Sunday, December 30, 2012

Roachly Encounters

Photo from:

I know.

But set your shivers of revulsion aside for a moment...

It's actually quite interesting!

Shortly after moving to Georgia, I began seeing these quarter-sized flying bugs that I thought looked an awfully lot like a giant cockroach but my fiancés family called a Palmetto Bug.  After putting in hours of research, I've learned that the big bugs look a whole lot worse than they really are.  And that what we have here isn't really a Palmetto Bug (aka Water Bug and officially a Florida Woods Cockroach), but rather an American Cockroach.

Yup, that great big beasty on the far left of the photo (above) showing some of the varieties of cockroaches that have found their way to the United States is what I've seen occasionally scurrying across the floor.

Interesting factoid:  Despite names that hint at locational evolution, all of these roach species seem to have originated in Africa and were transported here beginning as early as 1675.

The little (usually under 1/2-inch in length) German Cockroach shown center right is by far the most common.  They are found in all 50 states and it's the one whose preferred habitat is most identified with the public perception of cockroaches and filth.  It gravitates to unclean homes... sink full of dirty dishes, food scraps and trash lying around, pantry shelves with open containers.  You get the picture, right?  Those easy food sources and the relatively even temperature of a house are the conditions it finds hospitable once transported, most often unknowingly, inside furniture or as eggs on product packaging into a home.

In contrast, American Cockroaches are outdoor bugs who crawl in under doors and through openings (plumbing, electrical, etc.) in the foundation of a building seeking warmth and water.  Their preferred diet is rotting plant material like wood mulch or broken shrubbery branches in foundation plantings.  Water-rotted wood in homes with structural damage are also especially attractive.  In the absence of other food sources, they will munch on paper products because of the plant cellulose those items are made from but a ready source of water is by far their most critical requirement.

All roaches can cause health problems in two ways.  Most often it's an allergic reaction triggered in either pets or people as they shed their outer skin to accommodate growth and broken bits spread, for example, by forced-air heating systems are inhaled.  The reaction can range from minor sniffles to a life threatening asthma attack depending on a person's sensitivity.  Less common, but more feared, they pick up bacteria on their legs which is then deposited into foodstuffs they disturb and you then consume.  E. coli and salmonella are the prevalent bacterial infections spread by roaches.

Control seems to be pretty much the same no matter what type of cockroach it is.  First and most importantly, take preventative action and keep your house clean and bathrooms, laundry and food prep areas dry.  Boric acid kills them.  Most people simply sprinkle a bit along the threshold of outside doors, in under-sink cabinets, on pantry shelves and behind appliances.  Boric acid is generally considered non-poisonous to pets and people but loses its ability to kill ants and roaches when mixed with water.  It is an odorless white granular powder sold in most places that offer pest control products at a relatively inexpensive price.

Interesting factoid:  The borax sold on the same grocery isle as laundry soap and commonly used as an additive in the wash to whiten and brighten clothes contains boric acid.  And yes, it can be used for roach control exactly the same way.

German Cockroaches reproduce prolifically so if you're unlucky enough to find yourself inhabiting space with them, boric acid needs to be a supplemental control to professional spraying until you are free of them.  Serious infestations of American Cockroaches will also need to be dealt with professionally.  Usually an exterminator will spray the perimeter of the foundation outside and around the baseboards and cabinetry inside with a powerful insecticide not available to the general public.

So, knowing all this, I guess I can get over my freak out and stop hyperventilating to the point of nausea when I see one of these big bugs.  There's a good chance the encounters will continue to be very sporadic and control is rather simple and cheap.  Being armed with the right information is always a good thing!

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