Cockroaches: The New Miracle Cure for China’s Ailments

Malcolm Moore, Telegraph (London), October 24, 2013

The correct way to eat a cockroach, at least in this corner of northern China, is to fry it not once but twice in a wok of smoking hot oil.

“The second time makes the shell crispy and the inside succulent,” said 43-year-old Wang Fuming, as he tipped a bowl of freshly harvested bugs, one or two of their legs still twitching, into the sizzling pan.

Mr Wang is the leading cockroach farmer in Shandong province, with more than 22 million of the insects living in a series of nondescript, concrete bunkers in the suburbs of Jinan.

After cooking, Mr Wang gently ladled them onto a plate, their bodies plumped with the oil and their wings slightly spread, before sprinkling a packet of instant noodle powder–pickled cabbage flavour–over the dish.

“It would be better if we had some chilli,” he apologised.

The cockroach, whose innards resemble cottage cheese, has an earthy taste, with a slight twinge of ammonia. But they have become popular in China not for their taste, but for their medicinal benefits.

“They really are a miracle drug,” said Liu Yusheng, a professor at the Shandong Agricultural university and the head of Shandong province’s Insect Association. “They can cure a number of ailments and they work much faster than other medicine.”

Prof Liu said a cream made from powdered cockroaches is in use in some Chinese hospitals as a treatment for burns and in Korea for cosmetic facial masks.

Meanwhile, a syrup invented by a pharmaceutical company in Sichuan promises to cure gastroenteritis, duodenal ulcers and pulmonary tuberculosis.

“China has the problem of an ageing population,” explained Prof Liu. “So we are trying to find new medicines for older people, and these are generally cheaper than Western medicine. Also we have a tradition of eating bugs here in Shandong.”

For a decade, Mr Wang farmed another type of insect, Eupolyphaga Sinensis, which is also used in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

But in the past two years, the demand for cockroaches has soared, and Mr Wang has switched his entire production to Periplaneta americana, or the American cockroach, a copper-coloured insect that grows to just over an inch and a half.

“These are not the same ones you see in your home, those are German cockroaches,” he said. “There are hundreds of species of cockroaches, but only this one has any medicinal value. It is native to Guangdong province.”

Inside his bunkers are hundreds of nests, bolted together from concrete roof tiles, that line the shelves of dark corridors.

The doorways are lined with mesh, but some cockroaches have clustered on the low ceilings overhead and the air is heavy with a fetid stink. “That is just how they smell,” Mr Wang shrugged.

Last month was harvest time across Shandong. As farmers elsewhere in the province picked apples and cut corn, Mr Wang reaped huge sackfuls of roaches.

“We kill them before they reach four months old, because then their wings are fully grown and they can fly,” he said. “They are very easy to kill, we take large vats of boiling water into the corridors and dunk the nests into them.”

His entire output is sold to pharmaceutical companies, he said, and the price has risen strongly. Since 2011, he has quintupled production, to more than 100 tons a year, and he has eight workers.

Outside his farm, another man is waiting to be shown around. Since this spring, Mr Wang has had 100 enquiries from would-be cockroach farmers and has helped to build 30 other farms.

“Oh, the money is good,” said Xiao Zhongwu, a wiry 49-year-old who has a smaller set of farms in the countryside near Qufu, the birthplace of Confucius. “I have a trucking business too, transporting marble, paper and farm products for local companies. But that brings in pocket money: it is cockroaches that bring in the big money.”

Mr Xiao said he had invested £160,000 in building a series of small farms, their windows taped over with plastic sheeting to stop the cockroaches from escaping.

But, he said, he earns at least £30,000 a year from the insects, and up to £90,000 in a good year. “The pharmaceutical companies set the price, but I stockpile my cockroaches when the supply is plentiful to wait for when the demand picks up.”

Mr Xiao feeds his cockroaches a “special formula” of mashed up vegetables and waste to produce the high levels of amino acids that his buyers demand.

But, he said, farming the bugs is very simple. “Just keep them warm and they are happy.”

Until now, the industry, while booming, has remained mostly under the radar. But in August, a million cockroaches escaped from a farm in Jiangsu province, making headlines in the Chinese media.

Wang Pengsheng, a 38-year-old former engineer, said he had bought the plot of land to raise the insects after six months of research into the industry. He bought more than 80kg of eggs for £10,000 and set up his farm.

