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Scientific Name: Blattaria
Physical Attributes: Broad, flat bodies with small heads, four wings, six legs and long antennae
Adult Size: 1.5 – 5 cm
Color: Black, brown, and red, with some yellow and light-colored species
Habitat: Varies; preferably warm environments and indoors
Lifespan: 18 months
Found In: All U.S. states
There are more than 4,500 cockroach species worldwide, but only 30 come into contact with humans. And only four – the American cockroach, the German cockroach, the Asian cockroach, and the Oriental cockroach – are known as household pests.
Fossils of the oldest known cockroaches are estimated to be more than 350 million years old. The cockroach ancestor is relatively similar to the modern day cockroach, though a bit smaller, which means the animal has changed very little throughout history.
Most associate cockroaches with filth, dirt, and unsanitary conditions, and it’s for good reason. The cockroach thrives on decaying matter, mainly that of animal or human food, and particularly if it’s a meat product. They’re also known to carry 33 different types of bacteria, including those related to E. coli and Salmonella infections, parasitic worms, and other types of human pathogens. Cockroach allergens can also trigger asthma attacks in some sufferers.
Cockroaches are nocturnal, which is why you hear their tough, clawed legs scratching across floors and kitchen cabinets at night. These spiny legs also enable the cockroach to climb slick walls and walk across tough terrain with ease.
Scientific tests have shown cockroaches help each other quite a bit, most frequently by leaving pheromone-scented trails that alert other cockroaches to sources of food and other cockroaches. This communal cooperation is part of what makes cockroaches so resilient to control efforts.
Female cockroaches can lay up to four litters a year, each consisting of 10 to 90 eggs. Egg-laying behavior varies among species, with some laying their egg casings on an open surface, others hiding them away in crevices, while others carry their eggs around until they hatch. Some species carry the eggs inside their bodies until they hatch, while the embryos of other species develop inside their mothers without eggs at all, just as humans would.
Nymphs are identical to adults, with the exception of undeveloped wings and genitalia. Cockroaches mature slowly and generally don’t reach adulthood for almost a year.
It’s believed that nearly 98 percent of urban homes have or will have a cockroach invasion. And when cockroaches invade, their numbers can range from a few hundred up to a few thousand within the walls of a single home. They typically enter through small openings around windows, doors, and electrical sockets or through drains or other small cracks in the home.
Cockroaches are notoriously hardy, and most can survive for more than a month without food or water. Some studies have even shown that they can survive being submerged under water, without oxygen, for more than half an hour. They can also withstand multiple times the amount of chemical radiation that humans can tolerate, making them one of the toughest pests in the world to control. And even though they prefer warm temperatures, they can even survive a few freezing nights outdoors.
So it goes without saying that control efforts are many and varied. Over the years, pest control companies have tried everything from chemical treatments to natural remedies to rid homes of cockroaches. Currently, treatments containing deltamethrin, pyrethrin, hydramethylnon or fipronil, and boric acid seem to be the most effective.
On the natural front, do-it-yourself preventative measures are the best solution. Keeping kitchens clean, sealing food tightly and fixing cracks or openings in window and door frames are the best approaches. Cockroaches also have natural predators in wasps, centipedes, spiders, and even cats.
There are over 4,500 species of cockroaches, but only a few are problematic for homeowners: