Identifying a cockroach infestation

What are the signs of cockroach infestation in a home or apartment? Find out facts about their habits and favorite hiding places.

How can you tell the extent of cockroach infestation when considering a new apartment or home? Is your own home infested? It is said that if you see one roach, there are hundreds more you don't see. This is often true, but not always. A single roach can enter a home on the bottom of a grocery bag, in reused egg cartons, or even in a friend's purse! It is possible that the cockroach you saw is the only one.

The German cockroach is the most common type in American homes. It is brown and ranges in size from a half inch to an inch long. The smaller ones are darker in color, with the largest ones being light brown. The large ones look as if they have wing covers, but they are unable to fly. Like all insects, they have three pairs of legs. The rear legs are a bit longer than the others and have a noticeable joint in them. Cockroaches can jump, but they usually prefer to run. Another distinguishing characteristic of roaches is their waving antennae.

If a home or apartment is infested, the roaches will not be evenly dispersed inside the walls, but will congregate in favorite places. Basically they like places that are warm and near a food source. Sometimes these places are dark and damp, but not always. Some excellent places to look for roaches are under or inside of electronic items that stay warm. For instance, look around the television or under an electric clock. (Exterminators say that cockroaches have been known to shut down million dollar computer systems!) Even if you don't see actual roaches in these spots, you may see signs of them. These signs include specks from their droppings and egg cases. Egg cases are small brown oval shaped shells that most likely will be hollow and dried out. If you find one that seems filled in and somewhat moist, destroy it. It contains many juvenile roaches!

Another place to look is in the cracks around wood trim in the bathroom and kitchen. Older homes with sizeable cracks have many little crannies roaches can assemble in. Again, look for the dirty specks, egg cases, and small roaches. Roaches also have a characteristic smell that could be described as dirty-sweet and pungent. Sensitive people may develop runny eyes, nasal congestion, or a cough since roach allergies are not uncommon. These symptoms may get worse when nearing a favorite gathering spot.

Under the sinks in both the kitchen and the bathroom are also good places to check for the presence of cockroaches. Look under and around the water heater and washing machine as well.

If food has recently been in the cupboards, cockroaches are likely to be living in the corners and cracks. To check for the presence of roaches when you don't see them, slam the cupboard doors a few times. If they are hiding in a crack, the vibrations may make them run out or fall to the floor. Look in kitchen and bathroom drawers, too, and give them a little slam.

The kitchen stove is sometimes a popular hangout for these pests. Cockroaches can't stand the heat of the oven, but they like any warm nearby cracks, and they feed on spilled food that may not get wiped up immediately. Any food storage areas, including pet food, are likely to contain roaches if there is an infestation. Check pantries and shelves.

Cockroaches tend to infest items made of natural materials, such as wicker baskets, stored paper bags, cracks in wooden furniture, books, and the ends of metal curtain rods with cotton curtains. They are less likely to be seen in areas made mostly of plastic, such as stored plastic bags or a stack of plastic laundry baskets. Electronic equipment is the one major exception to this rule.

In general, the presence of small roaches and egg cases indicate an infestation. Young roaches can be extremely tiny, and they are white until they have been exposed to light. If you see tiny white bugs that look like roaches, they probably are! Often a large roach can be seen with an egg case still attached. If examining an apartment you are thinking of renting, be aware that the owner may have recently used insecticides and you are only seeing the last few tenacious old bugs. If this is the case, they will appear sluggish and unhealthy.

Finally, for best results, wait until dark and examine the home then. Cockroaches tend to be more active at night, but in severely infested homes they will be visible at all hours. If they aren't, see what happens when you turn on the kitchen light after the room has been dark a few hours. If there is an infestation, chances are good that you will see some roaches on the floor and walls.

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