But while he was out inspecting the goats and pigs he was raising elsewhere, the local government deemed his building illegal and knocked it down.

“When I came back in the evening, everything was gone, reduced to rubble,” he said. “Afterwards, a team of exterminators came around to try to kill all the escaped cockroaches.”

Mr Wang said he was determined to start again. “The problem is that the government has been under pressure from people saying the cockroaches are pests and they should not let me rebuild.”

In Jinan, the other Mr Wang said he had heard of the misfortune suffered by his namesake. But, he added, he has not had any recent break outs from his farm. “In the beginning a few got away. But since we covered all the windows and doors with mesh, they have been well trapped,” he said.

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  • D.B. Cooper

    Get used to it. Your overcrowded areas will be eating them soon enough. You will have no choice. Have you ever seen Creepshow?

    • Strike_Team

      Creepshow? I’ve entered the homes of browns and blacks that gave me and some other officers the willies when we realized the reason the floors and walls looked like they were moving was because they were covered with roaches. I kid you not.

  • Spartacus

    Engelman, remind me again – how smart are the Chinese?

    • Whitetrashgang

      Shh that’ could one of Johnnys relatives. Kind of makes you think how john lives.

  • Speaking of cockroaches:

    ***

    Rutgers Today

    Cockroach Never Seen Before in U.S. Is Identified in New York

    Analysis by Rutgers researchers confirms an Asian species that can survive in cold and snow

    With winter’s arrival comes the kind of news that may give New Yorkers the creeps. A species of cockroach never found in the United States before has been positively identified in Manhattan.

    Unlike the roaches that New York residents have known and hated for years, this variety can survive not just indoors where it’s warm, but also outdoors in freezing temperatures. The species Periplaneta japonica is well documented in Asia but was never confirmed in the United States until Rutgers insect biologists Jessica Ware and Dominic Evangelista documented its presence in a study just published by the Journal of Economic Entomology.

    “About 20 years ago colleagues of ours in Japan reared nymphs of this species and measured their tolerance to being able to survive in snow,” says Ware, who is an assistant professor of biological sciences at Rutgers-Newark. “As the species has invaded Korea and China, there has been some confirmation that it does very well in cold climates, so it is very conceivable that it could live outdoors during winter in New York. That is in addition to its being well suited to live indoors alongside the species that already are here.”

    The Asian species was first spotted in New York in 2012 by an exterminator working on the High Line, an elevated walkway and park on Manhattan’s West Side. These cockroaches looked different to him from what usually crawls around New York, so he sent the carcasses to the University of Florida for analysis. The recipient, study co-author Lyle Buss, contacted the Smithsonian, which in turn brought in Ware because she had published several papers on cockroaches in the past. Evangelista, who is working toward a doctorate in Ware’s lab, performed barcoding, an analysis of the species’ genetic characteristics. That and other scientific methods Evangelista used confirmed what he and Ware suspected – the roach traps on the High Line had captured Periplaneta japonica.

    How it arrived is not certain, but Ware and Evangelista suspect that one or more of the ornamental plants that adorn the High Line arrived in soil that contained the new pest. “Many nurseries in the United States have some native plants and some imported plants,” Ware says, “so it’s not a far stretch to picture that that is the source.” Evangelista adds, “If we discover more populations in the U.S., we could trace their genes back to try to figure out their exact sources.” But they agree that could be a very difficult detective job.

    What New Yorkers probably really want to know isn’t so much the source of the new species but the implications of its arrival. It is too soon to predict with real confidence, though the Rutgers researchers say there probably is no reason for alarm. “Because this species is very similar to cockroach species that already exist in the urban environment,” says Evangelista, “they likely will compete with each other for space and for food.” And as they compete, says Ware, “their combined numbers inside buildings could actually fall because more time and energy spent competing means less time and energy to devote to reproduction.”

    As for potential roach sightings on sidewalks and in parks during the dead of winter, Ware and Evangelista believe such encounters are possible. “I could imagine japonica being outside and walking around,” says Ware, “though I don’t know how well it would do in dirty New York snow. The Asian researchers tested driven snow.”

    There also is little likelihood that the different species could interbreed and create a hybrid super-roach because their genitalia don’t match. “The male and female genitalia fit together like a lock and key and that differs by species,” Evangelista says. “So we assume that one won’t fit the other.”

