Eeeeeeeeeeewww, Roaches!!!!

November 7, 2008

In my line of work, I’ve come to know insects pretty well. I recognize the importance of each and every kind of insect and I love to teach the public about them. Insects help us infinitely more than they could ever harm us! The one poor soul that gets the most grief is a wonderful little organism known simply as the cockroach. Men squirm, women scream, and even some children turn up their nose at the mere thought of a cockroach! I spend a lot of my time here campaigning for these little guys and I’m here to clear up some misconceptions, and hopefully change some perceptions about these awesome insects!

Visitors of the Prayerful Sort
Creative Commons License photo credit:
Clearly Ambiguous

Let’s start with the basics; cockroaches are insects with 6 legs, 3 body parts, 1 pair of antennae, and sometimes, 2 pairs of wings. They belong to the order Blattodea. These insects are most closely related to termites and praying mantids which have been known as “specialized cockroaches.”

Did you know that there are about 4000 different species of cockroach worldwide? We’re used to seeing the brown ones, but they can be green, white, or even dark blue. Some can even have elaborate patterns with colors like red and orange. They live in almost every climate; however, they are mostly concentrated in tropical climates. Most roaches live in forests, making homes of trees, rotten logs and leaf litter. They spend their lives as scavengers and decomposers. They rid the world of decaying organic matter and replace it with nutrients that feed the soil and plants. They are one of our most important decomposers, and our existence depends on them! Sometimes, however, they can get a little too close to home.

Bush Cockroach
Creative Commons License photo credit:
Cyron a beautiful bush cockroach!

Out of the 4,000 different species of cockroach, about 4 or 5 have decided to invade our homes from time to time. Can you blame them? Natural habitat is declining faster than ever and we offer them great accomodations, complete with a free all-you-can-eat buffet! That huge, gigantic thing scurrying accross your floor is called the American Cockroach – and it’s probably the biggest bug in Texas. It’s commonly referred to as a water bug, palmetto bug, or tree roach, but the only scientifically correct name it has is Periplaneta americana.  They prefer to hang out in dark, warm, moist environments and that’s why you will usually only see them at night while they forage for food.

If you keep your house clean, well organized, and in good repair, you may see one of these roaches in your house from time to time. Do not panic, it probably wandered in from outside and it’s very unlikely that you have a heavy infestation. Now, if you keep your house dirty, cluttered, and falling apart, well, you are welcoming every roach in a mile radius.

Another familiar species of cockroach is the German Cockroach Blatella germanica. These roaches are very small, light brown, and have 2 longitudinal stripes just below the head. Unlike the American cockroach, German cockroaches are highly adapted to living only in human dwellings, completely dependent on the filth humans leave behind. So, if you see one of these roaches in your house, it is very possible that you do have a very serious infestation. Here are some common myths about roaches and the real truth behind them.

Roaches are dirty.

False! Roaches are obsessive compulsive about cleanliness! They spend most of their time resting, and the rest of their time cleaning themselves, much like a cat. Roaches are actually some of the cleanest animals around.

Roaches spread disease

Trufalse. This is a little less clear cut. Roaches themselves do not have diseases, but can transmit germs with their hairy legs and sticky feet. For example, if you leave residue from raw meat on your counter, it is possible a cockroach may walk through it and track it around, but if your counter is clean and disinfected, that roach will stay clean! There have actually been studies where a cockroach and a human finger touched the same dirty kitchen floor. They were each swabbed and the swab was smeared into a petri dish to be cultured. at the end of the study, the human finger produced several times the amount of bacteria the cockroach did.

Roaches can hurt you

False! Roaches are equipped with no more than a set of jaws for chewing. They are capable of biting, which would not hurt at all – but that’s really not their style; they’re more into running away. They have no stinging appendages or anything like that. They are harmless.

Roaches can live for two weeks with no head.

Ok, this one is actually true. The reason for this is that a roach has several brains throughout its body, not just one in its head. They are really just ganglia or bunches of nerve cells. The one in the cockroach’s head only controls its antennae and mouthparts. Remove the head, and it will still be able to control its legs which are equipped with millions of sensory receptors, allowing it to find its way quite well. Eventually, though, the insect will be overcome by dehydration and die.

I saw an albino cockroach!

False! It’s likely that the cockroach you saw is one that has just shed its skin. A freshly molted cockroach is white with black eyes, and very soft and vulnerable. After a few hours, its new skin will start to harden and grow darker, until it is the original color.

Cockroaches can give my child asthma

True. Unfortunately, a heavy infestation of cockroaches can cause asthma in allergen-sensitive individuals, especially children. If you have hundreds of cockroaches in your walls, the feces will build up and become airborne. This is all the more reason to keep your house clean!

