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"OH! Was that your auntie?" So says Will Smith as "J," delivering one of the best lines in the Barry Sonnenfeld movie Men in Black. He has just stepped on a large cockroach and challenges the Bug with his action. Every human in the theater rolled with laughter. It's true: most of us hate cockroaches. A cockroach is considered a pest and homes having cockroach problems are thought to be dirty and rundown. Most people would much rather stomp a cockroach than study one.
The cockroach is an insect of the order Blattaria. There are about 4,000 known cockroach species. However, contrary to popular belief, only about 30 of these species are ever associated with human dwellings, and fewer than 10 species are considered pests. The cockroach is a real survivor. Scientists estimate this insect has been around for well over 200 million years, in one form or another. It is this survivor ability that allows the cockroach to breed even in places not usually congenial to it. American cockroaches, one of the pest species, have been known to live for up to three months without food and up to one month without water.
Studies of the cockroach have produced interesting results. Apparently, the cockroach and its nestmates are capable of a type of groupthink. They can choose their habitations by size, depending on how many insects are in the nest. They tend to associate with others of their kind, distinguished by pheromones the insects emit. They use this scent to find each other and food sources.
Movies and television shows have used the human disgust for the cockroach to good effect. They are prominent characters in horror movies and it's always a safe insult to call someone a cockroach. No lawsuits will be filed on the roaches' behalf, for sure. And the pest species do deserve every nasty thing ever said about them. Nothing is more revolting than a cockroach infestation. Pest cockroaches leave an offensive smell, carry numerous bacteria, can trigger allergic reactions or asthma attacks -- and some species bite. Few humans care to share their living space with a cockroach.
One of the best ways to keep a cockroach and company at bay is to keep a clean kitchen. All food should be sealed, the dishes kept clean and the floor swept. The trash should be emptied frequently and leaky faucets repaired. Steel wool or copper mesh can also be used to seal up outside openings, to keep the roaches outside where they belong. However, the presence of roaches does not mean the home is filthy. The roaches may have traveled to the home in a grocery bag or other place where they were nesting. Roach sprays, traps and baits are readily available, and one of the best may be the "Vegas roach trap." This trap involves a canning jar with water and used coffee grounds in the bottom, and coated with petroleum jelly on the inside. The roaches get in but cannot leave. This idea has been used with great success in places where pest cockroaches are abundant and it is environmentally safe.
Most homeowners sigh in relief when a cockroach nest has been eliminated from their dwellings. The fact that 3,990 species of cockroach are not pest species doesn't matter much. They are simply glad the bugs are gone -- having taken their aunties with them.