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Will Cockroaches Eat Your Fingernails and Eyelashes?

By Chris Williams on February 23, 2013.

Question

Heard that cockroaches will eat your fingernails and eyelashes while you’re asleep! Is that true?

Answer

You probably expect me to say “no way,” but the truth is that cockroaches will eat fingernails, skin, and hair, including eyelashes. Cockroaches will eat anything that has nutritional value and nails, hair, and skin contain protein. But these items are not highly desirable foods for a cockroach. A cockroach might try to nibble on your fingernails or the dead skin on your feet or hands if it was desperate.

Lest you begin to freak out, understand that cockroaches are not going to wait until you fall asleep so they can attack your toenails—unless you are sleeping in the middle of a horde of very hungry cockroaches. It is more likely that cockroaches will nibble on nail clippings and loose hairs found on the floor than attempt to eat fingernails or eyelashes on a living, breathing person. That would be risky business for a cockroach. Not to say it doesn’t happen. It has happened in rare situations where there is an extremely large cockroach infestation and not enough other food to feed them. It is said (and I believe this to be true) that, aboard sailing ships, where cockroach numbers would soar during a long voyage, sailors had to wear gloves to bed to keep roaches from gnawing on their fingernails.

But look out for those Internet stories that take the basic fact that hungry cockroaches will eat skin, nails, and hair and exaggerate it for effect:

NOT TRUE:

Roaches eat only babies’ eyelashes, because sleeping adults will brush away the cockroaches while babies can’t. Babies (except for newborns) can roll over and squirm around just as well as adults. Actually a cockroach would be more apt to feed on dried milk residue around a baby’s mouth than its eyelashes.

NOT TRUE:

Human hair and nail clippings are the favorite foods of cockroaches and that explains why cockroaches live with us in our homes. Hair and nails might have some nutritional value for a cockroach but they don’t begin to compete with all the other food goodies found in a home—the chips under the couch cushion, pieces of dry dog food spilled in the kitchen cabinet, that old French fry under the stove. So remember, as long as you have a little food spillage in your home, your eyelashes and nails will be safe! And if you eat in bed, you may very well find cockroaches in bed with you at night, but they’re not there to admire your pedicure.

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