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What Do Cockroaches Eat?

By Chris Williams on January 22, 2015.
cockroaches on white bread

Cockroaches feeding on white bread and crackers

What don’t cockroaches eat? In entomology lingo, we categorize cockroaches as “scavengers.” They will eat most anything if it is of plant or animal origin. That includes all of the things that we normally eat, and many things that we wouldn’t dream of eating. A good cigar is nothing but dried plant leaves, a bar of soap is pressed fats or oils, wallpaper paste is flour and water and sugar. All food in a different form, and fair game to a cockroach.

Cockroach Diets According to the Literature

“Cockroaches thrive on garbage but will scavenge almost anything: wool, soap, paint, grain, leather (especially old shoes and rare book bindings), cigar butts, orchid buds, coffee grounds, even their own eggs and cast-off skin, but especially anything that has been touched by glue or flour paste. Postage stamps are a rare cockroach delicacy…” [Bill Ballantine. Nobody Loves a Cockroach. 1967]

Cockroaches eat whatever is available in households of their time, “bark, leaves, the pith of living cycads, paper, woolen clothes, sugar, cheese, bread, blacking, oil, lemons, ink, flesh, fish, leather,” [I.A.C. Miall and Alfred Denny. The Structure and Life History of the Cockroach. 1886]

Why Cockroaches Aren’t Found in Banks

Ballantine (Nobody Loves a Cockroach) has his own simplistic theory of why cockroaches become problems in certain sites:

“There is no record of a single cockroach ever found in a bank. A cockroach would perish in a bank, for in order to swallow its food it must have liquid. There is nothing for a cockroach to drink in a bank. No water fountain, no inviting puddles of stale beer, no bottle and shot glass hidden in desk drawers—not even in the innermost sanctum. Bankers don’t even drink cambric tea on the job. Nor is there anything to eat in a bank. What banker deigns to carry his lunch? You never see a banker sitting behind his polished mahogany desk taking 6 percent bites out of a peanut butter sandwich or a lettuce-tomato-and-mayonnaise on rye.”

“There are more cockroaches in churches than in banks, because churches are always having covered-dish suppers, box socials, and holy communions—and sometimes parishioners bring peanuts or potato chips to nibble on in the back pews.”

If You Feed Them, They Will Come

The above is tongue-in-cheek, of course, but pretty much says it all. Cockroaches, like all insects, need food and water. If one or the other is not available, cockroaches can’t survive for any length of time. If both are available in abundance, cockroaches can thrive. This is why sanitation, especially garbage handling and cleaning up food spills, is such an important part of cockroach control…no matter the site.

Photo: Clemson University – USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series, Bugwood.org

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