There are cockroaches roaming the aquarium at the Belle Isle Conservancy.
But don’t worry, they’re supposed to be there.
Unlike the smaller, more common roaches you might find in a dirty or old building, these cockroaches are Madagascar hissing cockroaches, who have their own exhibit at the conservancy and were given a chance to say hello to some fish while the aquarium is closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The fish actually really, really liked it,” said Amanda Murray, aquarist with Belle Isle Conservancy.
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Great Lakes Now producer Danielle Dabney had a conversation with Belle Isle Conservancy Education Specialist Taylor Mock and Murray. The transcript has been slightly edited for clarity and length.
Great Lakes Now: Let’s talk about how the idea for the cockroach video came about.
Taylor Mock: The cockroach video came about organically. I think I had gone to the aquarium to do something else. I was just talking with Amanda about ideas that we could do. We had kind of thrown around creating some videos geared toward enrichment and what we could showcase with that. We were hitting some more roadblocks and then Amanda was like, ‘Oh, you know we can bring out the cockroaches and they could walk on the glass and stuff.’ We do that for enrichment sometimes. And I was like, “Oh, that kind of rings a bell because the Shedd Aquarium and the Georgia Aquarium as well had puppies and penguins that they were parading around the aquarium and letting them interact through the glass with the different animals.” And so we went that route. We’re trying to create some engaging content. And I think that kind of struck a chord there.
GLN: Amanda, this idea to have the cockroaches walk around the aquarium. When you think of puppies and penguins, those are cuddly animals. But what excites you about the cockroach?
Amanda Murray: Well, I get excited about my cockroaches because I really have a soft spot for insects and things that people may think are creepy and not cute. But I really think that once you get to know one of these cockroaches, they’re not as gross and scary as a lot of people think. I’ve had them and worked with them for many years, as personal pets and everything, and I thought that the fish would enjoy seeing them as well. So I had them walk on the glass and the fish actually really, really liked it.
Some of them actually hunt insects naturally and it gives them something kind of something to look at. Like stimulation because they’re used to seeing people in the gallery.
GLN: Are both of you finding that, especially during this time, you can more easily capture people’s attention or draw attention to these less familiar animals?
AM: I find that when people are at home wanting to experience the outside, that they are willing to maybe watch videos or show interest in learning about things maybe they wouldn’t typically learn about. So I think that the cockroaches may have drawn people in that way. But also they’re kind of an interesting animal that even if people are a little wary of them, they’re still fun to watch and draw people in that way.
TM: Talking about people being more susceptible to learning about maybe less common species, it definitely creates an opportunity to learn about them. We’re creating a lot of content right now and getting to showcase some of our cooler, smaller species. It’s definitely great for us.
GLN: As two people that work with animals, do you feel that our interaction with them has a positive impact on our mental health?
AM: I feel that human interaction with animals of almost any kind is very positive on anyone. It brightens your day. You know, seeing these animals, especially connecting with an animal maybe you’ve never even seen before and learning about it, it just brightens your day. It’s not just—everybody loves their cats and their dogs, but other animals can create a connection as well. And many of the animals in our care have, I know, inspired a lot of people coming through here. So I think animals are very important in a time like this to inspire people and to make them feel better about things.
TM: Yeah, I think that animals do correlate to a positive mental health outlook. Dogs and cats are wonderful, amazing creatures and obviously pet owners feel very connected to their pets. But getting to interact in person or via online with animals is also a really important connection. I think it really grounds us to the world that we live in. It contributes to a bigger cause and helps us feel connected to creatures that might be here in our own backyard, in the Great Lakes or halfway across the world in the Nile in Africa. And I think that amidst this global pandemic right now, having it be such a unified experience, having the world be connected online, I think it only really contributes more to the world connection that we feel. And I think that we can all find mental health in that solidarity.
Great Lakes Now producer Danielle Dabney did the reporting for this piece.
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Featured image: A Madagascar hissing cockroach wanders the Belle Isle Conservancy. (Great Lakes Now Episode 1014)