Nature Notebook – Antennae

Sweet potatoes are a favorite food of our resident bearded dragon, box turtles and red-eared slider. While preparing food one day for our animals, I decided to break off a piece of warmed sweet potato for our Madagascar hissing cockroaches to try.

Fifteen seconds after placing the cooked sweet potato chunk in their cage, almost all of the cockroach’s antennae were moving back and forth in the air, as if they were getting excited by the vegetable addition. The cockroaches are usually very inactive during the day, so this was new. Within a minute, two of the females were munching away at the vegetable. The Madagascar hissing cockroaches were using their long antennae to smell the sweet potato.

Insect antennae are sensory organs, mostly used for smelling, but many insects have adapted special antennae purposes such as breathing, sensing heat or vibrations, and even mating and swimming. Olfactory receptors on insect antennae bind to molecules in the air, such as water vapor and odors. These receptors connect to the brain and allow the insect to determine what it is sensing.