Big nasties
July 21, 2016 11:04 AM   Subscribe

Are "waterbugs" (aka roaches) in the summer a Chicago thing? Or are they a summer thing in Chicago? Or?

My sister just moved into a new apartment in Chicago. It's nice, a recent rehab (as in, within the last 10 years). A month after moving in, she found a big fat black roach in her kitchen, near the stove. It was moving slowly and didn't run away when she approached and smashed it. Green guts everywhere. A couple weeks later, she saw a smaller (but still adult-looking) one on the stairwell, which crawled into the wall when she went near. Over the course of another month, she's seen two little easily-smashed baby roaches in the bathroom. Also saw a big dead one outside the other day. I've also seen dead ones on the sidewalks throughout the neighborhood.

I've had my own roach drama in the past, but it was different-- the small, brown, obnoxious ones that try to live in your cupboards. These ones are definitely different. They called pest control who sprayed the kitchen and bathroom and laid some traps and gel.

The exterminator said they're "waterbugs" (yeah ok, roaches) and that they tend to come out in Chicago when it's hot and humid. It is disgustingly hot and humid this week in the Midwest, so I believe that part. I'm used to seeing them on the sidewalks and occasionally on an upper floor of the ancient academic buildings where I work and go to class, pretty much only in summer. My old work (newer building) had these big gross ones in the basement, but I never saw them upstairs. I'm thinking this is just kind of a fact of life in Chicago? But I wanted to get more info from people who have been in Chicago longer than me, so my sister can not freak out.

Hilariously, I have lived in the same building she moved into in the past, and never saw a single roach. But I only lived there fall through spring, so it's possible I would've seen one or two in the summer, had I been there.

I also remember living in a very cheap sublet in the summer about five years ago, where we saw a few of these gross things (but even bigger). I remember when the permanent tenants moved back in, I ran into them six months later and they said they never saw a single roach. So it does seem like they come out in the summer and then disappear.

tl;dr, are the big oily black roaches typically a summer thing here, or what the heck?
posted by stoneandstar to Home & Garden (22 answers total)
The big horkin' roaches/waterbugs are more so an urban thing rather than just a Chicago thing.

The typical advice applies - keep the house clean (no crumbs lying around, etc.) and your house will therefore be less attractive to them, but yeah, it's indeed a "it's hot and they're feeling spunky so you may see 'em more often" kind of thing.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:09 AM on July 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've lived in Chicago for 12 hot summers now, most in buildings that are pushing 100 years old, a couple in some real shitholes, and I have never experienced this. I'm inclined to say your sister has A Problem.
posted by phunniemee at 11:10 AM on July 21, 2016 [4 favorites]

Yes, they want water. You can try keeping the sink/shower/toilet dry if you want.

Also, they love to lay their eggs in the layers/seams of cardboard boxes, which is why you're so much more likely to see them right after a move.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:11 AM on July 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I should also add that we live pretty close to the lake, so I don't know if that's a factor in terms of wetness.

The fact that my friends and I have seen them in almost every apartment from the shittiest shithole to a nice rehab to a fancy condo one of us was subletting is what really has me scratching my head.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:17 AM on July 21, 2016

That's because roaches are not an indicator of class or wealth or housekeeping, except in extreme cases. If they thrive in your area, they are in all of the area. If you have enough people/money/effort to make them low-visibility, you see them less, but there is no way to confine roaches to one side of the tracks.

And no, lakes don't help. Roaches want to sip, not swim. Shallow puddles can attract them, if it's very dry and sprinklers or a leak make for easily accessible water (especially hidden, like a leak inside your walls, which I learned on The Worst Night Of My Life). If you live in Roach Country*, it's best to routinely distribute preventative pesticide, ideally the kind that disrupts their fertility cycle, to keep nesting in your immediate vicinity low, but barring actual hermetic seals you can't actually make them go and stay away.

*Grew up in East Texas in eat-off-the-floor-clean houses, but the woodpile and garden and woods were full of them and they got in - home, school, hospital, mostly not the car but every once in a while. Live in Southern California now and you'll see either one of the little German ones or giant flying ones maybe once a year, if you're looking carefully. They just don't thrive here, and I suspect it's because of the ants and spiders, plus low humidity.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:30 AM on July 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

A landlord in an ancient building I lived in told me that they would crawl down from the roof and through our open windows in the summer, which is why we saw them more often in the summer than in other seasons.

I can confirm that they like to sip on little puddles of water. I once spilled some coffee in my kitchen and the next morning found a dead roach next to the drip. Caffeinated himself to death, the little big fucker.
posted by Liesl at 11:45 AM on July 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: What floor is she on? I see them on the ground floor of my shitty ancient near-the-lake apartment building sometimes, primarily in the summer, and I attribute it partly to proximity to the dumpsters. I've seen roaches of any size in my 7th floor apartment maybe once in the past 7 years - and that was in the first year or two, before my landlord switched to quarterly prophylactic exterminator visits. I wouldn't be OK with huge roaches showing up in my living quarters with that frequency!

Of course now I've jinxed myself and I'm gonna see a roach crawling around when I get home tonight. Sigh.
posted by ubersturm at 11:46 AM on July 21, 2016

Best answer: I saw them at some point or other in 3 of the 4 Chicago apartments I lived in (plus a dorm room). Also, in my suburban house when the house next door excavated a new basement. Now that I think about it, it was most often during summer.
posted by writermcwriterson at 12:06 PM on July 21, 2016

Best answer: I lived in five different apartments during my seven-ish years in Chicago, and saw the big black roaches in only one of them (a decent but not fancy place). I only got one or two in the three years I lived there, in the kitchen near the back door. I put down a couple store-bought bait traps in the kitchen but otherwise didn't really worry about them. I can't remember the season, but it was likely summer or early fall. If I'd been seeing them on a weekly basis, though, I'd be concerned.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:25 PM on July 21, 2016

Best answer: According to our exterminator, the big ones are a different breed from the little ones. Seeing small roaches always means that there is an infestation. Small ones are the real problems because if you see one you have so many more.

