The majority of us can expect to wake up with an itchy welt once in a while. The usual suspects are house spiders, mosquitoes that have found a way inside through an open window, and, worst case scenario, bed bugs. But if you’ve ever had a cockroach in your house, the question, “Do roaches bite?” may have crossed your mind. That’s a good point. We sought advice from recognized authorities.
How about roaches, do they bite?
Cockroaches may be annoying, but here’s some good news: In all likelihood, they won’t attack you or your pets. “They don’t have any reason to,” says Dini Miller, Ph.D., professor of urban entomology at Virginia Tech and Urban Pest Management Specialist for the Commonwealth of Virginia. They have no means of penetrating human skin with their mouthparts.
Actually, there have only been a handful of documented cases of cockroaches “biting” humans. For example, German cockroaches were a problem in hospitals in the former Soviet Union because they liked to eat people’s flesh after they’d gotten extremely hurt. Cockroaches allegedly biting people’s toenails while being transported on slave ships is another example. However, many of these reports are “very anecdotal and unsubstantiated,” as Coby Schal, Ph.D., director of the Schal Lab at North Carolina State University, says.
Cockroaches are known to bite for unknown reasons.
Roaches are driven by the pursuit of food, and they are particularly active in times of food scarcity. According to Miller, the most recent cases of cockroach “bites” have been reported in low-income housing, where infants are left alone at night with food remnants on their mouths and the cockroach may crawl up and try to eat it. However, Miller emphasizes the importance of the word “documented,” as these examples have not been viewed. She then says, “That’s as close as it gets.” “Not a single cockroach will emerge from its hiding place to sting you.”
Can you describe the symptoms of a cockroach bite?
Cockroach bites are so uncommon that, as Miller and Schal pointed out, there is little evidence of their existence. As a result, attempting to imagine what they might look like is problematic. Miller is correct that roaches’ small mandibles make it difficult for them to break skin, but in times of famine, if they were to feed on human flesh, this could cause some minor irritation.
However, if you notice a bite for no apparent reason, you should investigate to determine what kind of insect bit you, as it is more likely to be a different kind of house bug.
How do cockroach bites appear?
Cockroaches come in a wide variety, but they share commonalities among themselves. If you look down on them from above, they’re all pretty flat and oval, says Scott O’Neal, Ph.D., an urban entomology researcher at the University of Nebraska.
The three major sections of a cockroach are its abdomen (the roach’s rear), its thorax (where the legs and wings are attached), and its head (which houses the eyes and very long antennae). If you’re having trouble telling roaches apart from other insects, you should know that you can’t see their heads. In this position, “the head is tucked underneath,” as O’Neal puts it.
But can diseases be spread by cockroaches?
Cockroaches can cause harm directly and indirectly even if they don’t bite. Firstly, cockroaches, as Schal points out, harbor a plethora of microbes in their bodies, including the digestive tract and gastrointestinal tract. Roaches will eventually poop out those bacteria. Some microbes are completely harmless, but others have the potential to be pathogenic, or disease-causing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that roaches can carry salmonella and the polio virus, though there isn’t a lot of evidence connecting them to any particular disease outbreaks (CDC).
Unfortunately, cockroaches in our homes typically make their way from the bathroom to the kitchen in search of water and food. Schal says, “We always wash our hands after using the restroom and before preparing food.” A cockroach, on the other hand, does not. For example, a cockroach that has been in contact with feces or organic matter may then move on to the kitchen, where it may, for example, step on utensils or even our food.
Thus, it could be a major problem if the cockroach was exposed to something like MRSA (multidrug-resistant bacteria). Schal warns that “if that is transmitted to our food and ultimately to humans, that can create a very substantial health risk.”
Is there another issue? Schal claims that cockroaches generate a wide variety of allergens, many of which can cause reactions in humans. This is problematic because, if you’ve already been exposed to these allergens, further contact could set off your asthma. It can be life-threatening and even cause anaphylactic shock, according to Schal.
As a final point, cockroach extermination efforts can be counterproductive if you get sick from the insecticides you use. This is especially true for sprays, which are frequently misused. “People don’t know how to use these materials,” Schal says, “and by misusing them, they contaminate the environment, contaminate themselves, and can result in health risks due to the insecticide rather than due to the insect.”
Cockroach extermination techniques (safely)
Cockroach baits, typically found in 30-millimeter syringe tubes, are the most effective method of eradicating these pests. And fortunately, they won’t set you back more than a few dollars at your neighborhood hardware store or grocery store. Schal claims that you can get rid of a pest problem for less than ten dollars.
To get rid of cockroaches, simply place small amounts of bait in areas where they have been seen to congregate. The bait should be placed on wax paper no larger than 2 inches square. You can pretty much count on it being either your kitchen or bathroom, two of the most common cockroach haunts.
After dark, “cockroaches come out and they’re like, ‘Wow, what a smorgasbord; this is great,’” says Schal. They begin nibbling on the bait, which contains an insecticide that ultimately proves fatal for the pests. That’s a very efficient solution.
Cockroaches are a pain, but they won’t hurt you and can be eliminated with a little effort on your part.
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