Well, there you have it folks, the skinny on cockroaches. I hope that some of you may look at cockroaches in a new light and next time you see one – give it break! It’s not their fault they have a bad rap. If you still feel nauseous thinking of them, just make sure your house is sparkling clean. If we clean up after ourselves, the roaches don’t have to do it for us. Skip the poison, it’s bad for the environment and kills all of those wonderful bugs everyone loves to see. Until next time, happy bug watching!

Erin M
Authored By Erin M Mills

Erin Mills received her undergraduate degree in Entomology from Texas A&M University in 2004, and after a short tour of the pest control industry, joined HMNS as the Cockrell Butterfly Center's Insect Zoo Manager in 2005. Over the years she expanded the butterfly center's live arthropod collection, developed the ever popular "Bugs on Wheels" outreach program, and continued to establish her role as HMNS's insect expert. In October of 2016, she achieved her long time goal of becoming Director of the Cockrell Butterfly Center. She is constantly striving to improve the butterfly center and how it serves and educates the public about the wonderful and amazing world of insects! As a Board Certified Entomologist, Erin has extensive knowledge of insect identification, ecology, plant relationships, husbandry, really any insect-related topic!

16 responses to “Eeeeeeeeeeewww, Roaches!!!!”

  1. Adam Bobrow says:

    I saw a cockroach and after trying to peacefully move it, it crawled under my couch. I then thought… “I don’t wear my shoes in my room. I wonder if a roach can hurt me.” This piece you wrote is not only VERY informative, but a fun and interesting read. The personality really comes through the words. I don’t know if you are a professional writer, but whatever medium you choose to educate, PLEASE continue to use your gift in someway to spread anything you are passionate to share and so helpfully informed about. Thanks. 8>)


    PS- I am sending this article to someone special.

  2. Franny says:

    Erin – I thought it was super awesome that when I looked up “white cockroach Houston, TX” on google, your blog post was the FIRST one in the search! I knew they appeared white after molting but I was unsure about the one I found in my carpet yeserday as he seemed quite firm to me. I didn’t let him stick around long enough to see if he’d change color.

    Your blog is really informative!! I like how you compare them to cats 🙂
    Thank you!!

  3. Doctor Who says:

    wonderful post, erin! =D

    thank you 4 “cleaning the air” ’bout these poor misunderstood creatures.
    yeah…m gulity like the rest of ’em awile back…
    but now…when i see one…i just mind my own business…as they mind theirs

    keep bloggin’! 🙂

  4. Mollie says:

    Thank you very much for this info…I’ve long thought the big flying cockroaches were beautiful, but felt alarmed when I kept seeing one scurrying around my food prep area in the middle of the night.
    I think I’ll just have to wipe more assiduously!
    All the best-from Fremantle, Western Australia.

  5. Kate says:

    I wish I could be more like Mollie (and Erin) and see their beauty. Somehow, I ended up with a phobia of them, which is so frustrating because I’m not afraid of ANYTHING else – not spiders, bats, rats, snakes, beetles, nothing! So it’s some kind of mental tripwire. Has anyone ever heard of someone who successfully cured their phobia of a specific bug, and if so, how? It makes life in South Texas a little problematic since they’re such a part of outdoors after dark, and they come in looking for water in dry, hot spells. I’m not allowed to call 9-1-1 anymore to come save me if my husband isn’t home (kidding! I would love to, though!).

  6. Awesome article! I for one has phobia with Cockroach but thanks to you shedding some light about them, I’ll think twice before giving them the Axe next time 🙂

    Cheers! Keep up the great work.

    – Franz

  7. Ciera says:

    I just recently come across some roaches. Before my cousin moved in everything was fine, then last week we’ve started to see them. I have a son here and we’re nervous about these little buggers, can you give me some tips on how to get rid of them asap?
    Thank you

  8. Erin M. says:

    Hi Ciera,

    Well, it depends on what kind of roaches you’re seeing in your house. If they are the large American cockroaches, they really shouldn’t be much of a concern. Like I said, even people with the cleanest house will get cockroaches coming in sooner or later. They are harmless and don’t pose any threat to you or your son. If they are German cockroaches (see explanation above in the article), then you may have to have some pest control. German roahces can easily be transferred from place to place. They could have been in your cousin’s boxes when she moved in, then made themselves at home with you! The best thing to do is first, make sure the place is sparkling clean, if it isn’t already. Clutter and filth are a cockroaches best friends because it gives them a place to hide and a food source. I would especially go through your pantry and make sure all of the food in their is tightly sealed and there’s nothing living in there. If you do all of this and the problem persists, you may need to take more drastic measures. For American roaches, bait stations you can buy at the hardware store should do the trick. They are safe to use because children can’t get to the poison and it is specific to cockroaches. If they are Germn roaches, you may have to call a pest control company to treat the house. I don’t usually, in any way, endorse the use of pesticides, but some problems don’t have such an easy fix! Good luck!

