There are more than 4000 species of cockroaches in the world, and Australia is home to over 500 of them, including some of the largest and the smallest. Surprisingly, out of the 4000, only five are generally considered pests. Most cockroaches don't want to hang around your cupboards like a scuttling reminder to buy some surface spray.
Author - and IgNobel prize winner - David Rentz has set out to rehabilitate the cockroach's reputation. Not only do the many get a bad name because of the few pest species, but quite a lot of cockroaches are actually very attractive. Take Ellipsidion sp (pictured), with its creamy undercoat, and big black spot. They're not the sort of creature you commonly associate with the name 'cockroach'.
The vast majority of Australian cockroaches also perform a useful function. They process leaf litter and return it to the soil. Orchid growers may not be so pleased about the Orchid Cockroach's possible tendency to return orchids to the soil (although they might just like the potting mix), but in general they're a useful part of the food chain. Predatory species are quite fond of a feed of cockroach, too, so they're part of the food chain in life and in death.
A Guide to the Cockroaches of Australia provides detailed descriptions of the native species' morphology, habitats and ecology. For those who are interested it also explains how to collect and preserve them. But it's also a useful resource that will allow pest controllers, students and researchers to reliably identify most of the common pest species, as well as the non-pest cockroaches.
Dr Rentz will be launching the definitive guide to Australian cockroaches at the CSIRO Discovery Centre Clunies Ross St, Acton, ACT on Monday 12 May at 10.45am. He will be available for interview from 11am.