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Ridding Your Home of Cockroaches (Podcast)

By Chris Williams on December 4, 2019.

Depending on what type of roach infestation you have, it may or may not be a big deal! Zach Cyrus, Quality Manager with Colonial Pest Control, discusses the types of roaches found in New England and how to get rid of them. Listen or read more to find out about ridding your home of cockroaches.

John Maher: Hi. I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Zach Cyrus, Quality Manager with Colonial Pest Control. Today our topic is ridding your home of cockroaches. Welcome, Zach.

Zach Cyrus: Thank you very much.

John: Sure. Zach, are cockroaches a problem for homeowners even up north where we are in colder climates?

Zach: Oh yeah, for sure. They absolutely are. I should say they can be. Depends on what cockroach you’re talking about.

Types of Cockroaches in New England

John: What are some of the different types of cockroaches, and what ones do we have here in New England?

Zach: What we’re seeing a lot right now as we’re entering the fall and into the winter, spring and fall is where we see a lot of these, is the wood roach or the Pennsylvania Wood Roach. Very common cockroach. It looks just like the kind of roaches that you’d see infesting apartments in cities and really causing major headaches and health problems, but the Wood Roach is like a grasshopper. Guys like shiny things, so the males maybe with a few fewer brain cells, they see something shiny, maybe a light on in the kitchen to the bathroom, they fly towards it, get inside, wander around and die.

They’re not really a real issue as far as infesting inside of a home. They’re more an indicator that there is a population on the outside. Inside of a home, they can’t breathe. They won’t reproduce inside the house. You’re generally just dealing with the males who can’t reproduce on their own anyway, but they can be concerning to homeowners.

I spoke with somebody on the phone yesterday. He was willing to pay anything to take care of these cockroaches. We’ll just get you on the maintenance program. I took a look at the roach. I said, ‘That’s just so Wood Roach. No reason to be concerned.’ Treat the outside. One of the big things that we really encourage at Colonial is education of the customers. We’re constantly educating ourselves and our technicians, but educating the customers is the major part of the process as well.

Telling them this is not one of those German roaches you’ve been hearing about. This isn’t the one that you may have seen in your college dorm. This isn’t the one that in your first apartment in the city that you were inundated with. Just a Wood Roach. Think of it like a grasshopper, very closely related to grasshoppers and crickets are cockroaches. Where they breed is in leaf litter on the outside. Organic mulch, especially if there’s big shrubs, big deciduous plants that drop their leaves every year, create that leaf litter. There’s a warm environment, moist environment, decaying, organic, vegetative matter. This is where these wood roaches, or the Pennsylvania Wood Roach in particular, breed and hang out, and that’s where they’re infesting, but they’re not really investing. It’s just an occasional invader when they’re inside of a house.

Whatever we can do is two-fold on the outside of the house: eliminate or limit the harborage areas. That’s leaf litter, the organic matter, the things that breed a moist, wet environment with decaying vegetative matter. Also, creating a barrier around the exterior of the house, a chemical barrier, is what we would do. A preventive maintenance program . . . come out twice a year. Spring and fall are the target time, so that’s a perfect target time for things leaving and getting into the house. We do a perimeter treatment of the house, foundation, around the doors and the windows, accessible eaves, all that kind of fun stuff where these males would be flying towards the house to try to get inside the house. Find those cracks and crevices. When they get there, there’ll be met with a chemical barrier.

Create a Chemical Barrier to Keep Wood Roaches Out

John: Right. Do you do that like around the windows and things like that as well? If they’re looking for the light, I would imagine that they’re kind of flying near the where the windows are, and then they’re kind of crawling in through the crevices?

Zach: That’s it. Yep. A chemical barrier around the doors and windows. Doing some caulking for more mechanical exclusion. Thought process can also be a big help. If the doors and windows have gaps around and where they haven’t been caulked up, maybe there’s some new trim on it or a ripped screen, those are things that we’ll point out to the homeowner say, ‘Our chemical treatment will go a long way in helping, but for the next step, let’s get some caulking around this. Let’s seal it up a little bit better.’ Those are the ways to keep the wood roaches out of the house. The ones that they look like, and unless you know what you’re looking for, they look almost identical to the German roaches.

