Empires rise and fall, but cockroaches have it all

Why do we hate cockroaches? Do we detest them because they are the pests spreading infections around our apartments? Do we have an aversion to cockroaches because we simply cannot resign to the idea that man, the self-proclaimed king of the creation, the one who is supposed to play a lead, is being given a trivial part in the cockroach movie of epic proportions? Theoretically speaking, do humans have any chances of beating cockroaches on the planet?

Cockroaches are insects of the Order Blattodea. According to different sources, there are about 3,600 species in six families of cockroaches. The insects exist virtually worldwide save for the Polar Regions. A new species of cockroaches was discovered in the Island of Kalimantan a mere three years ago. Residents of the temperate and northern zones would be relieved to learn that 80% of the species live in tropical forests.

Cockroaches have populated Earth from time immemorial. The earliest cockroach-like fossils were discovered in the upper deposits of the Carboniferous period dating as far back as some 300 million years ago.

On the whole, man is a highly inconsistent creature. He simply does not give a damn about anything that goes on underneath his feet. While on a walk in the forest, man is likely to think to himself when he takes note of a cockroach crawling up the leaf: “What a lovely creature! Let him be…” The same person will react in a totally different way if he sees a “lovely creature” streaking across his bed or kitchen table. He will not hesitate to grab a flyswatter and shout profanities and insults at the intruder while trying to whack it on the spot.

No doubt about it, chasing after forest cockroaches is a pretty stupid thing to do. Besides, it is absolutely pointless. There are 4-5 species of cockroaches found in close association with human dwellings in Russia’s central areas. Representatives of those species are regularly get killed by humans every time the antagonists meet.

The black cockroach used to be out on the prowl every night. Black creatures would sneak around garbage and kitchen utensils, feeling mighty and strong. The black cockroach was about 3 cm long yet it was unable to multiply fast enough. As a result, the black cockroach had to retreat as the German cockroach climbed the stage.

The German cockroach or Blatella germanica measures about 1½ cm in length, it can adapt readily to a variety of environments. More importantly, it is a very prolific species of common household cockroaches. No wonder the German cockroach drove out the black one from its usual habitat.

A female German cockroach carries an egg case called ootheca on the end of her abdomen. The egg case contains about 40 eggs. The female drops the case prior to hatching. Development from eggs to adults takes from 3 to 4 months to complete. The female can produce up to egg cases in a lifetime. It can produce 300-400 offspring in favorable conditions i.e. a warmer environment in close proximity to water.

Cockroaches of the above species live a rather simple life. They do not have any caste system. There are no group leaders either. There are a couple of bulky males whose main job is to chase other males away from the females until some of the younger males grow strong enough to put up a fight. Every family of cockroaches has a number of young and agile scouts.

The young and nimble ones go out to scout around. They are capable of moving away at great distances from their habitat in search of food and water. They are also supposed to look around new locations and find new shelters while keeping a sharp lookout for potential dangers.

Incidentally, the notion of danger looks rather vague to cockroaches since they are capable of living for a month without food. Besides, they are virtually omnivorous. Eating a range of materials ranging from pure polyethylene to vinyl chloride to their own feces is no problem for cockroaches.

Though their diet may seem somewhat extreme, they are always ready and willing to have a bite provided more conventional food is within reach. Bits and pieces e.g. a moldy bread crust oran old limpgrape brushed off under the sink or left in the kitchen cabinets is more than enough for a cockroach feast.

Bait stations and cockroach traps a times fail to produce desired effects due to scraps of food left uncovered in the kitchen. The above pest control products use special chemicals or attractants designed to lure insects to poison. In all probability, a cockroach is likely to favor a piece of cookie over some strange smelling stuff in a bait station.

By the way, the cockroach can survive a large-scale chemical attack too. Spraying large quantities of insecticide around your apartment is not a guarantee of final solution for the problem. Cockroaches will disappear for some time but they will come back once the smell fades away. Second, cockroaches will get used to your poison of choice, the one you use over and over again in an attempt to exterminate them. They may as well make it part of their regular diet. Third, cockroaches will take cover in a bathroom or closet if chemicals are used only your kitchen or dining area.

According to disinfection and pest control specialists, cockroaches have long become immune to poisons made from organic phosphorous materials. Cockroaches are also reported to have developed immunity against synthetic peritroid-based pest control products which were used alternatively.

Only a comprehensive effort involving simultaneous use of several pest control products can result in complete extermination of cockroaches in an apartment building. However, the task seems easier said than done. Will the plan look really feasible if its implementation requires disinfection of an entire building including its apartments, risers, garbage chutes, basement etc.? Every tenant will have to take part in the effort too. It is highly unlikely that things will be done as planned even though everybody seems to be perfectly aware of health risks associated with the cockroach infestation (cockroach may trigger an outbreak of dysentery; cockroach allergens appear to worsen asthma symptoms).

On the other hand, disinfection is still a good means of curbing cockroach activities. It can significantly reduce the number of cockroaches in the average household or even drive them away for a period of time. Yet cleanliness remains the weapon of choice in our fight against cockroaches. Preventative measures include keeping a kitchen sink clean and tidy, and all food stored away in sealed containers. Needless to say, garbage cans should be kept covered with a tight lid, and a frequent cleaning of the kitchen is a must. Any leaks e.g. dripping water taps should also be taken care of. It is also helpful to seal off holes around baseboards, in between kitchen cabinets, doors, and windows.

You can also try to get rid of cockroaches by freezing them out of your apartment. Russian peasants have long used cold weather for putting cockroaches to death. A peasant family would stop stoking a stove at home and spend a day or two at their neighbor’s place as temperatures dropped to the lowest minimums in winter. The cockroach is reported to die within half an hour at 5 degrees Celsius below zero. The hardy creature reportedly kicks the bucket within a minute at 7 degrees Celsius below zero.

We should give the cockroach its due. The cockroach has proved to be a real survivor despite Russia’s rather hostile environment, not to mention the weather. Aside from the German and black cockroaches, other species of the insect can be found across Russia, especially in major cities.

The American cockroach, which is about 3 cm long, is reported to have adapted itself well to Russian climate. The smokybrown cockroach has settled down in some places too. Time and again the media reports on Cuban cockroaches and other exotic species breaking loose from Moscow pet shops, which sell them as food for exotic pets. Russian weather is still too cold for the Cuban cockroach to survive. But things may be subject to change. We should not forget that the cockroach is a highly adaptable creature, which has been around for million years.

Andrei Belyakov

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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov