Smooth cockroach

The other day, while sitting on my couch, I saw a flicker of black on a wall across the apartment. The sight was enough to send a surge of adrenaline rushing through my body. A longtime New Yorker, I knew what it was: a roach.

Normally, I would have tried to find a can of Raid. If that failed, I would have located a sturdy shoe and attempted to squash the sucker. Except that: I had just watched Robert Full’s latest TED Talk.

Full’s talk is an ode to the ingenuity of the cockroach body. It looks at the roach as a robust system, with legs that allow it to stabilize on uneven terrain, a body that lets it roll to fit through tight spaces, feet that enable it to invert, and an exoskeleton that allows it to take off full-speed toward a wall. Full’s work looks at how studying roaches can teach us how to build better robots. His talk is part of a growing body of TED Talks that ask us to look to creepy crawlies for inspiration. See also: Deborah Gordon urging us to see the line of ants on a picnic blanket not as a nuisance but as a way to help us rethink cancer prevention and Marcus Byrne nudging us to appreciate the incredible navigation system of the dung beetle. And, of course, TED Fellow Greg Gage, who created a cockroach beatbox on the TEDYouth stage by dissecting a roach to demonstrate how electrical messages travel between the brain and legs.

Ants and beetles, fine. But the cockroach? That is too much. This thing was in my home, crawling up my wall and, frankly, grossing me out.

So what did I do with it? As much as I wanted to smash it, I couldn’t. So I trapped it under a glass, slipped a piece of card underneath and released it outside — for better or worse.

Because in all its creepiness, the darn thing was kind of a marvel.

Photo: iStock.