Get to Know the German Roach

Zach: The German roaches, those are the ones that get into the apartments, get into homes, get into restaurants and manufacturing facilities and anywhere. They’re very, like the Germans, they’re very efficient and your great clockmakers. They know how to make the best of the resources. The German roaches, they are very . . . they take advantage of whatever you can give them. Much like a rat, they’ll feed on anything. They’ll feed on fresh food, rotten food, decaying vegetable matter, decaying animal matter. They’ll feed on even droppings, excrement from different animals. One thing that the German roaches do feed on is mouse droppings. A lot of times in especially more urban environments, you’ll have mouse droppings within the apartments. You’ll also have the cockroaches, the German cockroaches, feeding on the excrement from the mice, and then the mice are feeding on the cockroaches because cockroaches are full of protein.

Everybody makes the joke that if you have an insect in your sandwich or you fly in your soup, it’s just extra protein. They’re really protein rich. You’ll have a lot of mice feeding on the cockroach, and the cockroach feeding on excrement for the mice. It’s a very symbiotic relationship.

Mice and Roaches Often Found Together

John: All right. They kind of compound each other. If you have one, you might have the other and vice versa?

Zach: Yeah, yep, yep. What we always do always get a proper identification first. If it’s a Wood Roach, that’s easy. No need to worry. More of the maintenance program aspect and habitat alteration on the outside of the house. The German roaches habitat alteration on the inside, limit the food source as much as possible. Reduce the clutter as much as possible. They like porous materials. If you have a lot of cardboard or old newspapers, or old mail letters stacked together, each layer can be another area for the cockroaches to hang out.

They have a behavioral descriptor saying the thigmotactic. Something that’s thigmotactic likes to be touched on all sides. They kind of like to be hugged and snuggled. We were talking about our kids before this, and you know I have a newborn. She likes to be swaddled. She likes to feel that tightness on all sides. Same with the cockroaches. They like to be touched on all sides, even to the point where if they don’t have those layers of material to hide inside, they’ll congregate together and press up against each other because they like that thigmotactic experience being touched on all sides nice and tight, and they feel safe that way.

Other Common Roaches

John: Interesting. Any other types of roaches that we tend to see in New England besides the wood roaches and the German roaches?

Zach: Yeah, there’s two other roaches that are larger down South. They have so many nicknames, water bugs, Palmetto bugs, those kinds of things. Typically, the water or Palmetto bug, that’s a really an American cockroach. The American cockroach is not a major outside pest in New England. You can see him outside more in the summer, the warmer months, but they’re active year-round in the sewer systems. When you have city sewer, the older buildings, downtown Manchester, New Hampshire, Worcester, Mass., Boston, Mass. where you have a lot of sewers that kind of tie in together, if one person on the block has American cockroaches breeding in their sewer, they’ll travel to everybody. If there’s any access points, any broken pipes, any loose dry wall around a pipe, an exit, a drain or something like that, the cockroaches will come out. The American cockroaches there are large. German and a Wood Roach, they may be a quarter inch to half an inch, a half an inch as a full-grown adult.

Typically, the American cockroach, they can be about an inch and a half long. They’re usually a dark brown or a dark tan. No real obvious discerning stripes on them or dots on them, anything like that where the German roach has the two stripes of like the little racing stripes on the back of the head. We call them, we say it’s on the pronotal shield. It’s the segment between the head and the wing pad. The Wood Roach doesn’t have those two stripes. The German roach does have those two stripes. If you’re seeing something inside the house, check the back of the head. If they have the two dark stripes, it might be your German, might be something to really act on more, more swiftly than a Wood Roach.

The American roach, dark brown to a light brown. Pretty standard pattern, pretty standard. It could almost be reddish as well, but they can also breed, and they’re prolific. They travel very, very quickly through sewer systems, so they can be a larger nuisance where you’re not going to have the population build up as much as you would have the German roach at least inside the house or the apartment.

It can be a concern. It can be an issue more to address the sewer system and what happened, what’s going wrong, where they’re coming out from the sewer system. The other roach is not quite large, but it’s pretty large. About an inch, inch and a quarter is the Oriental Cockroach, and that’s a dark, dark brown, almost black in color. Those ones are also more in the cities in the sewer systems coming out less reliably than a German or even an American cockroach. They will come out, especially lower levels, older buildings . . . a dark, damp undisturbed sites similar to the American cockroach. They can breed outside, they can be outside. In New England, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, we typically see these inside sewer systems inside cities.

How to Get Rid of Roaches

John: Okay. In terms of . . . if I see that I have roaches maybe in my house, you said one of the things that I could do myself maybe would just be making sure that I have my yard really clear of all that leaf litter and things like that and get that away from the house? Then, would the next step really be to call somebody like yourself and to find out what type of roach that I have? Do I really have a problem maybe with the German roaches, et cetera? Then have you do those chemical barriers and caulking and things like that to try to exclude them from the home?

