THOMPSON: The ongoing war against cockroaches | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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THOMPSON: The ongoing war against cockroaches



Last count, about one-and-a-half million people live in the Hawaiian Islands. Another ten million folks - tourists seeking tropical paradise - visit there every year. But these numbers are dwarfed by the islands’ most plentiful inhabitants…cockroaches.

There are 19 different species of cockroaches in Hawaii. The islands are - excuse me - crawling with them…somewhere north of 20 million…though counting them must be a chore.

Cockroaches aren’t native to Hawaii, but people - first from Polynesia then the U.S. - brought them in luggage, on cargo ships and in cardboard moving boxes. Now the place is teeming with them.

I grew up in Florida - also a favourite retirement home for cockroaches - so I’m used to them. That doesn’t mean I like them…in fact, I hate them. But, Hawaii and Florida are perfect environments for roaches…warm, humid, a ready supply of food and not many natural predators.

Canada - particularly B.C. - doesn’t have nearly the cockroach problem, but plenty of Canadians go to Hawaii and Florida and their first visits are often shockers. Native Hawaiians call them B-52s…referring to the flying cockroaches…which are especially aggravating when they fly in your hair during a romantic late-night walk on the beach.

Image Credit: PEXELS/Egor Kamelev

Some cockroaches can reach two-inches in length…and anyone who has awakened from a good sleep with one crawling on them in the dark…well, let’s just say it’s not the experience you look for on your island vacation.

Cockroaches aren’t dangerous in and of themselves…they don’t bite or sting. But they pose health risks to humans just the same. Unlike mosquitos, cockroaches aren’t direct vectors of disease.

Instead, they leave a path of urine, feces, regurgitated saliva and digestive fluids that contain harmful agents that contaminate surfaces and indoor air. Also, a variety of pathogens attach to their Velcro-like legs and once ingested or breathed, can cause ailments ranging from Cholera and Dysentery to Listeriosis and Salmonellosis…even Leprosy…yes, Leprosy.

You’ll occasionally see a cockroach during the day…but they are night owls. About 75 percent of the time they’re resting…inactive. But go to a kitchen at 3 a.m., flick on the lights…and you’re likely to see a few scurrying around in search of darkness.

Cockroaches - on top of everything else - are creepy. Creepy isn't a scientific word, but a cockroach can live for about a week without a head, eventually dying from thirst and dehydration. Also, a cockroach can go without food for a month. Yeah, like I said, creepy.

You can get rid of them - even prevent them - with a regular pest control program…with bait and poison traps. But the quickest, most effective and economical way to rid yourself of cockroaches is to mix equal parts of boric acid, sugar and water…making a dough ball of sorts…then place them where roaches will find them. Cockroaches - drawn to the sugar - consume the boric acid which leads to a quick death from a thousand internal cuts.

Of course, my mother - who passed along her hatred of cockroaches to me - used to keep our house so clean doctors could operate in our kitchen. She threatened us kids not to leave crumbs and sugar around…and on the rare occasion when she saw a cockroach…her scream would cause it to bleed to death on the spot.

Other than my mother, the most effective cockroach killer - and certainly the most macabre one - is the Emerald Cockroach Wasp or Jewel Wasp…a solitary species.

Stephen King couldn’t come up with a more bizarre and gruesome way of killing cockroaches. The female Jewel Wasp - scientific name Ampulex compressa - doesn’t pursue humans aggressively but it lives to hunt cockroaches.

But rather than kill the cockroach outright, the Jewel Wasp sneaks up behind it and bites into its back…temporarily immobilizing it. Then, with incredible precision she stings the cockroach’s thoracic ganglia…think of it as spinal anesthesia on a human.

The cockroach is paralyzed just long enough for the wasp to sting once again…this time the exact spot in the cockroach’s brain…shutting down its escape and self-preservation reflexes.

What next? Well, the wasp bites the roach’s antennae drinking the hemolymph - think of it as blood - and after feeding itself, grabs the cockroach by the remaining stump of an antennae…and like a dog on a leash…walks it to its lair.

Once there, the wasp lays two eggs between the roach’s legs, which hatch and the larvae begin feeding on the roach…slowly eating their way up into its abdominal cavity. It forms a cocoon, and in about 13 days…emerges as an adult wasp…feeding all the while on the roach. Stephen King…eat your heart out…well, you know what I mean.

And how can larvae live inside a dying cockroach? After all, the cockroach is full of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and dangerous microbes. The larvae produce a clear liquid in their mouths and spit droplets and smear them all over a roach’s remaining viscera…that’s right…a natural disinfectant.

Hey, if you’re a roach-hater like me, you might say…simply get a whole bunch of wasps and turn them loose on Hawaii and Florida. Oh, were it that simple.

Jewel wasps are highly territorial…and won’t share their hunting grounds with other wasps. Also, the wasps simply can’t hunt on a large enough scale to make a big difference. Hawaii would need millions of them. Then what? Messing with Mother Nature rarely comes to much good.

So, get out the sugar and boric acid. It’s gonna be a long war…cockroaches have been around for about 130 million years.

— Don Thompson, an American awaiting Canadian citizenship, lives in Vernon and in Florida. In a career that spans more than 40 years, Don has been a working journalist, a speechwriter and the CEO of an advertising and public relations firm. A passionate and compassionate man, he loves the written word as much as fine dinners with great wines.

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