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Can cockroaches survive a nuke?

Cockroaches have a reputation for being able to survive just about anything, including nuclear explosions. But is this really true? Let’s take a look at the evidence.

Can cockroaches survive radiation?

Cockroaches do have higher radiation tolerance than humans and many other animals. Some studies have shown that cockroaches can withstand radiation levels at least 5-15 times higher than what would kill a human. Their ability to survive radiation likely comes from their slow cell cycles and efficient DNA repair mechanisms.

However, cockroaches are definitely not immune to the effects of radiation. Extremely high doses of radiation, such as those near the epicenter of a nuclear explosion, would likely kill cockroaches immediately. More distant cockroaches would likely experience radiation sickness and increased mortality rates in the weeks and months after an explosion.

Have cockroaches survived nuclear explosions?

There are stories of cockroaches surviving near nuclear test sites, including:

  • Cockroaches surviving 1-2 miles from ground zero of nuclear tests done in the South Pacific during the 1940s-60s.
  • Cockroaches were found alive in the basements of destroyed buildings after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.
  • Cockroaches proliferated in the damaged Chernobyl nuclear reactor after the meltdown.

These anecdotes suggest some cockroaches can survive radiation levels from nuclear explosions, at least when they are not at the direct epicenter. Being underground or in buildings provides shielding from radiation.

Could cockroaches survive if nuclear war happened today?

If nuclear weapons were used today in a major city, cockroaches in the surrounding suburbs and rural areas would likely survive the initial blasts and radiation. However, their survival would depend on several factors:

  • Distance from the blast center – Cockroaches within a few miles would likely die, those further out would stand a chance of surviving.
  • Being sheltered underground or in buildings – This protects from initial heat/blast waves and reduces radiation exposure.
  • Availability of food/water – Starvation and lack of water would cause population declines after a nuclear war.
  • lingering radiation – Cumulative radiation exposure in the weeks/months after the blast would increase mortality.

So while not every cockroach would survive, those situated a reasonable distance from blasts and sheltered underground or in ruins would likely endure. Cockroach populations would be diminished but not completely eliminated by nuclear war.

Would cockroaches take over the world after nuclear war?

It’s unlikely cockroaches would take over or thrive after nuclear war, despite the common myth. Here’s why:

  • Lack of food – Cockroaches rely on humans for food scraps and would struggle to find nutrition in a post-apocalyptic world.
  • Lingering radiation – Radiation levels would remain elevated for years, continuing to cause health issues.
  • Climate effects – Nuclear war could alter global climate, disrupting cockroach habitats.
  • Competition from other species – Tough, radiation-resistant species like scorpions and rats would compete with cockroaches.

Cockroaches are adapted to live closely with humans in urban environments. They would likely struggle to survive and spread without human civilization and infrastructure. However, populations would probably endure in pockets where food, shelter and less radiation exposure were available.


In summary, while cockroaches are resilient, they could not live directly at a nuclear bomb’s hypocenter and would suffer great losses even close to a blast site. However, those situated a safe distance and in shelters could potentially survive initial explosions. While cockroaches might endure, they would likely struggle in a post-nuclear world without adequate food, shelter, and reduced radiation levels. They would not take over but rather survive in smaller, isolated populations.