Scientists believe roaches have been in existence for more than 200 million years. They live on all continents except Antarctica, with about 70 of the known 4,000 species present in the United States.
The body of a cockroach is oval in shape and consists of a head, thorax, and abdomen with six legs, antennae, compound eyes, and a hard exoskeleton. Not counting antennae, roaches found in the United States range in size from 1/2” to 2”. The mouths of roaches point downward and they draw air in through holes in their bodies called spiracles while they use their antennae to smell and feel. Roaches may have wings; however, with the exception of the brown-banded cockroach, their ability to fly is limited.
Roaches are varying shades of brown in color, with some species-unique markings. The aptly-named brown-banded cockroach has a light-colored band running across its wings, the German cockroach has two dark brown markings on its thorax, and the American cockroach has a yellow band behind its head. The Oriental cockroach is often called the “black beetle” because of its dark coloring.
The lifespan of a roach varies based on species – from a couple of months to a couple of years – but each progresses from egg to nymph to adult. During the nymph stage, roaches shed their outer shell multiple times (a process known as molting) before becoming adults. Prolific breeders, the German cockroach is the most prevalent species of roach in the world. A single German cockroach and her offspring can produce 300,000 roaches in a year.
Roaches are omnivores, eating anything from plants to leather to human food to paper to dead skin cells. When food is scarce they will become cannibalistic, eating other roaches. Cockroaches are also attracted to beer, but more for the sugar than alcohol content!
Though not indestructible, roaches have developed keen survival skills. Roaches can run at a speed of three miles per hour. They can withstand 32 degrees (Fahrenheit) cold and can go a month without food and a week without water. A roach can survive a half-hour submerged underwater and hold its breath for 40 minutes. Most surprisingly, because it breathes through spiracles on its body, a cockroach can live for a week without its head, dying only because it can’t drink water through its mouth.
Most roaches are nocturnal, preferring to come out in the dark. They migrate to warm locations and typically hide in cracks and crevices, though American cockroaches are bold and will often congregate in the open.
Roaches travel through dirty areas, carrying germs from one place to another and contaminating food, surfaces, and other items they come in contact with. They spread more than 30 different types of bacteria, including salmonella, which can cause physical distress in humans. Their presence can trigger asthma attacks and allergic reactions, especially in children. Cockroaches may also feed on human skin, hair, and nails, causing irritation, swelling, and even open wounds.
While there are many do-it-yourself treatments sold – like foggers, bombs, or powder containing boric acid – they can be ineffective if not administered correctly. These DIY treatments may disperse rather than kill roaches, driving them into areas they might not have previously been. Their contents can also be highly toxic and harmful to other humans and pets in your home. The best way to address a roach infestation is to contact a pest control professional who can identify the type of roach and the most effective approach to exterminate them.
Roaches are constantly on the hunt for food, water, warmth, and shelter. When you see one cockroach, you can be sure there are many more lurking. While it may be impossible to eliminate all roaches from your property, following some basic guidelines will help make it less attractive to them: