Cockroaches

Cockroaches have survived on the earth for more than 300 million years virtually without change. They are survivors, and will likely be with us for a few more million years, but that does not mean we should accept their presence and allow them to run our schools and childcare centers.

Not only do roaches eat (and excrete on) our paper products, boxes, and food, but through spreading their filth and contaminating our food and environment with a variety of human pathogens, cohabitating with cockroaches can be detrimental to human health. Up to 50% of asthmatics, as well as many others, develop allergic sensitivities to the presence of cockroaches, and roaches will elicit far more potent reactions from most asthmatics than other substances to which they are sensitive. Roaches are proven vectors of bacteria, fungi, and viruses. In addition to spreading Salmonella, which causes food poisoning, they also carry Streptococcus, Staphylococcus, Clostridium, and Coliform bacteria, the tubercle bacillus, and other bacteria and pathogens which may cause abscesses, boils, Bubonic plague, diarrhea, dysentery, gastroenteritis, intestinal infections, leprosy, lesions, Typhoid fever, and urinary tract infections. Cockroaches have also been implicated in the spread of hepatitis. Thus, control of roaches in schools and childcare centers should be a major concern for the health of children and staff.

There are four cockroach species commonly found infesting Indiana schools. These are the German cockroach (Blattella germanica), the American cockroach (Periplanets americana), the Oriental cockroach (Blatta orientalis), and the Brown-banded cockroach (Supella longipalpa). Except for size, they are all fairly similar in appearance.

The German cockroach is about one half-inch long as an adult. Females will produce from four to eight egg capsules in a lifetime, with each capsule containing between 30 and 40 eggs. Eggs hatch one day after being deposited. Like most types of cockroaches, they tend to aggregate together when not foraging. For the German roach, this is essential for mating because the different sexes need to touch antennae and exchange sex pheromones to initiate mating. Male nymphs will molt (shed their skin as they develop and grow) six times, and females seven times, before reaching adulthood. These roaches will be found anywhere there is food.

The adult American cockroach is large, from 1 1/3 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Females will produce one egg capsule, containing, on average, 14 eggs, about once a week. Nymphs need to molt 13 times before reaching adulthood, so depending on conditions, they take between 16 to 20 months to fully mature. Their entire lifespan is 20-21 months. American cockroaches like to inhabit places where they have access to the outdoors, or which are hot and humid, such as boiler rooms, water heater closets and rooms, warm moist basements, sumps, and floor drains.

Oriental cockroach adult males are around one-inch long, and females 1 1/4 inches long. The females will only produce egg capsules from spring to midsummer. The eggs hatch two months after being deposited. Nymphs molt 7-10 times before reaching adulthood. Throughout winter and into early spring, only adults will be found, but by late spring, nymphs are readily abundant. By late summer, the adults are dying off so that by fall, all adults found are from the new generation. Like the American roach, Oriental roaches will come and go from the outside. They are frequently found in crawl spaces, around foundations, in basements, and in floor drains that drain directly outside. They also tend to congregate by garbage cans. While most roaches are a reddish-brown to dark brown, these roaches are very dark brown to almost black, and are more sensitive to a lack of water.

Brown-banded cockroaches are similar in size and appearance to German roaches, with adults being about one-half inch long. Females will deposit 14 egg cases during their life, each having 13 to 18 eggs within. Eggs hatch around 50 days after being deposited. Nymphs molt six to eight times before maturity, and once mature, the males will fly. These roaches seem especially attracted to the warmth of appliances or equipment motors. They may be found even by the small motors of electric clocks.

Cockroaches are basically tropical insects and will do their best to find a home that is both warm and moist. They are especially attracted to wet areas and will be found in abundance near leaking faucets or pipes, wet sponges, persistently damp corners, areas where there is frequently standing water, or areas where continual moisture is usually available, such as drains, kitchens, bathrooms, and maintenance rooms with sink traps. Water and steam pipes frequently serve as migration routes from room to room.

Roaches also seek out tight, dark places to hide. They are very averse to light and are most active at night and in places where light does not penetrate. Roaches (especially German roaches) prefer to be touching as many surfaces as possible and will rarely venture into the open away from a wall or object. They are fond of tight crevices and cracks where they can hide while touching multiple surfaces. Clutter along walls makes for adequate hiding places.

In addition to being light sensitive, cockroaches are also very sensitive to movement, which makes them difficult to catch. They are able to sense someone approaching through vibration in the floor, or through slight air movements, long before their attacker is close.

Unfortunately it doesn't take much to keep roaches fed. They are able to survive on a wide variety of foods, such as fruit, bread, sweets, grease, vegetables, cereal, pet food, garbage, tobacco, paper, books, or glue. Anything which humans will eat, roaches will too. One of the reasons that they are so hard to get rid of is their ability to find food almost anywhere. Another reason is that they can survive long periods between meals. The American cockroach can survive 3-6 weeks without taking in any food or water, and the German cockroach can survive at least two weeks without sustenance.

The first step in attempting to prevent or get rid of a roach infestation is thorough sanitation. Try to make the facility meticulously clean. Clean all undersurfaces in the kitchen, cafeteria, and bathrooms. Store all food in tightly sealed containers (including pet food in classrooms). Clean all spills and food residue as soon as possible. Remove garbage daily before dusk when roaches begin foraging, and clean garbage and trash receptacles frequently. Remove all clutter.

The next step, eliminating roach habitat and migration pathways, is equally important. Do not store materials or boxed items on the floor. Get rid of all cardboard - place boxed items into a sealed plastic or metal container, or remove the items from boxed storage and place them on a shelf. Eliminating sources of moisture is crucial. Fix leaky or dripping faucets and pipes. Screen drains, and overflow pipes. Drain overflow water away from the building. Keep areas which are frequently humid or wet cool and well-ventilated. Place garbage receptacles in dry areas only to prevent easy access to food and water in the same vicinity. Fill cracks in floors, walls, and cabinets with putty or caulk to deprive roaches of their hiding places. Caulk around pipes which run through walls, floors, or ceilings. If the space where pipes pass through is too large to caulk, stuff steel wool into the opening. Place insulation foam or tape around cold water pipes which may perspire. Be sure not to leave any standing water (buckets, sinks, water bowls for pets, etc.)

Each school should maintain a program of monitoring for cockroaches to determine population levels, and where they are located. This can be done with roach traps. Whenever a roach is discovered, call the IPM Coordinator. S/he will be able to determine the species of roach, and the proper response method. If the roach discovered is a random individual from a species which normally does not enter buildings, then no response is warranted. Different problem species require different responses. The IPM Coordinator will supervise all response actions based on the roach species and population level. This supervision is not an option. Most roach treatment measures within a school or childcare facility require a licensed professional.

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