When it comes to pests, there may be no home intruder more unwelcome than the cockroach. While rodents, fungal colonies, and various insects can make life unsafe and uncomfortable, there is just something about cockroaches that causes them to be viewed with almost universal disdain. With their ability to rapidly infest an area, their tendency to prefer the same types of habitats favored by humans, and their reputation for being seemingly indestructible, they can be a real challenge for pest control efforts. To effectively cope with these creatures, it is important to understand as much as we can about what they are and how their presence can be prevented.
Scientists tell us that cockroaches are among the most ancient of insect species, and there is evidence that they have been around at least 300 million years. That means, of course, that they not only predate the dinosaurs by roughly 70 million years, but also survived whatever extinction-level event caused those giant lizards to disappear from history. Various archeological finds have confirmed that those ancient cockroaches were extremely adaptable – a trait shared by their descendants today.
What Exactly is a Cockroach?
Cockroaches are insects that are classified within the same order as termites, and are considered one of the more primitive insects in existence today. They are considered to be generalized insects, having developed none of the more specialized traits seen in many other insect species. That generalized nature also helps to make them extremely adaptable to a wide variety of environments around the world.
Cockroaches are considered a social species of insect, and tend to gather in groups in an exhibition of what scientists refer to as swarm behavior. Infestations that begin with a single cockroach can grow larger as others of their kind follow their fecal trails in an attempt to discover new food and water sources. Those fecal trails often contain pheromones that the insects use to identify different roach populations. Scientists have extensively studied this social behavior and discovered that populations of roaches appear to make decisions in a collective manner, apparently cooperating in complex ways to ensure that they organize themselves in a way that enables sustained exploitation of available resources.
Quick Facts About the Roach
- Most roach species are winged, and they all have oval bodies that are relatively flat. Their heads contain antennae, and a mouth that chews in the same way many other scavengers consume food. Their legs have evolved in a way that facilitates surprisingly rapid movement, acceleration, and rapid turning.
- Roaches are nocturnal in nature, preferring to hide within cracks during daylight hours.
- There are some 4,000 species of cockroaches on the planet, with most of them found in warmer environments. They are a hardy species, however, and exist in virtually every climate – including the arctic and desert regions of the world.
- Most cockroaches are not pests and instead fulfill an important role in nature. In fact, only a few dozen species are actually considered to be pests.
- Cockroaches are omnivores, meaning that they will consume just about anything they find. While they gravitate toward sweetened food sources, they are capable of surviving on everything from leather and glue to grease, hair, and soap.
- That incredible ability to survive on just about any item it eats is due to the cockroach’s complex relationship with certain symbiotic bacteria that exist within their fatty tissue. These bacteroides are present at birth within each cockroach, and manufacture nutrients such as amino acids and vitamins for the host, enabling roaches to eat even nutrient-free items.
What Makes Them Pests
Cockroaches are considered pests for a number of reasons, primarily related to their potential for destruction, contamination of food, spreading of illness, and potential for causing allergic reactions in some people.
- Destructive behavior. Cockroaches are similar to rats in their ability to destroy their environment. They chew through boxes, papers, and other substances, and generally make a mess of things wherever they go. There have been instances in which cockroaches have chewed through wiring, destroying dishwashers and other electrical appliances located in their chosen habitats. And, due to their quick breeding cycle, a single cockroach can multiply into more than a thousand of the creatures in as little as a year.
- Cockroach feeding habits bring them into close proximity with human food resources. Since the cockroach is an omnivore, it will consume everything from sugars and grains to the cardboard containers many of those foods rely on for packaging. As bad as that is, the fact that roaches vomit and defecate on these food sources is even worse. Humans who eat food that has been contaminated in this way may be vulnerable to any bacteria left behind by the roach.
- Disease and illness. There are several schools of thought on cockroaches and disease transmission. While it is true that many cockroaches can carry bacteria of the type that includes streptococcus, salmonella, and staphylococcus – as well as viruses like the one that causes polio, the instances in which industrialized countries experience disease spread in that manner are few and far between. Still, the potential for disease is a real one that should be taken seriously by anyone who finds a roast infestation in their building.
- Recent research indicates that cockroaches may play a role in rising incidents of asthma in some areas of the world. This is believed to be due to the contaminating nature of these creatures, and should be incentive enough for anyone to rid themselves of a roach infestation as soon as it is discovered. In most cases, people are unaware that they are sensitive to these allergens until roaches become an issue.
Problematic Roaches in Australia
Among the several dozen roach varieties that are deemed pests, only a handful are considered pests in Australia, and only three qualify as truly common infestation threats – the German, American, and Oriental cockroach. Each has its own particular nuisance potential, its own living habits, and its own unique appearance.
The American Cockroach
The American cockroach typically runs along the ground at high speeds, but can fly when they temperature is hot enough. This is one of the larger varieties of roach, reaching sizes as long as 40mm. The roach is identifiable by its shiny, reddish-brown coloring. In their natural habitat, they are generally found in trees and referred to as the Palmetto bug. When they make their way indoors, they seek out damp, dark areas such as basements, bathrooms, kitchens, and subfloors.
The Oriental Cockroach
These dark brown roaches can grow to be as much as 25mm in length, and are one of the more adaptable species on the planet. They thrive in damp locations, preferring cool temperatures like those found in basements and drains. They are also routinely found around garbage cans, since they seek out trash and decayed matter as their preferred food source. Because their wings are underdeveloped, they run instead of flying.
The German Cockroach
These cockroaches are found across the world, and are most commonly seen inside buildings and homes rather than outdoors. Growing to as long as 15mm, they can be identified by two dark stripes that run along the pronotum plate that covers the dorsal section of the thorax. They are fairly prolific breeders, producing as many as 4 generations in a single year. Their chosen habitat is one in which the conditions are both wet and humid – which is why they are commonly found in bathrooms, kitchens, and commercial or industrial locations.
