Flies and cockroaches

As everyone knows, cockroaches are supposedly the only creatures able to survive a nuclear explosion.1 Well, I think I've found the pre-atomic, chemical equivalent! It's from a novel published in 1926:

Poison gas in the open is one thing. Dropped on a densely populated town like London it's quite another. Suppose you dropped enough to make a lethal atmosphere all over London to a depth of forty feet, not a single living thing could survive, not one -- except flies. Curiously enough, they are immune.

Source: the Earl of Halsbury, 1944 (London: Thornton Butterworth, 1926), 25.2

This is a new one on me, I wonder if this idea became as popular as the cockroach version later did?

It also has grave implications for the future of life on this planet, because chemical weapons are easier to develop than nuclear ones and so that will give the flies an advantage over the cockroaches in the eternal struggle for supremacy ...


  1. Which may be an exaggeration, but not by much

  2. Halsbury is better known to airpower history as Lord Tiverton, a pioneering British air strategist in the First World War. 

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3 thoughts on “Flies and cockroaches

  1. Interesting counterpart to trench soldiers being grateful that at least gas killed off the rats. And interesting that something which can survive a nuke has such problems with rolled up newspapers or the heel of my shoe.

  2. Brett Holman

    Post author

    Indeed, I think that’s part of the appeal of the idea — humans with their big brains and fancy technology will wipe themselves out, leaving the planet to the humble cockroach (or fly). Seems like a reflection somehow of The War of the Worlds, where despite their big brains and fancy technology humans are saved by the humble bacterium (from creatures with even bigger brains and fancier technology).

  3. Yes, but interesting also that it has to be roaches/flies etc – signifiers of death and corruption, I guess – rather than say, woodlice or ladybirds.

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