They clean their antennae by using their front-legs to put the antenna in their mouth where they then clean off every segment. Insects groom a lot, and NC State entomologists Schal, Boroczky, and Wada-Katsumata wanted to find out why. They set up a series of experiments to find out what the insects were cleaning off of their antennae, where the material came from, and whether grooming made a difference in the functioning of the antennae. The researchers found that the materials that accumulate on a cockroach’s antennae are both volatile and nonvolatile chemicals from the environment, as well as a lot of fatty, waxy substances that the cockroaches secrete to protect their bodies from water loss. It’s not just cockroaches that groom their antennae. Flies and ants rub their legs over their antennae to remove particles and cuticle waxes. Ants then eat these particles researchers found. Insects get a lot of sensory information from nerve cells on their antennae. Antennae are used to “smell” and as “feelers,” or organs of touch. The researchers found that the grooming cleaned the microscopic pores on the antennae. Cockroaches that groomed their antennae responded much more readily to sex pheromones and other odors than cockroaches that were prevented from grooming. Antennal cleaning is necessary to remove both natural substances and foreign substances so that the insect can respond to its environment. Leaving antennae dirty cuts down on an insect’s ability to sense its surroundings.

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