Cockroach Management for the 21st Century

June 1, 1997

Cockroaches have always been the primary target pest of pest management professionals. The German cockroach, in particular, has proven to be a difficult foe. Prior to World War II, pest control operators had few tools to use against this noxious, persistent pest. They had to rely on a few inorganic insecticides, such as boric acid, sodium fluoride, and phosphorous paste. Much of their service revolved around crack and void treatments.

When the synthetic organic insecticides were introduced following the war, many believed that it was only a matter of time until the German cockroach was rendered a pest of minor status. Ignorant of this belief, the cockroach proceeded to do what it does best: adapt. To this day, the best we can do is eliminate cockroaches from one home or business at a time and hope that reintroductions do not occur. Fifty or 100 years from now, the German cockroach and its structure-infesting relatives will likely still be the bane of homeowners and restaurant owners. That is good news for the pest control industry.

One of the things that occurred during the 50s and 60s was the retraining of the PCO to focus more effort on treating surfaces rather than cracks and voids. For more than 30 years, the basic tool to control cockroaches was the B&G sprayer. The organic insecticides worked very well in controlling cockroaches that crawled across or rested on treated surfaces.

Cockroaches adapted by becoming resistant to some of those insecticides and also by behaviorally learning to avoid them.

In other cases, they simply outbred the losses suffered by the PCO’s efforts. Unfortunately, the poor cockroach control habit of focusing treatments to surfaces survives until today among (too) many pest control technicians. This occurs, despite the numerous tools now available to control the German cockroach.

When my career in the pest control industry began in 1979, the primary tools available for cockroach control were few. The primary insecticides I was taught to use were Dursban and DDVP. Ficam W and Drione dust were also available, as were diatomaceous earth and Baygon EC. A few years later, Maxforce bait stations were introduced. Not long after that Gencor, the first cockroach insect growth regulator, and Demon WP, the first pyrethroid, entered the market and were soundly embraced by the PCOs around the country.

Since 1985, a literal explosion of excellent cockroach control products have made their way into the hands of pest management professionals. The past 12 years have been an exciting time for the industry. The 21st century should prove likewise.

A LOOK AHEAD. What should we expect in the next century? Certainly more baits will be introduced. A few novel baits are already on the drawing board and are undergoing testing in the lab and the field. New IGRs are being researched, and pyriproxyfen was just introduced last year. A new class of insecticides, of which fipronil will be first on the market, will be introduced for cockroach control this year. Novel insecticides with different modes of action will help reduce the threat of resistance development in the German cockroach.

But what about non-insecticidal control measures? What role will these techniques play? Certainly, from this author’s perspective, nonchemical strategies will become more important than insecticide treatments in the next 10 years, let alone the next century. Consumers will continue to demand minimal pesticide use indoors, and state and federal regulations will slowly push toward demonstrating pest activity prior to any treatments being permitted. How fast these trends proceed is anyone’s guess, but the signs are evident today that these will eventually occur.

The nonchemical strategies and techniques that tomorrow’s pest service professional will depend upon when controlling cockroaches include monitoring, computer mapping, vacuuming, caulking, and environmental alteration.

Monitoring. Improved monitoring devices for cockroaches are desperately needed and eventually will emerge in the marketplace. The introduction last year of the Victor Roach Pheromone Trap by Woodstream Corporation is a step in the right direction. This trap will capture cockroaches when located near active cockroach harborages, but traps that will entice cockroaches from greater distances are needed to provide quicker notice that activity is present. Earlier detection of cockroaches makes it easier to achieve elimination because the reproductive capacity of a smaller population size is significantly less.

Computer Mapping. Monitoring devices will also be the major component of computer mapping. Mapping of pest populations will direct where control measures need to be applied. The numbers of cockroaches captured by monitoring traps will be entered into a handheld computer and the computer will generate a contour map of the infestation by calculating the areas of with the highest probability of being cockroach harborages.

The difficult part of the development of this technique is in writing the software to make it easy to use and apply. It is currently possible to establish contour mapping in buildings, but the setup time is high. However, in one test, a cockroach infestation in a large kitchen was analyzed by mapping and the treatment by baiting was rendered in less than 45 minutes with an overnight control rate of more than 90%. Computer mapping will be the focus of the future in structural pest management.

Vacuuming. Vacuuming is a strategy that has current application and is growing in popularity. Physical removal directly impacts the reproductive potential of an existing cockroach population and provides immediate, noticeable results. It makes more sense to vacuum 100 cockroaches from the ledge behind a kitchen drawer than to spray those cockroaches and hope that they die.

Vacuuming is especially well suited to the use of cockroach baits. Insecticide treatments make bait placements difficult because of repellency. Cockroaches removed by vacuuming do not “contaminate” the harborages; therefore, baits can be placed into those harborages and cockroaches should return there and will likely feed on the bait.

Cockroach bodies, feces, and egg capsules can be removed, thus removing allergens if the vacuum device is equipped with a high efficiency purifying air (HEPA) filter. Using a vacuum without the HEPA filter runs the risk that more cockroach allergen material will be introduced into the air of the infested room.

Currently, few vacuum models are marketed to the pest control industry. The lil’ Hummer is the most heavily marketed and used model, although others are used. Often, a wet/dry shop vac is used. These vacuum models have their pluses but they also have disadvantages. Within the next two years Terminix will introduce a unique vacuum device to the pest control industry that, in this author’s opinion, will revolutionize cockroach management in structures. Designed specifically for pest control, this vacuum has a number of unusual features and will be discussed in more detail in the future after the patent process has been fully negotiated.

Caulking. Another tool that will become a constant companion for the cockroach control specialist is the caulking gun. This device is already heavily utilized in some progressive companies, but within the next 10 to 15 years, the caulking gun will be carried by nearly every technician. The future caulking gun is likely to be quite different than the simple models available to day. Battery-powered guns that permit exacting control of the caulk will likely be the tool of choice. Why is caulk so important? Any step that can be taken to minimize a cockroach population’s growth is extremely important when attempting to minimizing insecticide use. Fewer cockroaches are easier to eliminate and reducing the amount of available harborage results in fewer cockroaches in most situations.

Environmental Alteration. Environmental alteration is another strategy to limit population size. In fact, this step can effectively move cockroaches out of one area and into areas that are easier to access for control efforts. Currently, the best example of this technique is the installation of proper ventilation in attics to control peridomestic cockroaches.

Ventilating wall voids can keep German cockroaches from living in them, but efficient techniques for ventilating walls still need to be developed.

The future holds great promise for cockroach control and will involve a stronger mix of nonchemical techniques with insecticide treatments. Baits and IGRs will be of greater importance than liquid residual insecticides and improved methods for delivering these formulations will probably be developed. Technology will play a huge role in analyzing infestations and in record keeping. Still, with all these advancements, the cockroach will survive and thrive. Even that is good news — for business.

Contributing author to PCT magazine, Stoy A. Hedges is manager of technical services for Terminix International, based in Memphis, Tenn.