The Oldest Unwanted House Guest

Holidays and celebrations can be fun and joyous. On many of these occasions, our house is full of people and their pets, delicious food covers the tables, and, all of a sudden, my pants feel just a bit tighter. Sometimes, after the merriment dies down, the company of all those house guests that we thought would be fun to have around may become tiresome. A visit from a cockroach can give you the same kind of feeling. Did you know that cockroaches are one of the oldest insects on the planet, dating back 350 million years ago? Cockroaches have been known for causing health and home issues for many years. In 1940, a development called the Carmelitos Housing Project in Southern California was built for people needing to live in low-income housing. When they were first built they looked more along the lines of vacation bungalows than low-income housing. However, 20 years later the health officials began noticing a disturbing pattern: almost 40% of individuals living in these homes had hepatitis due to a large cockroach infestation. Once 70% of the cockroaches that were living with these residents were eliminated, the hepatitis rates dropped significantly in the Carmelitos Housing Project. In the surrounding communities where cockroaches were still running rampant, so was hepatitis (Stewart, 2011).

In 350 million years of living, 95% of the four thousand cockroach species have lived entirely apart from humans in forests, under logs, in caves, under desert rocks, and in dark habitats near lakes and rivers. However, the 5% of those that do live around people are loathed for many reasons. Cockroaches do not have any issues finding their way into homes, whether by flying or crawling through cracks and crevices. Whether or not they stay largely depends on housekeeping: messy kitchens and bathrooms are a cockroach haven! Once they are in, they are there to stay, especially in apartment complexes where they are able to travel the shared duct work, sewer lines, and electrical wiring.

So why is it that these house guests are truly unwanted? Because they are gross? Because they are creepy and crawly? Because many people fear them? Although these are all true, there are many more serious things for us to worry about. Cockroaches have what scientists refer to as “unspecialized chewing mouthparts.” This means they have the ability to feed on a wide variety of foods and readily enables them to live alongside humans. They will feed on trash, food, sewage – even book bindings and paste on stamps. Although they will not bite humans, they will feed on fingernails, skin, calluses and eyelashes! Because of this naturally unappealing appetite, they will often carry and spread disease. I don’t know about you, but my holiday house guests are starting to sound much more appealing!

One of these cockroaches specifically is our domestic foe the German cockroach (Blattella germanica). Although a lot of cockroaches may find their way into our homes, as long as you call Cook’s and keep a tidy home, then you shouldn’t have an issue. However, if the German cockroach makes its way into your home, you may wonder how it arrived. Roaches enter homes for three things: food, harborage, and shelter. So, it is our job to prevent roaches access to these things, as we want to be feeding the right house guests and not the ones with six legs. There are multiple things that can be done to ensure these unwanted house guests stay away, such as keeping trash cans clean, washing out items before putting them in the recycle, eliminating clutter, keeping cardboard boxes empty, using sealed containers instead of cardboard ones, and most importantly, cleaning all spills and grease. Above all, the most important thing is making sure that your home is a happy one for humans but an unpleasant one for roaches.

But wait, you may be saying to yourself, “I do all these things and you could eat off my floors, so how did I get roaches?” Unfortunately sometimes they hitchhike into our homes. In the book Wild by Cheryl Strayed, you hear about her journey hiking along the Pacific Coast Trail. It was not easy and came with a lot of mental and physical challenges. That’s not the case for German roaches, as they are masters of survival and hitchhiking. They will often be in grocery store shipments, so after a shopping trip you may end up accidentally taking home a roach or an egg case. With regular pest control measures and maintaining these everyday sanitation routines, your problem can be eliminated. As we are about to jump into Fall and the Holidays, be sure to make a happy home for the much taller and more pleasant variety of house guests.

-Kristen Stevens, BCE

Reference:

Stewart, A. 2011. Wicked Bugs. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

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