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Prepare for the worst of the American cockroach

By Austin M. Frishman, Ph.D.

Last month I discussed the durability of the American cockroach, why they’re such a formidable foe and offered tips for handling this resilient pest. This month I’m going to provide a few examples of instances when I’ve observed these tips in action.

Massachusetts landfill

We were training technicians how to bait for rats in a Massachusetts landfill covered by more than six inches of snow. As we pulled back the snow cover, numerous American cockroaches scrambled from below and ran across the snow. The smoldering, fermenting garbage below provided the warmth, harborage and food they needed to survive. Even if conditions don’t seem favorable, cockroaches are incredible at finding what they need to survive.

Connecticut neighborhood

Once in mid-August, a Connecticut neighborhood was complaining about American cockroaches. A night inspection revealed thousands of cockroaches migrating from a nearby landfill. Hundreds of pounds of bait were needed to subdue the population, although it was impossible to eliminate them all. Sometimes jobs are much bigger than you suspect, so it’s always best to do a thorough inspection before giving an estimate.

Large apartment complexes across the country

I’ve frequently worked with large apartment complexes that have tried multiple pest management companies with no success. In one instance, despite previous efforts to eliminate them, American cockroaches continued to pop up on the upper floors.

We eventually found a break in the pipes on the fourth floor. Once the break was repaired and a plumber installed a special trap in the basement, the cockroaches could no longer enter the building. If a broken pipe is the culprit, you may need to work with plumbers to get it fixed.

Hospital kitchen

The only job I ever had nightmares about was an American cockroach inspection in a suburban hospital. The kitchen was on the ground floor and employees noted seeing cockroaches when they turned the lights on in the morning. I quickly realized the kitchen wasn’t on a concrete slab, but had a crawl space underneath.

Once I crawled in, the horror of the situation was apparent. The space housed well over half a million cockroaches. Adults were hanging on pillars and climbing on each other's backs. Large nymphs were crawling on top of caked sewage that had accumulated over many years. I broke the crust of the sewerage and thousands of American cockroach nymphs came out. Dead rats in the crawl area were keeping the cockroaches fed. It was a scene I will never forget, and a reminder to be prepared for the worst.

​​​​​​​All pest management professionals have stories about their most difficult cockroach job. Even when the source of the infestation has been discovered, it can be impossible to eliminate them completely. However, instances such as these serve to remind us what an important job we do.
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