beetle larvae we found all over our house. Those wound up being pantry pests.)

    Another thought occurs though, if the "death mi

    • I suspect that this has already happened in domestic cockroaches and other common pests. Probably in the federal government too.
  • by millwall (622730) on Friday September 18, 2009 @11:15AM (#29466753)
    Isn't it cute to note that so many /. geeks are now also apparently insect experts
  • Great, finally there's a way to get these damn lobsters off my crops!

  • by PPH (736903) on Friday September 18, 2009 @01:14PM (#29468437)
    The scent of a dead cockroach might repel other cockroaches. But throw a dead hooker in a ditch and see how fast the bugs congregate.

Whenever people agree with me, I always think I must be wrong. - Oscar Wilde

Working...