Will cockroaches inherit the earth?


Among the oldest living inhabitants of our planet and continuing to thrive are cockroaches. They’ve been around for 250,000 to 300,000 years. There are at least 3,500 described species, ranging in size from one only 3 mm long that inhabits ant colonies to the Australian rhinoceros cockroach, which is as long as a person’s hand and can weigh nearly a pound. These giants live in burrows during the day and emerge at night to feed on dry leaf litter. Many Australians keep them as pets. They can live up to 14 years and are said to be clean, easy to care for, and are fascinating.
About 30 or 35 cockroaches worldwide are considered pests. A University of Florida biologist contends that only one species that inhabits North America, the German cockroach, Blattella germanica, is “the” cockroach of concern that gives all the others a bad name. Four other species in the U.S. are pests, the smoky brown cockroach, the American cockroach, the oriental cockroach, and the broad-banded cockroach. The smoky brown cockroach is the large mahogany-colored one that occasionally enters households, usually at night and is seen scurrying across the floor, usually in the kitchen. This cockroach prefers outdoor living if food and water is available and the weather is relatively warm.
I would see smoky browns from time to time as would my wife, Janie. She despised them and ordered me to take remedial action. One day I stopped in front of Story’s on Geneva Street in Opelika and noticed a sign on the window advertising “Harris Famous Roach Tablets, Kills Roaches and Waterbugs.” Waterbug is the name often applied to German cockroaches. I purchased a box of the tablets and placed one or two in the kitchen cabinets, behind the stove and refrigerators, and other places likely to provide shelter for cockroaches. After a few weeks the only smoky brown cockroaches I saw were dead, lying on their backs. About six months later, I began seeing small roaches I did not immediately recognize. They were German cockroaches that had somehow gotten access to my house. Usually the ones I saw were in the dishwasher, but I would occasionally see them elsewhere. The Harris tablets were obviously ineffective in killing the Germans. I contacted the Harris company about my problem, and they sent me some cardboard roach traps to try, which I did. I captured several Germans, but the infestation persisted. I have a dog and didn’t want to use some of the toxic sprays and dusts that might be harmful to her.
After a while I contacted Cook’s Pest Control, and they sent an inspector and a few days later a control specialist. I was assured that the Germans could be eradicated, but it would require several trips. The specialist placed some containers containing a poison in places where my dog would leave them alone. Now, two weeks afterward, I have seen only three German roaches, two dead and the other dying. Good riddance!
Some Internet sites I consulted provided me with some information about roaches I was unaware of. One site stated that 80 to 90 percent of urban households have cockroach infestations, with numbers of individual roaches ranging from 900 to 300 million. Allergens from cockroaches may contribute to asthma. A digestive tract ailment may result from roach contamination of food. It is called “cockroach gastroenteritis.” In heavily infested residences, cockroaches are known to feed on food residues around the mouths of sleeping individuals. Cockroaches can bite, and their bites can become infected by bacteria.
In case you didn’t know it, the name “cockroach” derives from the Spanish word,”cucaracha,” which translates to cockroach.
Bob Mount is a Professor Emeritus with the Department of Zoology and Entomology at Auburn University. He writes about birds, snakes, turtles, bugs and assorted conservation topics.


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