Ways to control cockroaches: understand their habits and habitats

There always used to be a social stigma about cockroaches: that only messy, dirty homes were plagued with the beast. But most cockroach experts, which include entemologists and pest controllers, now argue that cockroaches can infest any home, from a squalid apartment to the best address in town. And the first step toward cleaning them out is learning how and where they survive.

"A German cockroach can survive 7 to 10 days without food or water, and up to 30 days with just water," says Arthur J. Slater, who runs the urban pest control program at the University of California at Berkeley. "Some cockroaches just need glue, an envelope, and a stamp to survive. Clutter and large amounts of food may increase the problem, but people are not smitten with cockroaches only if they are unsanitary. That doesn't fit the characteristics of the beast."

Cockroaches come into homes on shopping bags, clothes, produce, and used furniture or appliances from other homes. They may enter an apartment through open spaces near plumbing, doors, and ducts.

They live in warm places, usually behind cupboards, under refrigerators, near sinks or cabinets. They forage at night, which is why midnight snackers so often flip on the light to see several of the creatures scurry back into the cracks.

Cockroaches are not fussy eaters. They prefer starchy or greasy foods, but will eat almost anything, including glue, vegetation, hair, bookbindings, toothpaste, their own shed skin, and one another.

Controlling cockroaches means a lot more than just stepping on every insect that crosses a person's path. Pesticides can help to quash a cockroach population.

Boric acid, a powder, is very effective because cockroaches have not developed a resistance to it, although it becomes ineffective if it gets wet, and it can look very messy. Pesticide bombs, sprays, and baits can all be used by individuals who carefully follow directions. If the problem is large, professional exterminators are available.

Carolyn Klass of Cornell University advises caulking around heat pipes and plumbing to put up physical barriers. Although cleanliness will not guarantee a cockroach- free home, it will help to control the insects. Garbage should be taken out daily, and spills cleaned up immediately.

Persons can find out about roach control through state extension service leaflets, comparing notes with friends who have controlled the insects, talking with an exterminator, or doing research at public libraries.

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