Boy collects cockroaches

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 9, 2009

NATCHEZ — The mere mention of a cockroach is a major turn-off for most people.

Now imagine larger-than-life cockroaches.

They’re big and black, they have sticky feet and make a very unsettling hissing sound with their abdomen when they’re intimidated.

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For one Natchez boy, they’re ideal pets.

Austin Heard, 9, is rasing the big black bugs in this mother’s house.

In three little plastic cages he’s got about 75 of them.

When he picks up two of the cages the roaches scurry up and down the plastic wall.

Heard, with no hesitancy whatsoever, handles the Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches frequently.

He touches the insects with the same care most kids use on puppies or rabbits.

But then, puppies and rabbits don’t hide out under shirt collars.

“I like them,” he said as three or four of them crawled over his chest and under his arm. “I like this hissing, and they’re fast.”

As he explains why he likes the bugs, his uncle, Darryl Grennell searches under the sofa for a runaway roach.

Grennell, an Adams County supervisor, gave his nephew just a few of the giant roaches as a gift approximately two years ago.

Grennell admits it was an odd gift, but had a good reason.

“It was a way to get him interested in science, and living things,” Grennell said.

And the plan worked.

As Heard sits on the floor corralling roaches, he rattles off fact after fact about the crawling critters.

And some of those facts are based on observations Heard has made on his own.

He explains in detail the similarities between the cleaning practices of cats and his cockroaches.

“They lick, just like cats,” Heard said. “But you can see the tongues.”

He also speculates the bugs touch their antenna together for communication.

And on occasion Heard takes his box of bugs to school for show and tell.

He said the other kids either run away scared or have lots of questions.

And watching Heard on the floor, it appears Grennell’s plan might have instilled more than just a like of science.

Heard said he’d like to be an entomologist when he grows up.

Austin is the son of Andy and Ann Heard.