Cockroaches have an unbalanced relationship with humans, many types are dependent on humans for food, so they love us, but it takes a special human to love cockroaches in return. Cockroaches eat nearly everything, everything a human eats plus more, often things we wish they wouldn’t, such as clothes, furniture fabrics and even books and wallpaper (for the glue). Cockroaches are insects and do prefer organic material, which gives them a wide variety, but will occasionally turn to synthetic fabrics. They are not fussy about the freshness of their food – moldy garbage is a banquet just as the breadcrumbs left on your kitchen bench are.
Wingless cockroach feeding on mildew. © Gbohne.
Wood eating cockroach
Cryptocercus or commonly known as brown-hooded cockroach is a wood eating genus of cockroach and the others, about 3,500 species, are omnivorous. Oddly, the Cryptocercus is not able to digest wood cellulose itself, relying instead on friendly bacteria and protoza to do the job for them, passing on the nutrients.
The Germans are unfairly blamed for the most common species, the German cockroach, which is actually native of Asia. Most cockroaches are fairly small, with larger species found in tropic and subtropical regions. The world’s largest cockroach species, the Australian giant burrowing cockroach weighs about 30g and is about 7.5 cm long.
They are survival experts
Cockroaches feeding on mango. © Ric_k.
Cockroaches are very hardy and can survive for several weeks with no food or water (in lean times they can turn to cannibalism). Individuals live for about a year, with females producing hundreds of eggs in that time. They are adaptable, but generally prefer warm environments, so are common in subtropical and tropical areas or kitchens. Cockroaches prefer high carbohydrate foods, lipids (fats and oils) and protein. They have been known to recover after being without air for up to 45 minutes, so drowning them is difficult.
Cockroaches are very common household pests, but being largely nocturnal they are often unseen. When living with humans, they prefer easy pickings such as pet food left in the bowl. One of the main reasons cockroaches are disliked, apart from their nasty scurrying habit, is that they are carriers of germs which can seriously affect human health. So, they are particularly dangerous in hospitals. They are also linked with allergies and asthma. As they travel, they leave traces of fecal matter to mark their trail, thus leaving harmful bacteria on surfaces. Other cockroaches follow the trails to food sources, or to find other cockroaches. They also give out pheromones as a means of attracting other cockroaches for mating or group bonding. Cockroaches are capable of quite sophisticated co-operative decision making behavior, balanced with competition.
Managing the problem
Due to their resilience, cockroaches are difficult to get rid of once they have infested an area. Although they prefer warmth, they can cope with the occasional freeze. They often live outside and don’t need a special diet, regular feeding or water. So how do humans eliminate the pests? The first precaution is hygiene. Food should be stored in sealed containers, and never left out overnight. Garbage bins must have tight lids which are always left on the bin. Homes must be kept clean, especially the kitchen, and vacuumed regularly. Water sources must also be eliminated, as leaky pipes, dripping taps or even dirty sinks are resources for cockroaches.
Securing your home
Entry points should be sealed, although it may be difficult to find them. These places include where pipes enter the walls, gaps in window and door seals, gaps along the join of the floor and the wall, where they may come in from under the house.
Permanent sealant such as silicone or putty is the best solution but steel wool is an alternative. Chemical bait stations, especially those with egg killers or pest control products containing chemicals such as pyrethrin can be effective, in combination with hygiene measures.
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