Zach: Yeah. Give us a call, even info@colonialpast.com. Send us a picture. Actually, I’m looking at my phone right now, and I just got an insect that somebody sent in to identify. We do this all the time, and we’re pretty quick about getting back to people. If you live in our service area, info@colonialpest.com, send us a picture and say, ‘Hey, what’s this? Do I need to be worried? What are the next steps?’ Identification is always a first.

Habitat alteration as you mentioned. Making sure that your house isn’t set up for a problem. Your house is set up for success outside and inside. Clutter, leaf litter, everything like that. Moisture is a big driving factor. This habitat alteration is huge, but then that next step is once we know what the insect is, how are we going to approach it? If it’s a Wood Roach, an American Roach, or an Oriental Roach coming from the outside, those are areas where the chemical barrier on the outside and maybe even some granular bait and really educating what else can be done with a habitat to keep them away from the house. We can do those things. The German roaches respond really well to baits inside houses and apartments. Have to be smart about the baits though. A lot of the over-the-counter baits or even the industry baits that we’ve been using for years, they’re both becoming resistant to it and averse to them.

We’re seeing situations where it’s the active ingredient that they’re becoming resistant to where the roaches can eat it, but the active ingredient isn’t working to eliminate those roaches. Also, we’re seeing cases where they’ve become wise to the food matrix that the active ingredient is in even if the active ingredient is functioning still. They’re not eating the bait. They both need to eat the bait and for the active ingredient to work. If you’re a wide receiver on the football team, your job is two-fold: Get open and catch the ball. If you can’t get open, if you’re not eating the bait, the second part isn’t going to matter all that much. We’re working on we’re cycling through different baits. We have a few different baits in our catalog right now that we’ll cycle through so that we’re not building resistance with the German roaches inside the house.

Baiting can sometimes alone do it, but we always we want to make sure that we’re giving our customers the best chance for success. We use the baits for the roaches to eat, and then once they eat it, there’s Coprophagia, Trophallaxis and Necrophagia. Those are three words that basically mean when roaches eat it, they will share it from the front end, from the back end. Then once the Roach has expired, the other roaches, the living roaches will eat that dead roach. They’re sharing the baits. One roach that eats the bait can theoretically kill 50 other roaches just by the excrement, the vomit, and the dead body that the other roaches are going to consume. Like I said, they’re scavengers. They’ll eat anything. Those bait programs are highly effective.

We’re adding a lot of them insect growth regulators. Generally, an insect growth regulator is going to be a juvenile growth hormone mimic. It’s something in an insect that doesn’t translate to our biology, but we can interrupt the molting patterns and the reproductive patterns and the eating patterns of a cockroach by using different insect growth regulators or IGRs. We’re also using some spray applications. Now if you go to the corner store or the grocery store or the hardware store, you’ll have a variety of different sprays to use. The biggest thing I can tell a homeowner if they have German roaches inside their house or apartment is don’t use those. Don’t use the bombs, don’t use the sprays, don’t use anything that’s going to chase them around, both for resistance, the chance of building . . . them building resistance, but also we don’t want to chase them away from where they are.

They have congregation pheromones that the urine and the feces, they congregate in the same areas with those smells so that we know where they are. I’d rather, when you go fishing, to use another analogy, when you go fishing, the best place to fish is where the fish are. That’s the only way you’re going to have success. If you’re chasing the fish all the way around, you’re not going to have good luck. With cockroaches, you don’t want to chase them around. You want to use their behavior against them. When we do use a spray application in addition to the baits and the insect growth, regulators we’ll usually use a non-repellent spray. There’s a couple of really good ones on the market we’ve had really good success with. As long as we have proper preparation with our customers and we always give them the full rundown, we give them a full sheet to follow so we can do the spray application in a safe and effective way.

With a non-repellent they can walk across it and not know that they’ve been exposed to anything, not be chased around, not make the bait tastes like poison. One of the biggest factors that I see when we have a failure in the bait program is we bait and then the homeowner or the tenant, they take out their gallon jug of spray or their bomb or their can of aerosol, and they go over our baits with the sprays. It’s like that was a delicious last meal. If they eat it, they’re done-zo. If they don’t eat it, it’s not going to work. If you don’t get open and catch, you can’t catch the ball. We need to keep this bait fresh and attractive to the cockroaches to make it a delicious last meal.

John: Wow, that’s really great information, Zach. Thanks again for talking to me about cockroaches. I appreciate it.

Zach: Thanks, John.

John: For more information, you can visit the Colonial Pest Control website at colonialpest.com or call 1-800-525-8084. That’s 1-800-525-8084

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