The mummified cockroach was discovered by the researcher in a batch of documents that will be scanned and include undelivered letters, logbooks and confiscated accounts of 35,000 ships used during 14 wars between 1652 and 1817. “I opened the book and saw this huge insect . It was a skin-raising moment for having been so unexpected. It’s bigger than it looks in the photos. These ship papers have likely not been opened or examined since the mid-18th century,” Finnegan told The Guardian.
The specialist then consulted several entomologists, who determined that it was an American cockroach (Periplaneta americana), also known as a ship’s cockroach, native to Africa and taken to the Americas on slave-trading ships. The insect is uncommon in the UK. According to the researchers, this journey probably began aboard a slave ship that sailed in 1743 from La Rochelle, France, to the coast of Guinea. Later, this crew boarded another ship in Haiti back to France, taking the book (and the cockroach) with them. Before reaching French territory, British privateers seized the ship during the War of the Austrian Succession and sent the boat to Plymouth.
The cockroach’s body was so preserved inside the book that scientists were even able to discover its sex: male. The insect was nicknamed Peri and is already preserved again, this time inside a box at the National Archives.