Do I really need to address the cockroach problem?
May 14, 2012 7:44 AM   Subscribe

Today I saw a cockroach. It's huge. (3 inches?) But I mean - it's just a cockroach, right? RIGHT?

As a rule, I am way more freaked out by dead bugs than live ones. In three years in this apartment, this is the only cockroach I've ever seen, and that's something I can live with. I don't want to call my landlord or fumigate or put down traps that I'll eventually have to clean.

So, at the risk of sounding like a gross person - how much do I really need to worry about cockroaches? If I just do nothing, can anything bad actually happen to me/my stuff/the apartment? Is cockroach elimination a purely aesthetic choice, or am I going to contract a terrible cockroach-borne illness and die if I don't get rid of these guys?
posted by goodbyewaffles to Home & Garden (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You do want to kill them. Their scat and such can cause flare ups in asthma and allergies.

It may look like just the one, but it's not. I've only seen palmetto bugs down here (three inches) and Oriental (small black, attracted to decaying people food) and another one (brown, rounded, likes mulch); for them I Put out small roach baits (little circle things with bait) and spray Orange Guard around where they like to come in.

Next time you clean out your cabinets and kitchen and bath, do a regular soap and water clean, hit under cabinets and stuff with something like Orange Guard (don't over do it, your eyes will burn). It's supposedly food safe; I spray it on the floors and doors where the critters like to come in and then wipe up the greasy residue after a while (leavig it in the crevices). I reapply a couple times a year and during rainy weeks (bear in mind I'm in a subtropical suburbia on the ground floor). I also spray it around the water intake points (under the sink, at the washer intake and outlet, at the toilet overflow pipe).
posted by tilde at 7:50 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

You're not going to die, but your neighbors will hate you if you don't do anything about it.
posted by empath at 7:52 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

There is no such thing as just A cockroach. And you need to eliminate them asap. There is no option.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:54 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

The answer may depend on where you live. At least where I live (Texas), those big roaches tend to stay outdoors, but there's not much you can do to present the occasional one from wandering in. It is the little guys, the German Cockroaches, that signal that you've got a real problem + infestation -- they do live in your house.

I hate hate hate roaches more than anything, and I do put out roach bait, because even if the big guys don't live inside, I would still like to kill them. I'm sure that one day the roaches will adapt, but the "Gold" or "Advanced" or "Most Expensive" of the Combat/etc roach baits works very very well.
posted by seventyfour at 7:57 AM on May 14, 2012 [6 favorites]

In my building (a 16-unit coop), we have a guy who comes regularly and we encourage everyone to get sprayed at least a couple times a year, whether you think you need it or not. It's fairly non-invasive (and pet-sage), and it's more effective to tackle pest protection via herd mentality (everyone just does it, a la vaccinations) than waiting until you see bugs. If you really want to deal with bugs, I'd talk to your landlord about some kind of schedule.

As for the bugs at hand, cockroaches tend to breed where there's water and warmth as opposed to garbage. If you've been having a lot of rain recently, that may explain why they're popping up. It's also possible you (or someone else in your building) has a leak somewhere, or there's a drain blocked in the basement, or something else that your landlord should look for. It's very likely that someone else in your building has them as well. I'd be more concerned if I was on a higher floor (farther from where standing water tends to collect).
posted by mkultra at 7:58 AM on May 14, 2012

Is cockroach elimination a purely aesthetic choice, or am I going to contract a terrible cockroach-borne illness and die if I don't get rid of these guys?

Not really. They're kinda gross aesthetically, and they can get into and spoil food, but they don't bite, aren't toxic, and don't care any diseases of which we're aware. There may be some minor risk of the spread of disease just because they're always crawling around on the floor and may track stuff from place to place, but only if there was something there to begin with. They pose no structural risk to anything either, as they feed on dropped and rotting food, not wood or plaster or textiles.

