During excavation a number of chitinous fragments resembling insect wings were uncovered in situ in deposits associated with olive pits and brown organic material above the port buttresses in the ballast. Samples of these remains were sent to the Entomology department at Texas A&M University for identification. Dr. Horace Burke identified the most abundant insect parts as belonging to cockroaches. The remainder of the sample consisted of elytra (wing covers) from a species of Dermestes, most likely Dermestes maculatus De Geer, commonly known as the hide beetle.
In order to identify the specific species of cockroach represented on the shipwreck a second examination of the cockroach fragments was made at the U.S.D.A. research station in Gainesville, Florida. Analysts at that laboratory identified the wing, pronotum (thoracic segment), and ootheca (egg case) of the American cockroach (Periplaneta americana).
In 1573, Eugenio de Salazar detailed his voyage from Spain to Santo Domingo. In this interesting narrative he jokingly refers to the numerous cockroaches aboard his ship as "game birds" which he called curianas (Phillips 1987a:8). Cockroaches have also been called the "world’s most persistent stowaways" (Peterson 1977:734). The latter statement should not come as any surprise to anyone who can imagine the hold of a sixteenth-century wooden ship. These active, fast-running insects would have fed on any number of food sources while living in the darkened areas of the vessel and hiding in the many cracks and crevices.
Fragments of sixteen cockroaches and five egg cases were found in five of the encrusted artifact conglomerates raised from the site of the San Estéban, wrecked off Padre Island in 1554 (Durden 1978:407). Articulated wings and bodies, wings, and empty oothecae were also found preserved between the stone cobbles of the ballast and hidden in the rope lashings of a gun carriage. Two species were present: Blatta orientalis and Periplaneta americana. A single American cockroach egg case was also recovered from the Spanish vessel San Antonio that sank off Bermuda in 1621 (Peterson 1977:734; Roth 1981:1).
Despite its misleading name, the American cockroach is not endemic to the Americas. According to Roth (1981:1), Periplaneta americana is believed to have originated in tropical Africa and was transported to South America, the West Indies, and the Southern United States on slave ships sailing from the west coast of Africa. However, evidence from the above Spanish shipwrecks and the Emanuel Point shipwreck shows that the American cockroach reached the Americas before the slave trade reached large proportions.
Fig. 50. The remains of stowaways —cockroaches and hide beetles — were among the animal specimens found in the ship’s bilge.
Unlike the cockroach, the hide beetle has a cosmopolitan distribution (Hinton 1963:262). Hide beetles produce larvae which are very active and strongly, negative phototrophic. Full-grown beetles bore a pupal chamber into any almost compact substance. Larvae bore into hard woods, as well as into soft woods and have been known to damage cork, books, tobacco, tea, linen, cotton, woolens, salt, and even lead (Hinton 1963:265). It is the beetle’s indiscriminate boring into various materials that they do not use for food that has been most frequently noted. Perhaps the earliest reference to this activity may be found in The Last Voyage of Thomas Cavendish (Quinn 1975). In 1593 one of Admiral Cavendish’s ships, the Desire, pressed for a food source was obliged to carry some 14,000 improperly dried penguins aboard (Quinn 1975:37). A member of the crew, John Jane, wrote
" . . . [that] after we came neere unto the sun, our dried Penguins began to corrupt, and there bred in them a most lothsome & ugly worme of an inch long. This worme did so mightily increase, and devoure our victuals, that there was in reason no hope how we should avoide famine, but be devoured of these wicked creatures: there was nothing that they did not devour, only yron excepted: our clothes, boots, shoes, hats, shirts, stockings: and for the ship they did so eat the timbers, as that we greatly feared they would undo us, by gnawing through the ships side" (Hakluyt 1927:256).
Both larvae and adult hide beetles feed on a variety of substances with a high protein content, e.g., bones, carcasses, skins, meats, cheese, etc. (Hinton 1963: 265). The presence of numerous hide beetles aboard the Emanuel Point Ship suggests that they may have been brought aboard with a cargo, possibly leather hides.