The big ones are less likely to be a problem and sometimes one will get in the house if you live where those bugs exist. We saw one a few years ago and immediately hired the exterminator who said it was certainly not an infestation based on breed. He put down tons of glue traps because I wanted to BE SURE. It's three years later, and those glue traps have caught nothing but dust.
posted by 26.2 at 12:58 PM on July 21, 2016

Best answer: I had those big honking things when I lived in a bungalow that had what's called an 'English Basement' aka a ground floor in-law apartment. There was a raised wood floor a couple of inches over a cement floor which is where they bred to a huuuge size. They were hideous, but didn't ever overrun the place like cockroaches tend to do. So we called them water bugs, and lived with the sighting of one or to a week in the warm months for a few years.
posted by readery at 1:20 PM on July 21, 2016

Listen to Lyn. I'm not a Chicagoan, but I am hella phobic of so-called "waterbugs" ("palmetto bugs" an equally bullshit euphamism).

It's not a cleanliness thing, it's a moisture thing. Older buildings tend to have more of them, but just because it's not as airtight a structure as something new and high rise. They fall from trees onto roofs and come in that way, but they also come up from moist basements and wood piles / dead wet leaves on ground level. They don't (typically) lay eggs indoors, so it's mostly a "they wander in" problem during hot/humid months.

I reccommend sprinkling borax around the perimeters of rooms like you're a witch/exorcist, sprinkling diatomaceous earth around your property if you live in a freestanding single fam home (or ranch duplex or w/e else). Also I like to keep a can of bug spray and a big pair of boots in each room just in case I have to be brave.

I live in NC, and if I don't have a quarterly exterminator visit, it's a couple a week for all the hot months, more if it's an old drafty place. Plus it's worse in rentals, because no one's keeping up with things diligantly (especially if the "rehab" is just slapping new surfaces and fixtures on top of whatever rot is going on in the building)

good luck, hugs for your sis.
posted by sazerac at 1:29 PM on July 21, 2016

Just to reassure you, it's not a comment on your particular housekeeping. If they are in the area, they will find their way into your home at some point. Even just a tiny bit of standing water in the tub post-shower brings them out when it hasn't rained in forever. Ugh. Traps are good.
posted by fiercecupcake at 1:40 PM on July 21, 2016

I lived for 45 years in Texas, Tennessee, and Georgia and those damn things are everyfuckingwhere. That's a big reason I moved to Bellingham WA -- roaches of any kind are rare up here. Sweet, sweet, bliss.

(Oh, but the slugs here ...)
posted by bfootdav at 1:58 PM on July 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

Another vote for them being indicative of a moisture issue, not housekeeping. Also that they are the worst thing in the history of the world.

One tip I don't think I've seen mentioned here: if you have a window unit A/C, they can drip, and attract the little monsters that way. Keep the fresh air vent closed whenever you're not running it, and try to seal the unit in the window as well as possible. If you're on the ground floor or otherwise have access to the back of the unit, you can cover it in a mesh screen to keep bugs out.
posted by the return of the thin white sock at 3:00 PM on July 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yep, they are a hot & humid thing. Here in east coast Australia you find them walking up the street on hot summer nights (UGH!) but they get into the house too. Nothing to do with housekeeping (unlike those little ones).

The cats love them but oh how much I enjoy the colder months when they (bugs) vanish.
posted by kitten magic at 4:41 PM on July 21, 2016

Best answer: That's very...Chicago. Older buildings in particular have, um, things lurking in the depths, especially in damp spots. The University of Chicago had waterbugs that occasionally wandered upstairs into the offices during the warmer months, sometimes resulting in editorial assistants (ahem) committing insecticide with a hardbound copy of the Chicago Manual of Style.
posted by thomas j wise at 4:52 PM on July 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Okay, then I'm a real outlier. I've lived in the city for 21 years—10 in Logan Square, 11 in Lakeview/Boystown. I've lived in a garden apartment, first floor, second, third, and 16th, and I have never seen one of these bugs indoors (just in the basement laundry area of a place I lived in). Crazy. Hope my luck never runs out.
posted by heyho at 5:59 PM on July 21, 2016

They are definitely not just a Chicago thing. I live in New Orleans and find at least one dead roach belly up every morning (thank god for cats). It's definitely not indicative of bad housekeeping, and as long as you only find the big daddy ones versus babies, it's not a sign of an infestation. They just come in the house, like spiders and other critters.

My cats seem to keep them from living very long once they get into my house. Now if I could only train them to pick them up and throw them away after they're dead....
posted by tryniti at 6:13 PM on July 21, 2016

Mix half borax with half sugar.... Make little piles and sprinkle around the Windows, etc. put small piles in dark places. they will come out for the sugar and be poisened. This is 7th generation Atlantan advice. We have them constantly. I'm probably related to a few.
posted by pearlybob at 12:07 AM on July 22, 2016

Ugh we have these in Philadelphia. I have a squirt bottle with bubbles (the kind kids use to play with) and that seems to kill them.
posted by WeekendJen at 6:19 AM on July 22, 2016

Best answer: Urban thing. These guys don't really infest houses the way the little brown ones do; they're basically lost. They're attracted to damp/wet places (storm drains are heaven for them) but in really humid weather they're like "hey, everywhere is good!"

There's possibly a tiny tiny tiny drip somewhere behind a wall where some moisture is gathering, but unless it's enough to cause a gross smell, it's probably not worth worrying about.
posted by desuetude at 10:15 AM on July 22, 2016

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