The Brown-Banded Cockroach
This aptly named roach is fairly small, typically growing to only 10 or 15mm in length, and has antennae that are about the same size as their body. They are distinguished from other varieties by the yellowish brown stipes that run along their abdomen region. The brown banded roach usually remains grounded, seeking out safe habitats in heated structures. Since they are nocturnal, they typically look for attics, crawl spaces, or false ceilings where they can conceal themselves throughout the day. Their preferred food source consists of anything with a high level of starch.
The Australian Cockroach
Many Australians are familiar with this pest, though many may not be aware that its name is something of a misnomer. In fact, the Australian cockroach is not even a native roach species! It has, however, made itself right at home throughout the country, especially in temperate areas with plenty of human habitats. This roach can grow to be as long as 35 mm, making it one of the larger varieties of cockroach pests.
Smoky Brown Cockroach
The smoky brown cockroach can be as long as 35 mm, and has a shiny dark brown color. Like many of its cousins, it prefers to run along the ground, but can fly in areas with high temperatures. Outdoors, it is found in the hollows of trees and under tree bark. It often finds its way into buildings at night, where it leaves it saliva and excrement in food sources, contaminating them with illness-causing bacteria.
How to Know When Infestations Occur
One of the most difficult aspects of dealing with cockroaches involves their nocturnal nature. Like rats and mice, it is often possible to have cockroaches infesting your building for months before you ever become aware that there is a problem. Often times, the first indication is when a cockroach is seen in the early evening hours, or when a dead roach is discovered under a sink or near a drain. By that time, however, there is usually a larger infestation present.
If your property includes many areas with cracks, drains, or other confined spaces, or if you have a nearby garden, there is always the chance that cockroaches may make their way into your home or business. They are drawn to areas with food and water, which makes kitchens and bathrooms especially attractive. However, damp basements – either cool or humid, depending on the type of roach, are also attractive locales. They can also hide in the cracks of cupboards, in grease traps, or among newspaper and magazine stacks.
If you even suspect that your home or business might have a cockroach problem, you should begin with an effort to inspect the premises. Obviously, the best way to do that is to search those areas in which the creatures are most likely to live: cracks, crevices, and damp, dark spots throughout the building. If you have a good idea where roaches might be living, you can always leave out so-called roach stations or traps to see if you can catch some. These traps will bait cockroaches and trap them. While this is not a particularly effective way to deal with any infestation involving more than a handful of the creatures, it can be an effective way to determine whether you actually have a problem that needs attention.
Roaches have long been considered a sign of poor hygiene and a general lack of cleanliness. While this is not entirely the case – these creatures do seek out human habitations because they fulfill their primary needs, after all – there are certain things that you can do to help prevent infestations from occurring in the first place. And yes, these preventive measures tend to be centered around cleanliness.
- Make sure that the home or office building is cleaned thoroughly on a regular basis, with particular emphasis given to bathrooms, kitchens, and anywhere food is either stored or prepared. Don’t forget those common areas of neglect like around and behind the stove, behind and under the refrigerator, and so on.
- Don’t leave trash sitting around in your home. Be sure to empty trash bins daily, since many roaches can be drawn to that sort of decaying matter. It is also a good idea to keep outside rubbish bins some distance away from the home to discourage entry by roaches which might be out exploring and scavenging for food.
- Avoid leaving pet food out when domestic animals are not feeding. Roaches can be drawn to the food and will invariably contaminate it. That can make your animals sick, and lead to expensive veterinary bills that are otherwise easily avoidable.
- Seal up food in plastic containers. Roaches can chew through cardboard and bags, contaminate the contents, and cause illness for any humans who come into contact with the spoilage. Get into the habit of disposing of cardboard containers and relying on more effective sealing methods.
- Make routine home checks to identify any cracks or other gaps that could be used by roaches as hiding places. Seal them up as soon as they are found to ensure that new roach populations don’t find their way into your home or office.
- Keep compost heaps, gardens, and other roach attractions at a safe distance away from the home, to limit the enticements that might otherwise make them aware of your living space.
Contacting the Professionals
As effective as smaller trapping systems can be at capturing specimens to identify an existing infestation, it is often unwise to rely upon do-it-yourself methods to attempt to completely eradicate the problems. The better solution is to contract a competent, licensed pest control company and allow the professionals to come in and take stock of the situation. Qualified companies have the tools and expertise needed to identify the roaches, determine just how bad the problem is, and select the ideal solution to rid you of these pests once and for all. Remember, if you do it yourself and miss even a handful of the creatures, their rapid breeding will result in a renewed infestation in no time at all.
A professional pest control service will begin by conducting an evaluation of the problem. They will inspect the building to identify the extent of the infestation, determine the best range of options for resolving the matter, and make recommendations about what needs to be done to make your home cockroach-free. Once you approve the process, they will implement the roach removal strategy to ensure that your home or office is free from this disgusting pest.
Competent pest control doesn’t end with removing the infestation, however. If roaches found their way into your building, then there is every reason to believe that other roaches will be able to do so as well. To prevent that, roach control experts will work with you to identify the points of entry that roaches could be using to gain access to your home. They will then help you to ensure that cracks and other entry areas are properly sealed to ensure that no additional infestation occurs in the future. That can help to provide a more lasting solution than any do-it-yourself removal effort might produce.
That’s why it is so important to consider contacting professionals to deal with any pest infestation. And where roach problems are concerned, it is vital to contact the pros as early as possible. Remember, if you see a roach during the day, that is a good sign that the population is extremely large. The good news is that real help is always just a phone call away!