TOKYO • A Japanese zoo is trying to do the impossible - improve the
image of cockroaches, by putting on an exhibition of one of the world's most-hated insects.
With a whopping - and disgusting - 4,000 species around the planet, the hardy creature can survive almost anywhere, but is most commonly encountered by city- dwellers in grubby corners of the kitchen or roaming around the floor at night.
Staff at Tokuyama Zoo in Yamaguchi, western Japan, say the cockroach gets a bad press and actually performs a vital job.
"They have such a negative image," says a zoo spokesman. "But they're actually playing an important role in the food chain."
Important, but not very pleasant- sounding: eating rotting carcasses and dead plants on forest floors.
One highlight of the exhibition will be a five-way race among cockroaches, in which visitors can watch the worryingly speedy bugs whizz down a track.
If that is not enough entertainment, the zoo is offering the chance to get your hands on a Madagascar Hissing Cockroach, which can grow as long as 7 cm.
No need to worry about this, though, assures the zoo - Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches cannot fly. But they can hiss.
The exhibition has around 200 creatures from a total of 15 species on display, and is already proving popular, the spokesman said, adding that 70 to 80 per cent of visitors are stopping by.