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Cockroach Wars

It is warm and humid here. Both my home and my workplace are full of little bits of food, the perfect microclimates for many of the organisms that have learned how to survive and even thrive on the scraps left behind by humanity. Arizona, in contrast, was generally too dry for them, although we had an impressively horrible cockroach infestation in the lab where I started my dissertation research.

I don't know if the house's cockroach infestation is carryover from previous occupants, if it was caused by the cockroach-infested coffee table, or if it got established more recently. These are probably German cockroaches, which love to hang out in the humid spaces in houses (kitchens, bathrooms). They don't do as well outside, so they are generally spread from house to house when someone brings in something that has roach eggs on it.

All I know is, managing an infestation at home will be even more of a pain than trying to deal with the fruit flies (which are pretty much under control by now, thankyouverymuch!). It's going to involve cleaning out all of the grooves in the shower doors, sealing up all of the nooks and crannies in the old kitchen cupboards, and probably figuring out how to set up and maintain some boric acid baits. I've been trying to pare down items in the pantry for a long time in part so that the kitchen is easier to manage and keep clean. The tea cupboard is next on that list. Apparently the wee roachies will often start to get creative when they start to get desperate, doing things like eating the glue from tin can labels and such. So I am putting things into sealed glass and plastic containers and trying to clean up spills promptly. I found a sizeable collection of roaches living in the refrigerator door when I changed out the door seal; the seal was in such bad shape that they were getting into the fridge. Yeah. All makings for another fun weekend project. Oh, a mouse has also gotten in, despite the cat.

The workplace infestation likely has its origins in somebody's previous research program. Just about every single biology building I've ever been in has a cockroach problem. Just a fact of life. Even if one research group is fastidiously clean, doing molecular work where dust motes create contamination problems, chances are good there's another group down the hall trying to raise some sort of animal that isn't as clean. Plus, don't ever open refrigerators in break rooms, or peer into trash cans - they often contain loads of yummy insect snacks. A couple of experimental roaches escape, and get established, and then that's all she wrote. Our PI here is trying to get us to keep things cleaner in the lab so as to manage our cockroach population to more acceptable levels. Given that we study nutrition in insects, we have a LOT of delicious insect food lying around, so it's no surprise that the cockroaches have set up shop here. There's a high chance that, even if I manage to get the population at home under control, things will just get reinfested when a roach sneaks some eggs into my panniers and I bring them home.

Four or five years ago, a friend called me in a panic because he'd found a cockroach or two in his house. I spent some time reading about them, and learned that the main reason they're considered a pest species is because of their psychological effects. They don't carry as many diseases that can be transmitted to humans as other insects like flies do. Some people do develop allergies to them, and I can tell you from my days in that first research lab that they produce a distinctive odor that is unpleasant. Knowing that, I've generally remained calm about them.

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October 2019


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