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November 29, 2010 8:49 PM   Subscribe

CockroachCuriosityFilter: was this critter sick, dumb, or really brave?

I just experienced a New York City rite of passage and saw a cockroach in my bathroom for the first time. I'm going to sign up on the building exterminator sheet tomorrow, food's already packed up in plastic containers, etc., but I have a question about this particular little guy.

I've always heard that roaches are super fast and hate light, but when I walked into the bathroom and turned on the overhead light, it just kind of stood there on the floor. I was able to get within a foot of it before it moved, and even then it only sort of slowly trundled in the opposite direction, climbed up the wall a little bit, and then came back down to the floor. It didn't even really seem to notice me until I started kicking at it. Is that a normal thing roaches do? Was he the bravest little roach in Manhattan? Or was this one defective or ill in some way?

If it matters, it was little (less than an inch long), and I'm guessing it got into my bathroom via the space around the radiator pipe in the floor, otherwise I would have noticed it during what apparently would have been an hour-long trip for it from my kitchen.
posted by oinopaponton to Pets & Animals (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Could it be a water bug roach? When I was a kid, we had water bugs, and I don't remember them being particularly fast or scared of me. I think I was more afraid of them!
posted by two lights above the sea at 8:59 PM on November 29, 2010

When I see a mammal that does that, I typically suspect it has rabies. I would stay away from it.
posted by HuronBob at 9:09 PM on November 29, 2010

My general experience with roaches (long in the past, thankfully) is that they would haul ass for the nearest exit when light hit, so it seems very possible it was old/sick/debilitated in some way. However, bugs like roaches are mostly operating on a more or less hard-wired set of survival instincts so you might have just caught it in a glitchy moment/situation where it didn't have the clear signals to kick its escape instinct in in an efficient manner. I doubt there's any room in a roach brain for anything complex like "bravery" (I know, you're mostly joking). The slowest seemingly healthy roach I ever saw was burdened with a big ol' egg case, so, you know, ick, maybe.
posted by nanojath at 9:14 PM on November 29, 2010

(If your building spraying in other units it could be this guy or girl already had some nasty chemicals messing up its neurology).
posted by nanojath at 9:16 PM on November 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

Cockroaches in Sydney are always slower and less common in winter.
posted by trialex at 9:17 PM on November 29, 2010

I think that the reports you've received of a cockroach's agility have been greatly exaggerated. I have, in old apartments, had the exact same experience of watching a cockroach freeze when the light's turned on and then ineffectually try to escape when I get too close. I think they get the reputation of being fast because their disgusting little legs scurry very quickly, but the combined effect, is not all that impressive to behold.

As an aside, I've found the best way to kill one without making any bodily contact (IE: kicking it, gross) is to come down upon it numerous times with the bristles of a broom. If you just kind of. . . stab it with the broom over and over again, that usually kills it pretty quickly, leaves a minimal amount of cockroach goo and bodyparts.

Having a cat helps too. My cat eats them.
posted by orville sash at 9:18 PM on November 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'd say almost certainly poisoned or dehydrated or diseased. Roaches have neural paths wired directly from eyes to leg muscles. It starts running almost before it knows it saw something. If it seems slow, something's wrong with it.
posted by rainy at 9:24 PM on November 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

FYI, "water bugs" are "roaches" in NYC. These are what we mean when we say "roach."

But yeah, it is probably dying if it doesn't run away from the light.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 10:42 PM on November 29, 2010

Best answer: Poison often doesn't kill 'em, just makes them stagger out into the light all stupid.
posted by desuetude at 10:59 PM on November 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Mrs. VTX, who used to help train exterminators, says that orthene or one of the other chemicals exterminators use that shuts down the nervous system could certainly cause that.

She also says that you always refer to them as "Cockroach", not "roach", as per training department guidelines, all violators must put $1 in the pot (don't worry, we get to spend it on something fun at the end of training!).
posted by VTX at 7:07 AM on November 30, 2010

Response by poster: I just checked, and the building last sprayed a week ago. I must've caught the little guy on his last tour of the premises.
posted by oinopaponton at 9:23 AM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, New York cockroaches can be lazy and casual. I've seen it. They tend to get more cocky the longer they've been established and the more numerous they are. Most will still scurry, but some are happy to potter around on the surfaces, or just sit there defiantly. Still, it makes it easier to splatter the buggers.

By the way, the once-a-month apartment exterminator routine is next to useless if you have a bad infestation. The only thing that really sets them back - for a few months, at least - is to take everything out of the kitchen and bathroom, throw open the oven and cupboard doors, set off a couple of those fogger things, spend the night at a hotel, come back the next day, thoroughly wipe down all surfaces, put lines of Bicarb of Soda powder along the walls and by the fridge, cooker and so on, put your stuff back. That nails them. But they'll be back.
posted by Decani at 2:20 PM on November 30, 2010

Response by poster: By the way, the once-a-month apartment exterminator routine is next to useless if you have a bad infestation.

I'd have seen more than one roach in the five months I've been here if I had a real infestation, right? Not too worried about that (though I harbor no illusions about my building being totally roach-free and am keep a clean kitchen for that very reason)-- just looking for explanations of this one's behavior.
posted by oinopaponton at 3:08 PM on November 30, 2010

Once had a SERIOUS roach infestation, fed by the condemned house next door. Switched exterminators twice, and finally went with the most expensive, since the bargain chains weren't cutting it.

That inspector came, and conquered. After her, I only saw one more adult roach. It was staggering on the stairs in broad daylight. The juveniles I saw were deformed, and they disappeared after a week or so, too.

So, my experience agrees: bold, broad-daylight roaches = seriously damaged (whether by insecticides, or parasites, as happens in mice and snails).
posted by IAmBroom at 3:17 PM on November 30, 2010

He was probably out of his mind on roachkillers.

Of course, as I type this I can't get the image of one of my favorite comics from my youth out of my mind. The No Wax Killing Floor tells the story of Harvey, a young cockroach who decides to run with a bad crowd and gets a little too high on roach killer only to discover that "There's no such thing as a lucky cockroach."

Your little friend probably discovered the same thing.
posted by teleri025 at 6:56 PM on November 30, 2010

Response by poster: AHHHH! I just found another one in broad daylight, twitching on its back in the middle of my kitchen floor until I sprayed the shit out of it with windex and squashed it with a bottle of laundry detergent. I guess that's more evidence for "they're all dying slow miserable deaths from poison," but ew. Ew. Not a fan. Any tips for hunting down which neighbor is sending me these little ambassadors? (Kidding, mostly)
posted by oinopaponton at 12:40 PM on December 2, 2010

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