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August 2005
Did You Know?
By Maureen Wyse


Did you know that NYC is home to millions of rats so big they are often mistaken for dogs? Or that city cockroaches burrow their eggs into the food you eat causing hundreds of thousands to hatch in your gall bladder? Did you know that mutant ninja turtles do exist here in the big apple—along with mutated snakes, alligators living in sewers, and spiders that climb out of your toilets in the middle of the night to bite you in the bum? Yes, these urban creatures are real—real legends that is.

Myths pertaining to these by and large unwanted legged, winged and scaled critters have existed and expanded ever since humans began co-existing with them. In fact, rats, cockroaches, pigeons, and other urban ‘vermin’ carry with them some of the worst reputations around town. People have a tendency to believe things they are told, especially if it supports their preconceived notions.

Here is a selection of delectable urban critter myths—and truths—for your information and enjoyment!

Did you know that if you smash a cockroach its eggs spray out and implant themselves in the surrounding surfaces? To make matters worse, the eggs embed themselves on the bottoms of your shoes, and walking around spreads them everywhere!
This myth simply stems from the frantic paranoia of a so-called “infestation problem.” Waking up to find thousands of crawlies all over one’s home is a common enough fear, but it’s just that: a fear. On top of that, believing one roach can instantly reproduce into many makes way for the belief of cockroach indestructibility and multiplication techniques.

Think about it. It is impossible that a cockroach egg case—an ootheca—could survive a stomping by a smooth soled shoe or the grooves of a sports shoe for that matter. The ootheca are large (about the size of a pea), contain 10 to 20 eggs, and fragile. Therefore, if you give them a good smashing there is really no chance for survival regardless of shoe style. This said, keep in mind there are more humane ways to ask these little critters to relocate. (See “Stop the Stomping” in this issue.)

Did you know, envelope glue is infested with roach eggs? If you lick one, you will hatch cockroaches in your mouth.
This ‘did you know’ is a lie. In brief, a post office employee licks an envelope, cuts her tongue, and a week later develops abnormal swelling. Doctors initially say nothing is wrong but the swelling continues, soreness sets in, she can’t eat. And then…a lump is discovered. With minor surgery, her tongue is cut open and a live roach comes crawling out. This all happens because human saliva is warm and moist, making our mouths the perfect breeding ground for cockroaches.

Lies! And all because of that ootheca again. There is no way an egg can survive outside of that hard capsule, flourish, and hatch in a mouth, body part, organ or orifice of a human. There are insects who will burrow into human flesh, but not roaches and you don’t get them from licking envelopes!

Did you know cockroaches can live without their heads?
Believe it or not, this is partially true. Although a headless cockroach could not live forever, it can live up to a month. Humans need their heads for three reasons. First, to help us breathe through our mouth and nose. Second, to prevent severe blood loss and drop in blood pressure, leading to death. And thirdly, we couldn’t eat without our heads and starvation would get the best of us.

These three reasons are not factors for roaches. Roaches breathe through spiracles in each body segment and have a different blood pressure than mammals, so cutting off the head does not lead to uncontrollable bleeding. The cockroach won’t starve either—they can live for a month on one meal. The only result of a beheading, is that they may be less active and seek a cooler temperature.

Did you know that rat urine will kill you?
In 1998, an impractical email circulated around and considerable fear was instilled. Part of this email reads, “Before you drink a can of soda, make sure you wash the top with running water and soap or drink it with a straw. A woman didn’t clean the top which was encrusted with dried rat’s urine—a toxic and lethal substance—and died!”

The story has elements of truth, but it is very unlikely that someone died in this exact manner. The line about rats’ urine being “toxic and lethal” is overzealous and untrue. Yet, rats can be carriers of disease. Just try and keep your surfaces clean and avoid drinking any urine, period.

Did you know all rats are dirty?
False, rats are actually very clean and groom themselves more than some cats. They also scavenge for water to wash their faces. And unlike cats, rats do not shed or cough up hairballs. But like our flip-flop clad feet on a hot NYC day, these little critters become black with street grime. City rats try their best, but staying clean in our filthy city is a challenge.

Did you know rats caused the plague?

When we think about the plague, we think of dirty, four-legged urban sewer dwellers who drink the blood of the innocent. The bubonic plague of the 1600s is mostly credited to rats. Yet, rats were merely the carriers of Xenopsylla cheopis—a flea. These fleas and the bacteria inside their stomachs are to blame for the plague; they’re the true blood-suckers, not the four-legged furries.

Did you know pigeons spread deadly disease to humans?

This myth is the most widespread urban legend about pigeons. Pest control companies have falsely put the blame on pigeons for histoplasmosis, toxoplasmosis, psittacosis, cryptococcosis, salmonellosis, meningitis, tuberculosis, and encephalitis. In truth, most people have a better chance at being struck by lightening than contracting disease from pigeons.

Did you know all bats are blind?
Myth. “Blind as a bat” is an oxymoron. Bats are not blind, they actually have quite keen sight. Because they are dependent on finding food in the dark hours of the night they must be able to navigate their surroundings. Even with the sonar to detect their food, these winged wonders have to avoid crashing into the walls, trees, and other obstructions. Believe this myth, and maybe you should have your eyes examined.

Did you know that all bats have rabies?
This is a lie that is commonly believed and yet, far from the truth—being that less than one percent of wild bats have rabies. Plus, once a bat has contracted rabies, he becomes progressively paralyzed. The only way to pass on rabies is if a bat is infected with the disease, is sick, and bites the second party. Now I know that when I am sick and paralyzed, I stay in bed, as I can imagine the majority of the rabid bat population does.

Did you know that alligators live in NYC’s Sewer?
Before alligators were protected by law, you could buy babies in Florida and Georgia for a few dollars as a souvenir. Many were sold without any regard to how difficult a pet alligator could be. In NYC alone, hundreds of these small ‘gators were flushed down toilets or set free to eventually end up in the city’s sewer system. The baby gators adapted to this environment quickly by feeding on rats and other sewer dwellers. Generations later they became albino and went blind from the lack of light. This is False!

Did you know that deadly spiders nest under toilet seats and have killed three people in NYC?
Three women in NYC turned up at hospitals over a five-day period, all with the same symptoms—fever, chills, and vomiting, followed by muscular collapse, paralysis, and finally, death. Autopsy results showed toxicity in the blood. And though these women did not know each other, it was discovered that they had all visited the same restaurant within days of their deaths. The health department descended on the restaurant, inspecting the food, water, and air conditioning to no avail.

The big break came when a toxicologist went into the restroom and lifted the toilet seat. Under the seat lurked a small spider, determined to be the South American Blush Spider (arachnius gluteus), so named because of its reddened flesh color. This spider’s venom is extremely toxic, but can take several days to take effect. They live in cold, dark, damp climates, and toilet rims provide just the right atmosphere.

Fortunately, this story is false. A blush spider is actually a cosmetological term referring to patches of tiny varicose veins on the surface of the skin.

Know what to believe and what to dispel. Although some seem silly and ridiculous, the reason these myths persist is because people believe them and keep them alive. Rats, pigeons, cockroaches, bats, and the many more not mentioned in this section need you to know their habits and lifestyles and prove the myths wrong. For the urban critters’ sake, find out why these little creatures get the bad rep, do some research, and make them the cool guys out on the street.



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