How long can a cockroach hold its breath?

Cockroaches are amazing insects that have survived on Earth for over 300 million years. One of the reasons for their success is their ability to hold their breath for incredibly long periods of time.

Quick Answers

The average cockroach can hold its breath for:

  • 5-7 minutes when inactive
  • 30-40 minutes when active
  • Up to 1 hour in ideal conditions

Cockroaches can hold their breath for so long due to:

  • Slowed metabolism
  • Efficient breathing systems
  • Ability to limit oxygen use

How Do Cockroaches Breathe?

Cockroaches breathe through a system of tubes called tracheae that transport oxygen directly to tissues through the body instead of using a circulatory system like humans. The tracheal system branches throughout the cockroach’s body like the branches on a tree.

Valved openings called spiracles allow cockroaches to open and close their breathing tubes. When the spiracles are closed, no gas exchange can take place. The cockroach has pairs of spiracles along its body, including two thoracic spiracles and eight abdominal spiracles.

Tracheal System

The tracheal respiratory system allows for cockroaches to breathe even when running at high speeds. Oxygen enters the respiratory system through the spiracles and then diffuses throughout the tracheae directly to tissues and cells. Carbon dioxide exits through the same spiracles.


Cockroaches can control their breathing and limit water loss by opening and closing their spiracles. When running rapidly, cockroaches open spiracles widely to allow maximum air intake. When conserving water or holding breath, the spiracles contract.

The valve-like mechanisms of the spiracles allow cockroaches to limit water loss, which is vital for their survival. When resting, cockroaches often close their spiracles tightly to prevent hydration loss.


One key reason cockroaches can hold their breath for so long is their slow metabolism. Their metabolic rate is much slower than that of mammals and birds. Cockroaches have adaptations like a lower respiration rate that allows their metabolism to slow down.

With a slower metabolism, cockroaches use up oxygen in their bodies at a much slower rate. Their tissues can survive longer with less oxygen when at rest. Their slow-moving metabolic processes require less energy and oxygen.

Low Respiratory Rate

A major factor in their slow metabolism is their low respiratory rate. At rest, cockroaches take only about 1 breath per minute. Comparatively, the average human respiratory rate is 12-20 breaths per minute. With fewer breaths required, less oxygen is used.

Cold-Blooded Advantages

As cold-blooded insects, cockroaches also benefit from lower oxygen needs overall. Their body temperature varies with their environment, rather than needing to maintain a constant inner temperature like humans. Therefore, their oxygen needs are much lower than warm-blooded animals.

Oxygen Regulation

Cockroaches have specialized tissues and compounds that allow them to regulate oxygen supply and use while holding their breath.

Fat Bodies

Cockroaches have fat bodies that store and release energy to tissues when needed. The fat bodies supply vital energy to tissues to keep them functioning when oxygen levels are low.

Respiratory Proteins

Special proteins like hemoglobin in cockroach blood have a higher affinity for oxygen, allowing more efficient oxygen transport and storage. The respiratory pigment hemocyanin also has vital oxygen carrying abilities.


Glycogen and other carbohydrates stored in the fat bodies provide energy when oxygen is limited. Glycogen can supply energy without using oxygen through anaerobic respiration.

Surviving Without Oxygen

Cockroaches have adaptations that allow them to survive temporarily without any oxygen supply at all.

Anaerobic Metabolism

When deprived of oxygen, cockroaches can switch to anaerobic metabolism. This allows them to break down carbohydrates like glycogen to supply energy without oxygen.

Suspended Animation

In the complete absence of oxygen, cockroaches can enter a state similar to suspended animation by slowing all metabolic processes. This state allows them to survive for longer durations without oxygen.

Tolerance of CO2 Buildup

Cockroaches are very tolerant of carbon dioxide accumulation in their bodies. Increased CO2 is typically a signal to resume breathing for other insects, but cockroaches can withstand high levels allowing them to prolong breath holding.

Breath-Holding Duration

So just how long can cockroaches hold their breath? The length of time depends on the activity level of the cockroach.

Inactive Cockroaches

When resting or inactive, cockroaches can hold their breath for up to 7 minutes. With their metabolism slowed at rest, oxygen needs are very low. All spiracles remain tightly closed to prevent water loss.

Respiration Rate 1 breath per minute
Oxygen Use at Rest Extremely low
Spiracles During Breath-Holding Completely closed
Breath-Holding Duration 5-7 minutes

Active Cockroaches

During strenuous activity like running, cockroaches rapidly consume more oxygen. However, they can still hold their breath for 30-40 minutes through oxygen regulation methods and anaerobic energy production.

Respiration Rate 15 breaths per minute
Oxygen Use During Activity High
Spiracles During Breath-Holding Initially open then closed
Breath-Holding Duration 30-40 minutes

Optimal Conditions

In ideal conditions of low activity, normal oxygen levels, moderate temperatures and high humidity, cockroaches can hold their breath for up to one hour!

Respiration Rate 2 breaths per minute
Oxygen Use Low
Spiracles Closed
Conditions Ideal temperatures and humidity
Breath-Holding Record Up to 1 hour

Cockroach Breath-Holding Champions

Some cockroach species have even more astounding breath-holding capabilities.

Giant Burrowing Cockroaches

These large cockroaches can hold their breath for up to 90 minutes! Their size may allow them to store more oxygen and energy reserves.

Pacific Beetle Cockroaches

This marine cockroach species can hold its breath for up to 4 hours! Special adaptations allow it to trap more oxygen within its waxy cuticle.

Blaberus giganteus

This giant cave cockroach was recorded holding its breath for 7 hours in a lab setting! It uses unique biochemical adaptations to survive long anaerobic durations.

Why Can Cockroaches Hold Their Breath So Long?

Cockroaches can hold their breath for remarkably long times thanks to these key evolutionary adaptations:

  • Efficient respiratory system of tracheal tubes and spiracles
  • Slow metabolism and low oxygen use
  • Ability to limit water loss by closing spiracles
  • Energy stores like glycogen to fuel anaerobic respiration
  • Specialized fat bodies, proteins and carbohydrates for oxygen storage
  • Tolerance of waste CO2 buildup
  • Ability to enter suspended animation-like state

These incredible adaptations allow cockroaches to temporarily survive without oxygen, giving them an evolutionary edge.

Cockroach Breath-Holding VS Mammals

How does the cockroach’s breath-holding ability compare to other animals? Let’s look at some examples:

  • Human: Average breath-hold is 1-2 minutes
  • Dog: Average is 0.5-1 minute
  • Cat: Average is 0.5-1 minute
  • Dolphin: Average is 5-10 minutes
  • Whale: Average is 30-90 minutes
  • Cockroach: Average is 5-40 minutes

Among mammals, marine mammals tend to have the highest breath-holding capacities due to adaptations for diving. But even whales do not surpass the Pacific beetle cockroach’s 4 hour record breath-hold!


Cockroaches can hold their breath for incredibly long periods thanks to specialized breathing mechanisms, oxygen regulation, energy stores and suspend-animation like states. Understanding cockroach breath-holding abilities provides fascinating insight into insect physiology and evolution.

The next time you see a cockroach holding perfectly still, remember it may just be holding its breath, waiting for the right moment to scuttle away!

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