Palmetto “Bugs” and the German Cockroach

Roaches are nocturnal. And there is nothing more disturbing than at night seeing a 2-inch dark brown bug fly up to a wall if you turn on a light in a dark room. In South Carolina, that would be a Palmetto Bug. Or, equally bad, to turn on a light in the kitchen to see a smaller light brown roach run across the floor or a countertop and duck into a crevice or under an appliance (the German cockroach). Or, in the kitchen, to see large dark brown roaches running very, very fast across the floor to hide (American cockroach)–a sight I remember vividly from my Georgia childhood at my grandparents. (And yes, they sprayed constantly.)

But first, let’s understand more about roaches, as they are a very, very, very old species. And that fact alone warrants my interest. (I probably should have been an entomologist or a zoologist.) The German cockroach, for instance, started out in caves in Asia. Here’s a quote from a 2020 Smithsonian magazine article documenting how old they are:

“Cockroaches—among the hardiest of insects—may be among the species guaranteed to outlive us all. But perhaps even more intriguing than the future of these persistent pests is their unusual past. A pair of 99-million-year-old roaches are now the oldest known animals that unambiguously adapted to life in caves, according to a study published this month in Gondwana Research.”

“The discovery earns the bugs the unique honor of being the only cave dwellers ever described from the Cretaceous, the period spanning 66 to 145 million years ago and the final era of the non-avian dinosaurs.”

When humans started trading spices around the world, these cave roaches went along for the ride. The result is roach history as roaches adapted and survived.

Roaches were not a problem for me in rural Maine. Maybe they are in crowded urban areas in Maine, but I never saw one in my house in Maine. But in South Carolina, roaches are part of the terrain. Roaches thrive here. Steps must be taken to prevent them from taking up abode in one’s house.

There are three major roaches that can be a problem for humans in South Carolina: Palmetto “Bugs” and German cockroaches. The American cockroach is often mistaken for the true Palmetto roach, though it does not really fly.

Palmetto “Bugs”–also known as “waterbugs” or as “smoky brown cockroaches”– are cockroaches, not some other kind of bug. Although closely related to the American cockroach, Periplaneta americana, they are different. They are Periplaneta fuliginosa, and they are a kind of tropical cockroach. Palmetto Bugs come into a house seeking water–they dehydrate easily–and then while seeking water, they might take advantage of something like rotting organic matter in a garbage can or dirty dishes in a sink. American cockroaches, too, live outside normally, but clearly will come inside and stay if they find a habitat there that richly supports them.

The German cockroach (Blattella germanica) is smaller, grows to adulthood much more quickly (60 days), and then breeds like crazy. This roach gets to be about an inch and ranges from a very light to a darker brown. It can sort of fly, perhaps gliding if threatened. It inhabits houses. These cockroaches can’t survive in the wild.

The Palmetto Bug can get as big as about 2 inches. They can fly short distances if needed. They have a TWO YEAR lifespan, but don’t breed until they are about a year old. From wikipedia: “P. fuliginosa can reproduce through sexual reproduction and in some cases through parthenogenesis, which is a form of asexual reproduction.[5]

And, “The smokybrown cockroach is a detritivore and can feed off a wide array of organic (including decaying) matter.[1] Like most cockroaches, it is a scavenger, whereby it feeds on many different types of foods including dry earthworms, pet food, pet waste such as feces and urine, paper, and many types of ripe fruits.[1]

In this way, in its natural habitat, Palmetto Bugs help break down organic matter in the woods, so they have a useful purpose. So, the “smokybrown cockroach may come indoors during daylight hours to look for food and even to live; generally, however, in warm weather, it will move outdoors.[3][2] They tend to lose moisture twice as fast as their relative, Periplaneta Americana, therefore requiring environmental conditions with constant moisture to avoid drying out.[4]?

So, about a month ago, I saw what was likely a German cockroach on my kitchen counter. It probably came in on a grocery bag, as they don’t really live in the wild.

I consulted my son Bryan and bought a really strong gel bait on Amazon with great reviews. It only takes a tiny, tiny bit of this gel in one spot, but one can’t put the bait in any place where it would get mopped or wiped, or near an appliance that gets hot (oven, dishwasher), or in any place where it would get disturbed and spread so that it could harm a human. So, I baited the very back of the cabinet area under the sink and way back of the garbage pull-out cabinet, around the garage door sides, and in an area adjacent to the back screen door.

I have never left dirty dishes in a sink, so that’s not a problem. And now that I’m not composting, I am not using my super nice composting pail. I don’t think a roach could get into it anyway, but… I do not allow any organic matter or bones to sit overnight in my garbage can: I take the whole bag out to the big cans in the garage. And I double bag all organic matter or meat bones.

I have not seen another roach–and I check at night frequently by turning on the kitchen light.

Time will tell…

Author: louisaenright

I am passionate about whole, nutrient-dense foods, developing local markets, and strengthening communities.

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