Detroit (Free Press) -- Kyle Kandilian no longer sleeps in his bedroom in Dearborn. It'scrawling with roaches. Tens of thousands of roaches. Maybe 200,000, hesays.
And that's just how he likes it.
His mother doesn't even seem to mind.
Kandilian,20, collects and breeds the insects. In the roach room - which is tidy,by the way, and stacked with boxes and crates of roach colonies - thereare about 130 varieties. He raises them for fun, sells some for petsand others as food for reptiles.
Hey, it helps pay for tuition atthe University of Michigan-Dearborn, where he's studying environmentalscience. He's considering a career in forestry, pest management ornature-insect education.
So, roaches as pets! How'd you come up with that?
Well,it started with the hissing cockroaches, which kind of have always beenthe pet roach that people have gone to when you want an interestinginsect or a bizarre, sort of wonky pet. Ever since maybe, like, the1990s, the Madagascar hissing cockroach - Gromphadorhina portentosa -has been sort of like the standard cockroach pet. It's maybe only beenwithin the last 15 years that people have started looking into otherspecies as pets. ... They're fun to maintain and to look at, so asimilar thing I guess to people who would keep different varieties ofhostas or something like that. Kind of like an indoor garden except thatinstead of plants, it's cockroaches. (Laughs.)
Your mom is a very tolerant woman. Your dad is tolerant, too.
That's a very good word to use. Tolerant. For both of them. They're very tolerant of my enthusiasm.
So they've embraced the cockroach.
Yeah,I guess. My mom's not scared of 'em. Thank God she's not! Because ifshe were, this would be a lot more difficult. But, yeah, she'll holdthem. My dad, I think my dad is a little secretly afraid of them.
You do understand that the word cockroach will just freak out a certain number of readers of this column, no matter what.
Yes,definitely. The word cockroach, I don't think there are many otherwords in the English language that get quite the same result out ofpeople reading them. But I hope as part of, like, my life mission tochange the stigmas associated with the word cockroach. There are maybe adozen cockroaches that are pests worldwide, out of the 4,000 species.And they give the rest a really bad rap.
You don't name your pet cockroaches. There's no George or Willie or Francina?
Ihave had names in the past. There was Buck and Joker, various large,male hissing cockroaches. ... But I haven't really named any individuals(lately). Particularly since you get to know it as a culture, orcolony, rather than as an individual organism like you would with a dogor cat.
You take them to the reptile shows, other type ofshows, and you sell them. How much would it cost me to get a petcockroach from you?
It depends on the species. Macropanesthiarhinoceros - those rhino roaches that will live 10 to 15 years - thoseones are usually $150 to $200. (The feeder ones are about a dime adozen.)
So who's buying these things?
I have a widevariety of customers. People with reptiles, of course, or amphibians,looking to feed their animals. Universities purchase from me a lotduring the school year.
You told me you've actually gotten scholarships because of cockroaches?
Yes,I have. When I was a sophomore in high school, I did a project oncontaining cockroaches called "Best Bug Barrier," which was basicallyfinding out what sort of fluid you could apply to the sides of thecontainers to keep the cockroaches from climbing out.
This was probably by special request of your mother?
(Laughs.)Yes. My mother. ... One day at maybe 4 or 5 in the morning, she woke meup and said, "Kyle, we need to stop this," and there was a hissingcockroach on the toilet paper roll. So, from there I was inspired - orrather, pushed - into doing a project on these cockroach barriers.(Vaseline works best, he says.)
I went down to the Detroit ScienceFair at Cobo Hall, and I placed a Grand Award. So I was then invited togo to the International Science and Engineering Fair. But winning thatGrand Award also granted me several scholarships.
You have a website ... www.roachcrossing.com. Do you do a brisk business?
Ido have good business, enough to keep me comfortable in terms of payingoff college debt and also, you know, having enough money to buy morecockroaches and also to entertain my other fancies in life, like videogaming and gardening, I guess.
How did the fascination begin with cockroaches?
Iwas at the tech day at University of Detroit Mercy, and there was adisplay, a 10-gallon fish tank, with some Madagascar hissing cockroachesin it. ... I was just completely captivated with them. Just the factthat they were so large, and they were just out and about, and they weredocile. I was allowed to hold one. And I remember I went home ... and Iasked my mom, "Mom, can I get Madagascar hissing cockroaches?" And shelooked me in the face and said, "Kyle? You are never bringingcockroaches into this house." And the rest is history. (Chuckles.)
Atwhat point did you become proud of your hobby and willing to talk aboutit publicly? Because the stigma is, it's a little weird, right?
Iguess I've always been kind of weird. (Chuckles.) And people kind ofassociate me with that. So I've always been pretty happy andenthusiastic to talk to people about the roaches and about what I do.... I've always liked to try to dissociate that stigma as best I can.And I've realized that being an introvert about that isn't the best wayto go about it.
Why not centipedes or millipedes or any other kind of bug?
Well,they're a bunch of different, beautiful variations on a similar theme.The body shape in almost every roach is the same, but the way thatMother Nature has tinted and changed each individual species to lookslightly different just is very enthralling to me. ... Some of them givelive birth like humans. So I've read books that have said that there's avery intimate association between the cockroach egg inside certainfemale cockroaches ... as there is to humans and human birth. ... Also,they have a bacteria inside of them, an endosymbiont bacteria thatallows them to recycle nitrogen. So they don't need to eat a lot ofprotein to survive. They can keep growing and growing and growingwithout ingesting large amounts of protein. So the fact that there arethese two organisms intimately dependent on each other ... and the waythat it could relate to humans in the future ways we recycle ourbiomass, or recycle household waste, or process things like even maybeStyrofoam - cockroaches may be able to digest that. ... All thesedifferent technologies and innovations we can take from this very humblecreature, it's just very mind-boggling to me.
Man. I'm going to look up how to spell half those words you just told me about. Um, couldn't you just raise bunnies?
Couldn't I just raise bunnies? No. Mammals smell too much.