That being said, they are kinda gross, and this is completely and totally correct.
posted by valkyryn at 7:59 AM on May 14, 2012

As others have noted, generally where there's one cucaracha, it's not liable to be the ONLY one of its kind in the vicinity. That said, the fact that it's a BIG cockroach actually bodes well for you. I live in the Bay Area (California, USA) and in my neighborhood we have a pretty healthy population of giant roaches -- outdoors. They don't tend to infest houses, preferring to live in gardens and burrow in the ground, etc. Last summer, a few of them wandered into the garage (perhaps in search of water or shade as it was hot out) and I kind of freaked out and put down something like 12 roach motels and sprinkled borax powder all along the walls and across doorways. Now I realize that was probably way overkill; I've only ever since seen the bugs outside.

The roaches you need to worry about are actually the little ones (called "german cockroaches" around here). Those little bastards will get into EVERYTHING and are extremely hard to eradicate. They also tend to be more of a lighter/browner color than the larger, more mild-mannered type (which can be darker brown to blackish, in my experience). Bottom line: for the big ones, you probably don't need to call in the exterminators...borax and traps will probably take care of any "scouts", and as long as you don't leave water or food spills or lots of garbage piling up in your house you shouldn't have a problem. The little ones, though, may require an orbital doom laser to eliminate.
posted by aecorwin at 8:21 AM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

valkyryn: "Not really. They're kinda gross aesthetically, and they can get into and spoil food, but they don't bite, aren't toxic, and don't care any diseases of which we're aware."

This is not quite the case. While roaches are not a primary source of any known communicable disease, both they and their poop contain antigens that are common allergens and act kind of like pet dander. Living in a complex that is infested with them can make life hell for folks with roach allergies.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:41 AM on May 14, 2012

The big ones we call palmetto bugs because that's more comforting than "a roach the size of a kitten". They live outside. So when you see them inside, don't worry. They're just investigating. Just passing through. Not taking up residence. It's the little ones that will move in and infest your house. As long as all you're seeing are the big guys, I wouldn't worry about it.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:42 AM on May 14, 2012 [12 favorites]

A side note, piggybacking on the good advice that the big ones are not generally who you need to worry about: if it's been very dry in your area, you may have an influx of roaches from outside coming in to find water. Last summer we were plagued with roaches in Austin -- everyone I knew reported seeing more than ever, Biblical proportions, and being worried that their houses were worse than anyone's. (You'd be surprised how often the topic came up after a few drinks!) This year, we've had a very rainy spring, and I've only seen one in the past month.
posted by fiercecupcake at 8:55 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

I nth the Palmetto Bug. I'm bug-phobic and have my home regularly treated against pests. Once in a blue moon, one of those big, swaggering Palmetto bugs will saunter into the house. Perhaps it got in through the drain, or it may have walked in through the front door.

Sic your kitties on it first, if they get it awesome. Pick up the parts with duct tape (I wouldn't want to touch it!) and throw it away. If you can corral it, Wild Kingdom-style, do that, then take it outside and shoot it.

Don't stomp it. If it's a pregnant female, you'll have bug baby eggs on your shoes, then they'll hatch and then it will be Joe's Apartment.

I couldn't hurt to have a can of Raid or something like that around.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:56 AM on May 14, 2012

We had palmetto bugs when I lived in LA, but I haven't ever encountered one in the Upper Midwest (where I live now). Do they live here? (Here I thought that was the one benefit to this climate.)

Also, the roach now appears to be dying. (Well, it's writhing some and otherwise not moving.) Is that good or bad? Is it possible - please say it's possible - that this roach just wandered in during its death throes? (I'm on the second floor...which makes me less hopeful. BUT MAYBE.)
posted by goodbyewaffles at 9:00 AM on May 14, 2012

The only exception to the "there is no such thing as one cockroach" rule is that there are some species that prefer the outdoors but occasionally get lost and wander into a house. If it's one of these species (I think the Asian Cockroach is one) then it will probably find it's way outside or it will die inside somewhere and you may or may not find it.

In either of those cases, this would just be an isolated incident. By your profile, you're in Illinois and I don't think the species that prefer being outdoors are common there but an entomologist would know and be able to identify the species from a description.

