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A “Silver Buckshot” Guide to Cockroach Control

By: LT Daniel Szumlas, Ph.D.

Date Posted: 2000-01-22

There aren’t many things more disgusting than seeing a cockroach running across your food at home, or across your desk, or on the dash board in your car, or anywhere, for that matter. For many on Okinawa, it is sometimes said that cockroaches are simply a fact of life. The truth is, however, that you can set a zero-tolerance for these pests anywhere you find them, and then follow up and actually achieve your goal. The trick is, you must use all the right techniques to completely rid your house (or office, or car, etc.) of cockroaches! Instead of a “silver bullet” concept, where all you need is a spray can, think of it as a “silver buckshot” method, where many proven techniques are combined most effectively!

“Do I have cockroaches”?

There are two kinds of cockroach that we are likely to experience on Okinawa…the small German cockroach and the large American cockroach. The adult German cockroach is light-chocolate brown, grows to be about 5/8 inch (16mm) long, and has two dark longitudinal lines like railroad tracks, just behind the head. The adult American cockroach is reddish brown, and grows to be about 1.5 inches (38mm) long. Immatures of all cockroaches look similar to the adults, except the immatures are smaller and do not have developed wings across their back. Adult females seal their eggs inside a protective egg case, which they either carry around with them until being dropped a few days before they hatch (German cockroach), or glue the case in a protected area like the back of a drawer or the underside of a shelf (American cockroach).

Don’t worry about the cockroaches that you might see in your lawn outside - these are non-pest species because they do not try to get into houses or cars. There is no need to waste time and money trying to kill these cockroaches, and many animals outside need them for food.

“Where did they come from ?”

Cockroaches don’t just happen… They have to come from somewhere. Many times we inherit them from previous tenants when we move into a new house or apartment. Sometimes they come from our household goods shipments when we unpack them, whether we had roaches in our previous house or not…the shippers and handlers use warehouses that might not be up to the best standards. Cockroaches also like to hide inside cardboard boxes or paper bags that you carry home with locally purchased goods. Transportation of glued egg cases into new areas is another way cockroaches spread. Prevent roaches from hitching a ride into your life by carefully checking everything you bring home or place into your car - look for roaches and their egg cases. Many cars on Okinawa are infested with cockroaches because of this kind of “cockroach seeding”. If you have cockroaches in your car, they were probably brought in by you in this way, or, they came in during the night through windows not tightly shut (cockroaches, spiders and ants will enter cars in search of nice, dry places to set up shop). Keep car windows closed at night. Also, patch up any of those holes in the body that lead to the inside. Holes or cracks in the house are used in the same way, to gain access from the outside, or into another unit from next door.

“Do I need to get more information before I get the spray can?”


“What can I do that would really make a BIG difference,” or, “How can I hit ‘em where it hurts?”

Before leaping into to the fray of cockroach control, it is important to understand some critical aspects of cockroach biology:

Cockroaches need four ingredients to live (and be “happy”): 1) WATER, 2) FOOD, 3) HARBORAGE, and 4) proper TEMPERATURE. The more of these ingredients that you have around for cockroaches, the bigger the cockroach cake you can make… I mean, cockroach population. Also, these ingredients are in order of their relative importance. If there is absolutely no water for cockroaches, they dehydrate quickly and will all be dead in a matter of two to four weeks, with or without (dry) food. This means no leaking faucets or pipes, no damp towels or mops around, etc. The amount of food present will determine how fast immature cockroaches will mature before they start making more, and how fast a population will grow and expand to fill the available spaces. Harborages include all hiding places where cockroaches can hide during the day for protection, such as inside boxes, drawers, cracks and crevices, etc. Temperature also determines how fast cockroaches mature and reproduce, given that they have enough food, water, and harborage. Are you ready for an analogy? Think of the top three cockroach requirements as you might see the three legs of a stool. The stool needs all three legs for support, and the longer the legs, the higher the stool. Take one of them away, and the stool falls over. Likewise, by removing one or all of the cockroach’s essential requirements, its legs will be “cut out from under it” and the population will stagnate. By reducing these requirements, you effectively limit the cockroach’s growth rate and population size (i.e., “height” of the stool). Do this for all three, and you no longer have a stool…or a cockroach population.

Cleanliness is a word that best describes our own habits that determine the amounts of these ingredients used by cockroaches. Here is a simple, yet important fact: cockroaches will thrive in unclean households, but not in clean ones. Maintain strict cleanliness by cleaning up the spilled or dropped food crumbs immediately. Use sealable plastic containers and sealable bags for storage of food items on counters and in cupboards. Remember: crumbs may not seem like much to us, but they are like turkey dinners to individual cockroaches.

Remove the water that cockroaches need to survive by fixing all leaking pipes and faucets. Keep wet mops and rags hung up and off the floor.

Reduce important harborages: Caulk or seal cracks and other small spaces used by cockroaches to hide. This will seal them in, if they are present at the time of sealing! Remove paper and cardboard boxes that are being used for storage because cockroaches can survive on the glue that holds the paper/cardboard together.

“What pesticides should I use?”

The commissaries and exchanges on Okinawa stock all of the pesticides needed to eliminate cockroaches from wherever you have them. There are three pesticides that can be purchased that will be very effective against all cockroaches. These include Raid, Combat bait stations, and boric acid roach powder. If you are worried about chemicals being applied in the house, where you may have children or sensitive pets, you’ll be happy to know that boric acid powder and Combat bait stations are extremely safe to use in these situations. Another very good all-around pesticide is Raid® in the aerosol can. Raid has two important ingredients that work well together: one is called pyrethrin and kills cockroaches quickly if sprayed directly on them, and another is called permethrin, which continues to kill cockroaches for weeks when applied where cockroaches hide. Look in the garden sections for Green Light® Roach Powder (boric acid), and commissaries and exchanges for the others.

Boric acid powder is like a dust, and must remain dry for it to work. Therefore, it must be used in areas that do not get wet. Combat bait stations contain a highly effective bait and poison hidden inside plastic stations that only cockroaches can enter. “Large” bait stations are for large (American) cockroaches, and “small” stations are for small (German) cockroaches. Buy the correct size for best results. Bait stations also must remain dry. Bait stations and boric acid can be used together, in spaces that are difficult or impossible to seal up, such as false walls, drop ceilings, behind refrigerators and other appliances. These two can also be placed in dry areas where liquid pesticide is not recommended, like in or near electrical outlets and panels. Shut off electricity before opening these to add boric acid powder or bait stations. Raid is best used in cleaning out areas where many cockroaches have been spotted, such as in kitchen cabinets, under sinks, in utility rooms, etc. Read the label on all pesticides for directions on how to apply them best.

“Ready, Aim, Fire!”

Cockroach control can be achieved quickly when all these strategies are used together. Long-term control and complete elimination may take 2 weeks. Control of large infestations will take longer, even using the best of all controls because egg cases continue to hatch for two weeks. Realize that if you use only bug spray, then you will achieve only temporary and limited control. Also, the use of pesticides should be only one of many “bullets” that you use for permanent cockroach control. Be patient and persistent with the sanitation measures of reducing water, food, and harborage, for they really do build the foundation of long-term control. Finally, maintain the constant presence of bait stations and boric acid.

If you want immediate feedback on how effective your control program is, use sticky traps (“roach motels”) to monitor numbers of roaches each day or week. Good luck, and “Happy Hunting”!!

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