    Still, having a new six-legged neighbor could be unsettling. Ware has advice for New Yorkers who want to see fewer roaches, whatever the species. Some tips are obvious – sweep and vacuum so that food is not on the floor, and reduce clutter – while one suggestion may not be. Ware says using a dehumidifier could cut their numbers, because very dry air harms the cockroaches’ egg cases and reduces their ability to reproduce.

    New Jerseyans, being right across the river, also have a more than casual interest in the new species. So far, Ware says, there have been no documented New Jersey sightings, but “they do very well as hitchhikers.”

    ***

    My reactions:

    1. I have my doubts about flora being the cause.

    2. New York’s kudzu?

    • dd121

      Cockroaches: the curse of living in an apartment.

    • convairXF92

      There were giant cockroaches in Framingham MA some years ago; no idea if any still survive. How? A US Army research lab was located nearby. The lab imported the roaches for research, then threw them into some outdoor waste-holding spot, not realizing the egg cases could survive the winter. The roaches found their way into people’s homes.

      • Paleoconn

        True story? How big were they?

  • D.B. Cooper

    First come the cockroaches, then comes the….

    • Pro_Whitey

      “Crackers”? Does that mean this particular Soylent Green is made exclusively from white people?

      • Whitetrashgang

        Well would you eat crackers made out of black people?

        • IstvanIN

          Pumpernickel?

          • Whitetrashgang

            I would go with pepper crunches.

        • BonusGift

          My goodness, that was funny, thanks.

          • Whitetrashgang

            Yeah thanks, its hard to be funny given the subject matter, its just depressing overall.

      • Chasmania

        Actually, it’s white southerners from the good ol’ USA in Soylent Green Crackers.

  • bigone4u

    At many of the local Mexican restaurants in S. Texas, the cockroaches come free–no extra charge. La Cucharacha, la cucharacha … and the song plays on.

    • Alexandra1973

      I remember learning the words to that song in Spanish class….

      La cucaracha, la cucaracha
      No puede caminar
      Porque no tiene, porque le falta
      Marijuana que fumar

      (A cockroach can’t walk because it doesn’t have weed? LOL)

  • Extropico

    “These are not the same ones you see in your home, those are German cockroaches,” he said. “There are hundreds of species of cockroaches, but only this one has any medicinal value. It is native to Guangdong province.”

    Solipsism as a substitute for science and sagacity.

    • BonusGift

      Yep, had to smile at the wisdom of our genius cockroach farmer.

  • IstvanIN

    To each his own. As long as they do it there and not here, it isn’t my concern.

  • Erasmus

    Who would know the difference if they began importing cheaply grown Mexican cockroaches?

    • Whitetrashgang

      Half The cockroaches would be on welfare and drink all day, and of course be natural republicans.

  • D.B. Cooper

    In Damnation Alley, mutated, armor plated, man eating cockroaches were all over Las Vegas.
    It might not be such a bad thing. Note the race of their victim.

    • Paleoconn

      George Peppard and Jan-Michael Vincent before the A-Team and Airwolf, respectively. The vehicle they had was cool. I recently saw The Swarm, late 70s TV movie I think with Michael Caine, Henry Fonda, Richard Chamberlain. They kept talking about protecting this or that city from the Africans, and not letting the Africans take over and kill everybody. They were talking about killer bees, of course but after 1-2 times saying the full name, they resignede themselves to just saying ‘the Africans’. No way that would be allowed today. PC Producers: “You must say the full name. Better yet, let’s make them European killer bees”

  • They’re probably quite edible. I’d think of them as land-going shrimp – if I was starving.

    • Whitetrashgang

      Johnny probably has extra cats in his apartment.

  • ViktorNN

    These doctors and China’s “pharmaceutical industry”…. is there any truth to these claims that cockroaches have medicinal value?

  • MBlanc46

    Traditional Chinese medicine: yet another reason that the Chinese aren’t ruling the world yet.

  • Spartacus

    At least that guy wasn’t eating them for medicine…

  • JackKrak

    Well, the world will lose tigers, rhinos & God knows what else but at least some Chinese geriatrics won’t have to buy any Viagra!

  • Young Werther

    o god why did i allow myself to read this? i’am sorry, i must sound like the wasp i am…

    • Young Werther

      alas, sometimes i dispair at my own whitefolk intolerance