Post a picture with a size reference (ruler or a coin) and someone hear might be able to tell you more.
posted by VTX at 9:06 AM on May 14, 2012

The bad news with it looking unhealthy, is that it might have come out into the open because it was already under stress, and the healthy ones are still staying hidden.
posted by RobotHero at 9:11 AM on May 14, 2012

In New York, the big ones were known as "water bugs" and they often came indoors as it got cold outside. They weren't as infesty as the cockroaches, but an infestation of water bugs is pure nightmare fuel. Close up holes, spread diatomacious earth, you'll be fine (shudder).
posted by rikschell at 9:25 AM on May 14, 2012

Don't worry. As mentioned above, it's a water bug, not a roach. I'm a Chicago native. They come up from the drains, usually when it's warmer, humid, and/or after a rain. They tend to show up more in basements and first floor areas than in upper units, so if you live on a lower floor, you're likely to see 1-3 per summer. They aren't so much an infestation issue.

Don't squish them. Their insides are some of the most vomit-inducing nasty crap I've ever seen.
posted by esmerelda_jenkins at 11:14 AM on May 14, 2012

Oh, and it probably isn't dying. Every one I've ever seen has seemed all slow and sluggish and dying-looking, but if it sees you, it'll take off like a terrifying rocket.

Uck, I hate those things!
posted by esmerelda_jenkins at 11:17 AM on May 14, 2012

All these fancy nicknames for cockroaches are not cool. On vacation. BF: Oh that's just a palmetto bug. Me: OH YOU MEAN A COCKROACH BF: That's what we call them down south. Me: A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME
Waterbug? This boatman is a water bug. These striders are a water bug. Adorable, right?.
Waterbug, palmetto bug, cockroach... KILL IT WITH FIRE.

I hate dead bugs far more than live bugs as well and am unable to physically stomp one, so I can empathize with the position you are in. On vacation I was comforted by the fact that even though this giant cockroach the size of a rabbit, living under an assumed name, was racing towards me across the livingroom, it was of the outdoors variety and he was just a lone ranger and the rental house probably actually wasn't infested with them. But you're in the Upper Midwest, I wouldn't be too confident it was an outdoors bug just because he's the only one you've seen. You could have acquired some very dirty neighbors recently and the population of cockroaches has overflowed into your apartment. If it were my apartment I would wait for sighting number 2 before calling the management. Catch this one in a jar if you can't stomp him and throw him outside for the rest of nature to eat.
posted by Sayuri. at 11:34 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

All cockroaches are disgusting, obviously, but the big ones are actually supposed to be less gross than the small German ones.

When I lived in Philadelphia, I saw the big roaches on two occasions. Both times were isolated incidents and both times, the roach appeared to be on its last legs.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 11:47 AM on May 14, 2012

Best way to kill them dead is to catch them under a glass, insert a piece of cardboard/paper/etc, then flip it over and pour in rubbing alcohol. It'll spasm for a little and then be totally, definitively dead with zero parts outside itself.

Then, only then, do I flush them.
posted by bookdragoness at 12:01 PM on May 14, 2012

Note: this works with all insects, as it smothers them through their exoskeleton. I picked it up from an entomologist at a university extension.
posted by bookdragoness at 12:01 PM on May 14, 2012

Is cockroach elimination a purely aesthetic choice, or am I going to contract a terrible cockroach-borne illness and die if I don't get rid of these guys?

Google "cockroach in ear". Or maybe not, if you don't want to be absolutely disgusted.
posted by valoius at 12:04 PM on May 14, 2012

Actually, the do bite. And they are gross and will poop all over and eat your food.
posted by wandering_not_lost at 5:44 PM on May 14, 2012

Yeah, it's not true that the big ones won't infest your place. Due to a filthy downstairs neighbor, I once had an infestation of the giant, horrifying creatures. They were everywhere, leaping from my bookcases, rummaging through my closets, strolling across my bed. They were so big you could hear them walking around. My cat would just watch them walk by. It was horrifying.

I would take action immediately if I were you; there is never just one.
posted by OolooKitty at 7:30 PM on May 14, 2012

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