Unwanted Guests: A Deep Dive into the Life and Habits of Cockroaches

Cockroaches have the ability to carry pathogenic microbes that can cause illness and disease. They also produce allergens that trigger coughing, sneezing, and bronchial inflammation.

If you notice gnaw marks and tiny shed skins in your home, it’s time to call the experts. Subtle hints don’t work here – these unwelcome guests need to go!

What They Eat

Cockroaches don’t need a lavish spread of food to survive. A few stray vegetables or scraps left on dirty dishes are enough to lure them in. And once inside, they’ll scavenge for any edible items that might be available to them. As omnivores, they’ll eat anything organic that meets their nutritional needs. This includes plant matter like fruit, starches, crumbs, and animal products, such as meats and other insects. In fact, they’ll even eat human feces if the opportunity arises. They’re also attracted to any item containing sugar, so it’s important to keep food sealed in containers, especially when storing it in the pantry.

Cockroaches are opportunistic eaters, so there isn’t much they won’t eat in order to get the nutrients they need. In addition to the foods they typically search for, they will also nibble on things we wouldn’t consider food, such as paper and cardboard, wallpaper glue, dead animals, and their feces.

The cellulose in these materials helps them digest starches, so they’re an excellent source of energy for cockroaches. And because roaches are also attracted to fats, they’ll often consume grease that has accumulated on stove tops or in oven hoods. The pheromones cockroaches release with their feces also act as a trail, and paper or cardboard absorbs the scents, making it easy for other cockroaches to follow the trail to its source.

Another important thing to know about cockroaches is that they can survive for long periods of time without food but not nearly as long as they can without water. This means that if your home’s food supply runs out, the cockroaches living there will likely die within a month or two unless they have an alternate source of nutrition.

One way cockroaches get into homes is by hitching rides on deliveries and packages people bring in. The pests are able to crawl inside the folds and seams of boxes, suitcases, used furniture, or cardboard bags. Once inside, they’ll use these same materials to conceal themselves as they search for food and water.

Where They Hide

Cockroaches are adaptable, so you’re likely to find them in a variety of places. They’ll settle wherever there are warm, damp conditions to live in, although different species have their own specific preferences. For instance, German cockroaches tend to prefer kitchens, while Oriental cockroaches thrive in cooler outdoor environments like trash piles.

In general, cockroaches thrive in dark and moist areas with easy access to food, water, and shelter. That’s why you’ll often find them in your home’s kitchen, laundry room, or bathroom. They’ll congregate around these easy sources of nourishment, and they may be particularly drawn to the areas where a lot of food is left uncovered, such as cabinets or drawers.

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Regardless of where they’re living, cockroaches hide out during the day. They do this by shrinking down to the size of their body and scurrying into tiny cracks or crevices. These hiding spots include the undersides of appliances such as stoves or refrigerators, behind sinks and other installations, inside light switches, wall paneling, and doorjambs. They may also tuck themselves under furniture, in the folds of rugs, and in stacks of paper and other debris.

They don’t like sunlight, so they hide in these dark areas until nighttime when they come out to eat, drink, and mate. They’re incredibly good at communicating with each other, too. For example, cockroaches use chemicals called cuticular hydrocarbons on their bodies and in their feces to signal each other about the best places to travel or where food is nearby.

It’s important to keep in mind that cockroaches live in social groups and need each other for survival, just as humans do. In fact, a young cockroach left to mature on its own will suffer from “isolation syndrome,” in which it has a difficult time becoming part of a roach community and finding a mate.

To prevent cockroaches from moving into your home, you need to remove food sources and seal up the cracks that they can slip through. This means cleaning up spills and crumbs promptly, keeping food in air-tight containers, and avoiding leaving dishes sitting out. You should also make sure to seal any entryways into your home, including gaps along window sills and door frames.

How They Get There

Cockroaches are excellent at finding food, shelter, and water and are a serious health risk because they spread disease, especially the potentially life-threatening salmonella. They also carry a variety of other bacteria, including E. coli, and can be responsible for food poisoning that leads to severe dehydration.

The best way to prevent cockroaches is by making sure you don’t bring them into your home in the first place. Cockroaches are very good at squeezing themselves into tiny cracks and crevices and between the joints of wooden floorboards or along wire and pipe entries. They can even climb up walls. But, more often than not, cockroaches venture in from the outdoors through vents and drains or through cracked windows and doors.

Outdoor cockroaches love moist environments, and they can live just about anywhere that has the right conditions for their survival, such as leaf piles, mulch, logs, and decaying ground cover. They can even thrive in a sewer system, where they’re likely to find plenty of food and water.

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Inside homes, cockroaches hide in small cracks and behind kitchen appliances, where they can access food scraps. They are also attracted to crumbs, pet food, cardboard, fungi, and toenail clippings. In summer, cockroaches are particularly active as they search for food and water and are more likely to be found scurrying around in damp areas.

Because cockroaches are very social creatures, a young roach that is left to mature on its own will struggle to survive. This is because a cockroach needs other cockroaches for food, protection, and a mate.

Cockroaches often hitch rides in food and packaging brought into the home, such as in cardboard boxes and sacks of groceries, and in second-hand goods, such as electrical items bought from an infested business. It’s impossible to fully check everything that comes into your home or office, but it’s a good idea to give garage sales and second-hand items a quick look over before you bring them in.

How to Get Rid of Cockroaches

Cockroaches are resilient and can survive just about anywhere, but they thrive in warm, humid environments where food and water are readily available. They’re also extremely adaptable and can hide in tiny crevices for extended periods of time. To keep them out, make your home less appealing by removing food sources, eliminating water sources, and sealing cracks where they may enter.

Cockroach infestations are common in apartments because they’re able to hitch rides into homes from nearby stores, deliveries, and airport luggage. Once inside your apartment, cockroaches can breed rapidly and spread throughout the space. They can also spread disease-causing pathogens that cause diarrhea, vomiting, and other health problems, including asthma, allergies, and skin rashes.

To prevent roaches from moving into your apartment, be sure to properly store and dispose of all groceries and food items, especially in the kitchen. Empty the garbage regularly and wipe down the sinks and counters after each use. Ensure pet food bowls and dishes are always cleaned and stored away, and no crumbs are left behind in the cabinets or on the floor. Regularly vacuum and sweep your carpeting, especially around furniture and along baseboards where crumbs can easily accumulate.

In addition, take steps to protect yourself and your belongings from cockroaches by sealing any gaps with caulk. Place cover plates (escutcheon plates) on points where plumbing or electrical wiring enters walls and put covers over vents outside your home to limit cockroach access.

Treat your house with an insect growth regulator to reduce the number of cockroaches in your home. These compounds, which are added to some cockroach pesticides, stunt the growth of the insects and break down their protective exoskeletons, making it easier to kill them. You can also add these compounds to your mopping solution and dust them on problem areas, such as cracks and crevices. You can find these products at most hardware and lawn and garden centers. Be sure to follow all label instructions carefully when using these products.