There are around 4,600 species of cockroaches, but thankfully only about 30 species are associated with human habitats. In Arizona, there are only about 20 species. These cockroaches are often referred to as sewer roaches or even water bugs, though the latter is because some cockroaches, like the Oriental cockroach in particular, are often mistaken for the Giant Water Bug due to how similar they look.
Now we all know how hardy cockroaches are. It’s often said that they can even survive a city devastated by a nuclear explosion – they can withstand exposure to extreme radiation to a certain extent, according to MythBusters.
But another not-so-fun fact about cockroaches is that they can survive underwater for quite some time. Fully submerged, they can “hold their breath” for about 40 minutes. This is because roaches don’t breathe through their mouths and they don’t have noses. What they have are called spiracles, which are holes in their sides. They can close these holes and stay fully submerged in water for about 40 minutes. It’s this same ability that lets them crawl through our house’s or apartment’s pipes and drains – a way of moving inside and outside dwelling spaces commonly attributed to American cockroaches.
A cockroach can survive without food for up to a month – this is because it actually gets most of its nutrients from the bacteria living on its body, and it can survive without water for about a week. If a cockroach loses its head for some reason, it can survive for quite some time before it dies of thirst. If you think about it, sewers are not only great highways for cockroaches, but also great places for them to live in. It’s dark, they can feed on accumulated gunk, and they have a source of water.
Drain cleaning, drain treatments, and drain traps go a long way to eliminating not only roaches but a number of other insects that spread disease and bacteria, and having clean pipes mean eliminating conditions where these insects may thrive. Also be sure to use a proper drain cover where roaches can’t easily slip through (and they can slip through extremely small spaces including openings 1/16 of an inch).
When cleaning these pipes and drains, make sure to wear gloves and a safety mask as the cleaning process may aerosolize pathogenic bacteria. Some pesticides can be used on drains, but make sure to read labels carefully before use.
Make sure your drain pipes are properly sealed. If you find any cracks or holes, seal them with appropriate caulk. That includes gaps or spaces between pipes and walls where cockroaches may come through. Fix leaky faucets and dripping pipes, and wrap insulation foam around pipes that produce condensation. Standing water attracts roaches, and removing possible sources of hydration for them will make them want to look for a more habitable dwelling.
They may also come through doors and windows, so invest in weatherstripping to secure gaps and be sure to use mesh on outside vents.
Roaches are one of the nastiest, dirtiest, and most disgusting creatures to have ever crawled this planet. They crawl through garbage and merrily spread bacteria and disease on your kitchen countertops, and when they’re feeling particularly devious, they take to the air and laugh as you run from the room screaming. They’re rarely good for anything, except maybe as fodder for exotic pets. That and, well, they are excellent recyclers, chewing up almost anything they can get their mouths on. Which really, makes them all the more gross (can you tell how much I dislike them?).
Some species of roaches like to get inside our houses and apartments, and I recently noticed that the dead ones I encounter expire belly side up, like the turtles I’ve seen in cartoons that flip over and can’t get back up. And I got to thinking, why is that? Some of these roaches have wings, like the American cockroach that is a common house invader. Surely they can wiggle their wings and get right back up? They didn’t just lie there and wait to die like the turtles in those cartoons, did they? Probably not.
One explanation is that it’s because they have top-heavy bodies, and only six thin and long legs. When they die and lose muscle control, their legs contract and tuck underneath their bodies, which causes them to roll over. That’s why you find them in this position in the morning.
This always seems to happen with roaches that die from insecticide too – and that’s likely because insecticide affects their nervous system, which eventually leads to them having muscle spasms. When they’re twitching through their last seconds on this earth, their top-heavy bodies usually topple over and they get to die staring at the sky and stars (well, most probably your ceiling, which is a considerably less pleasant view).
In nature, a cockroach’s journey through life often ends in a predators belly so we don’t actually get to witness many dead roaches lying motionless and facedown in the streets (of the jungle, I mean. Or the city – it’s really one and the same, don’t you think? I digress). But if they’re not actually dead and they just accidentally flipped over for whatever reason, there would likely be debris they can use to right themselves up again, like tall blades of grass, a fallen fruit, or the occasional crushed beer can. In our homes, in our flat floors and countertops and even relatively flat carpets, they wouldn’t have anything to use to try to right themselves up to perhaps die in a more dignified manner.
Another thing that may be interesting is that roaches have been witnessed to come out into the middle of the room to die. Unlike a lot of other insects and animals that “hide” when they think their time’s up, roaches tend to seek out open spaces. A possible explanation for this is because when they’ve been hit with insecticide, they get disoriented and “flee” their hiding spaces, like a roach version of the phrase “I need some air”.
While there are more than 4,500 species of cockroaches, the American and German roaches are two of the more easily identifiable ones you might find in your home.
The American cockroach is thought to have immigrated to the Americas or the New World around the 16th or 17th century AD. It is the largest of its brethren, measuring anywhere from 1 to 3 inches. They also get to live the longest at around 2 years, which indeed is a very long time for a typical cockroach. If this makes you want to knit a tiny wizard hat for these wizened creatures, you are not alone (maybe).
They are reddish brown in color, and have a yellowish margin or figure 8 pattern on the region just behind their heads. They have antennae, 6 legs, and are oval-shaped. Adult cockroaches have wings (their immature offspring do not). They are known as one of the fastest running insects. They are opportunistic feeders, and can eat anything from flakes of dried skin to other dead roaches.
The German cockroach, much like the American cockroach, may also feed on things that may surprise you – in the absence of readily available food from your trash, they have been observed to dine on soap or toothpaste. In a more extreme scenario, they may even turn cannibalistic and attack other live cockroaches in an attempt to dine on them.
The German cockroach is the most common cockroach to be found in residential homes, and you can recognize them by their light brown or tan coloring, as well as the 2 dark parallel stripes on their backs, same as where you would find the figure 8 pattern on the American cockroach. They’re smaller at an average of half an inch, and also have a significantly shorter lifespan compared to the burlier Americans at 100 to 200 days only.
While German cockroaches have wings, they rarely fly, preferring instead to stealthily dart between your furniture.
Aside from seeing these cockroaches in your home in the flesh, other signs that would point to you having them would be:
1. Their droppings, which may be mistaken for mouse droppings. These are pepper-like, or have ridges on the sides and are blunt on the ends.
2. They leave behind their long, brown-colored egg capsules glued to various surfaces, possibly near food sources.
3. They exude a musty smell.
When you see one cockroach, there’s likely a hundred more you don’t see. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional right away before you have a full-blown infestation on your hands.