There are five species of cockroaches that can become pests: German cockroach, brownbanded cockroach, oriental cockroach, smokybrown cockroach, and American cockroach. Of these, the one that has the greatest potential of becoming persistent and troublesome is the German cockroach, which prefers indoor locations. Oriental and American cockroaches occasionally pose problems in moist, humid areas.
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PROBLEMS ASSOCIATED WITH COCKROACHES
Cockroaches may become pests in homes, restaurants, hospitals, warehouses, offices, and virtually any structure that has food preparation or storage areas. They contaminate food and eating utensils, destroy fabric and paper products, and impart stains and unpleasant odors to surfaces they contact.
Cockroaches (especially the American cockroach, which comes into contact with human excrement in sewers or with pet droppings) may transmit bacteria that cause food poisoning (Salmonella spp. and Shigella spp.). German cockroaches are believed to be capable of transmitting disease-causing organisms such as Staphylococcus spp., Streptococcus spp., hepatitis virus, and coliform bacteria. They also have been implicated in the spread of typhoid and dysentery. Some people, especially those with asthma, are sensitive to the allergens produced by these cockroaches. However, a major concern with cockroaches is that people are repulsed when they find cockroaches in their homes and kitchens.
Cockroaches are medium-sized to large insects in the order Dictyoptera (formerly Orthoptera). They are broad, flattened insects with long antennae and a prominent pronotum. Some people confuse them with beetles, but adult cockroaches have membranous wings and lack the thick, hardened forewings or elytra of beetles. They are nocturnal and run rapidly when disturbed. Immature cockroaches (nymphs) look like adults, but are smaller and do not have wings.
Of the five common pest species, German and brownbanded cockroaches inhabit buildings, whereas the oriental, smokybrown, and American cockroaches usually live outdoors, only occasionally invading buildings. It is important to correctly identify the species involved in a cockroach infestation so that the most effective control method(s) for the species involved is chosen.
The German cockroach, Blattella germanica, is the most common indoor species, especially in multiple-family dwellings. They prefer food preparation areas, kitchens, and bathrooms because they favor warm (70° to 75°F), humid areas that are close to food and water. Severe infestations may spread to other parts of buildings. This species reproduces the fastest of the common pest cockroaches: a single female and her offspring can produce over 30,000 individuals in a year, but many succumb to cannibalism and other population pressures. Egg laying occurs more frequently during warm weather. The female carries around a light tan egg case (about 1/4 inch long) until 1 to 2 days before it hatches, when she drops it. Sometimes the egg case hatches while it is still being carried by the female. Each egg case contains about 30 young, and a female may produce a new egg case every few weeks.
The brownbanded cockroach, Supella longipalpa, is not as common as the German cockroach in California and accounts for only about 1% of all indoor infestations. This species seeks out areas that are very warm most of the time, preferring temperatures of about 80°F, about 5° to 10°F warmer than what German cockroaches prefer. Favorite locations include near the warm electrical components of appliances such as radios, televisions, and refrigerators. Brownbanded cockroaches prefer starchy food (e.g., glue on stamps and envelopes), are often found in offices and other places where paper is stored, and are more common in apartments or homes that are not air conditioned. They also infest animal-rearing facilities, kitchens, and hospitals. Adult males sometimes fly when disturbed, but females do not fly. Females glue light brown egg cases, which are about 1/4 inch long, to ceilings, beneath furniture, or in closets or other dark places where eggs incubate for several weeks before hatching. Each female and her offspring are capable of producing over 600 cockroaches in one year.
The oriental cockroach, Blatta orientalis, is sometimes referred to as a waterbug or waterbeetle. It lives in dark, damp places like indoor and outdoor drains, water control boxes, woodpiles, basements, garages, trash cans, and damp areas under houses. It is most likely to occur in single-family dwellings that are surrounded by vegetation. It is also common in ivy, ground cover, and outside locations where people feed pets. They prefer cooler temperatures than the other species do, and populations of this species often build to large numbers in masonry enclosures such as water meter boxes. At night, oriental cockroaches may migrate into buildings in search of food. They usually remain on the ground floor of buildings and move more slowly than the other species. Oriental cockroaches do not fly and are unable to climb smooth vertical surfaces; consequently they are commonly found trapped in porcelain sinks or tubs. Females deposit dark red-brown egg cases, which are about 3/8 inch long, in debris or food located in sheltered places. Each female and her offspring can produce nearly 200 cockroaches in one year. Development from a newly emerged nymph to adult can take from 1 to 2 years or more.
The smokybrown cockroach, Periplaneta fuliginosa, is usually found in decorative plantings and planter boxes, woodpiles, garages, and water meter boxes; it may occasionally inhabit municipal sewers. They sometimes invade homes, taking refuge in areas such as the attic. Nymphs are dark brown and have white segments at the end of their antennae and across their backs. Smokybrown cockroaches prefer the upper parts of buildings; they also may live under shingles or siding and sometimes get into trees, shrubs, and other vegetation during summer months. Females carry the dark brown to black egg case, which measures about 3/8 inch long, for about 1 day before dropping it; eggs can hatch in as soon as 24 days after being laid or as long as 70 days after laying, depending on temperature. About 40 to 45 nymphs hatch from a single egg case.
The American cockroach, Periplaneta americana, prefers warm and humid environments, usually with temperatures in excess of 82°F. Under the right conditions, they readily live outdoors and are common pests in zoos and animal-rearing facilities. They are also common in sewers, steam tunnels, and masonry storm drains. Occasionally they forage from sewers and other areas into the ground floor of buildings. Adult females carry the egg cases around for about 6 days and then cement them to a protected surface where they incubate for about 2 months or longer. The egg cases, which are about 3/8 inch long, are brown when laid but turn black in 1 to 2 days. Each egg capsule contains about 12 young; a female and her offspring can produce over 800 cockroaches in one year.
An adult female cockroach produces an egg capsule, called an ootheca, which it carries around protruding from the tip of the abdomen. The German cockroach carries the ootheca for most of the 30-day incubation period and then drops it about the time the eggs hatch; the other four species carry it for only about a day before depositing it in a suitable location where it incubates for weeks or months. Young or immature cockroaches undergo gradual metamorphosis, which means they resemble adults and have similar feeding habits, but they do not have fully developed wings and are not reproductively active. Immediately after molting, cockroaches are white, but their outer covering darkens as it hardens, usually within hours.
Cockroaches are nocturnal. They hide in dark, warm areas, especially narrow spaces where surfaces touch them on both sides. Adult German cockroaches can hide in a crack 1/16 inch or 1.6 mm wide. Immature cockroaches tend to stay in even smaller cracks where they are well protected. Cockroaches tend to aggregate in corners and generally travel along the edges of walls or other surfaces.
Author: Bruce Eldridge, Dept. of Entomology, UC Davis Editor: B. Ohlendorf Technical Editor: M. L. Flint Produced by IPM Education and Publications, University of California Statewide IPM Program