  9. Someone says:

    I used to hear about cockroaches cleanliness but never trusted it .Now I think I will be more comfortable with those bugs . A clean Zombie anti-nuclear weapon great article

  10. Ruth says:

    The only cockroaches I knew about were Palmetto Bugs that live in the extreme south. It is a little disconcerting living with those huge ones. We couldn’t get rid of them when we live in Yuma, Arizona. They were very plentiful there. They even managed to get into the refrigerator. Do the cockroaches go all over and crawl on people?

  11. Jessica says:

    Thanks for the super informative article! I was excited when my Google search turned up an article from HMNS!

  12. Deedee says:

    I just saw a cockroach on my kitchen counter and freaked out!!! Thank you for this, very informative and yes I am starting to think of cockroaches a bit differently now!

  13. Sarah says:

    So refreshing to hear from a kindred bug lover and i found your article charming and informative. My question is that my boyfriend is entertaining the notion of purchasing a, sigh, “manufactured home” in central Florida, as it is fairly cheap on a fairly decent chunk of land. My issue arises from the structure having had a very neglected history. The fellow who owns it has allowed, for years, literally, like they’re in the fridge dead, various types of roaches to cohabitate with him. German, definitely, and who knows what else. He has recently made a small effort to control them and i’m certain we could eradicate them with some effort, but the place positively reeks of their droppings. i am certain it is their droppings i smell all throughout and i have no doubt that there’s a crazy ton of their excrement within the walls. i’ve read much about the cleaning procedures, emptying ductwork and behind, within, under everything, but haven’t stumbled across anything about ridding a,”manufactured home” of the not-so-endearing aroma of roach droppings. He is under what i feel is the mistaken impression that it will,”go away”. i say if you can’t get behind the walls, all of them, the smell will be there until ….???? the droppings decompose or are somehow removed? i have 2 wee ones, 5 and 4, and a baby due in June and honestly, i truly wonder at his “optimism”. Am i being negative or does there exist a method to magically remove what i find horrendous? Actually, it’s not just me, the fellow who owns the place has a girl who won’t stay there because of its headache-inducing aroma. P.S. i teach my little ones to never hurt bugs or anthills, etc and crickets are cute. i carry spiders outside, but damnit, i don’t want my kids living in a place that smells like…i don’t know what to compare it to, but ew…. Please help!

  14. Erin M. says:

    Hi Sarah! Thanks for your nice comment! I’m glad you enjoyed the article! I love that you teach your kids not to fear insects and other so called “bugs”. As a mother myself, I agree with you 100% and I would not expose my children to any kind of home that had been infested with that many cockroaches. As much as I love and appreciate these guys, their feces, saliva, and shed body parts, all of which there is guaranteed to be TONS of in this place, can cause allergic reactions and asthma. If you aren’t sure that every nook and cranny of the place can be cleaned and rid of what the cockroaches left behind, I would not risk it, especially with a baby on the way. I don’t think you’re being negative, just realistic. The droppings honestly don’t just go away, not after any reasonable amount of time anyway. Good luck!

  15. Geoff M. says:

    I am currently living in a duplex that seemingly has every nook and small opening for pest to travel into my home from both outside and next door. I am very much assuming the later in how i know have come across a light infestation of cockroaches. I have not been inside next door but i believe it to be a mess as piles of cardboard, cans, and various items have been left in the yard alongside hanging clothes. I keep to myself and have had to clean since day 1 when i moved in during the winter. To be fair my landlord told me when i moved in that the upkeep was currently not much to be spoken of. He bug bombed my side of the duplex upon arrival. I have cleaned a large amount of yellow stains from walls and windows from previous tenants chain smoking indoors. Also have paid special attention to floor areas underneath the oven, refrigerator etc. Lots of cleaning in otherwards. Now lately i see a roach or two seemingly each night going on the past few weeks. (Which i have killed in any manner possible including pesticides – honestly most seem to be water based anyhow and “on contact” more or less means keep spraying until its dead) So I guess from this new learning experience I am wondering can a person have an infestation of both American and German cockroaches? Also as it applies to my situation I am curious does cleaning and using chemicals stir up cockroaches that were dormant beforehand?? I have read they are most active in Summer but Im wondering if I played any parts in this sudden sighting. Again there’s an abundance of cracks and small holes on the corners of the walls and baseboards and such. The pipes underneath the sinks have a hole cut in the board for access along with the backside of the toilet. I am craving for this placed to be caulked and sealed properly. As well i live in a dirty desert climate. Thanks for the read. Enjoyed the article! Waiting 2 Be Pest Free ¥¥¥

  16. Cade says:

    Great read. I can finally tell many of my friends to stop killing the roaches and simply put them outside. All beings have their place on this planet!

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