Controlling Cockroaches Often Takes a Different Approach

Columns - Pest Perspectives

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All of us have dealt with German cockroaches. And it’s probably safe to say everyone reading this knows the basics of Integrated Pest Management and cockroaches: identification, inspection, sanitation, monitoring, exclusion, treatment and follow-up. But what happens when a really tricky German cockroach situation comes along that is utterly confounding? When these issues arise, it’s helpful to look at the situation through a different lens...a new perspective.

I recently dealt with a German cockroach problem at Facility X. There was so much going on it was hard to know where to even start. Suddenly, my little sister popped into my head. She’s a pest. She’s difficult to deal with. And there’s certainly a lot going on with her! What can be learned from situations with my pesky sister that can be applied to Facility X?

  1. Since the problem already has been identified (German cockroach/my little sister), let’s start with food sources. Like my house, which probably has enough food for three months (who can resist the 10-pound bag of chocolates from the big box store?), Facility X had food nearly everywhere. German cockroaches (and my little sister) can find plenty of food resources. It’s not as if all that food in my house can just be thrown away and my cupboards left bare. So how do I deter my sister from popping in and eating my food? Sanitation! Remember though, sanitation is not always about removing all the food — it’s often about making it harder to get to the food. So, locking up the food and containing as much of it as possible in sealed containers is a great option. Facility X’s management installed automatic feeders so a limited amount of food is accessible (instead of having giant piles of food sit out all day). Because of sanitation, my little sister (or German cockroach) has to work extra hard to get at the 10-pound bag of chocolate I just bought, and she will likely go elsewhere away from this site for an easier meal.
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  3. Facility X has a lot of open spaces connecting the inside to the outside, so exclusion isn’t much of an option. Like giving my little sister a key to my house, this facility has open doors that provide German cockroaches easy access. Since the access points can’t be eliminated, monitoring when and where they come and go is valuable. I want to know when my little sister is coming so I can prepare for that. And by observing the history of her visits, I can be a little proactive and predict her better. In Facility X, we know there are German cockroaches, but we need to know where they are heaviest, where they are increasing in population size and any new areas they’re inhabiting where they weren’t previously. Monitors also can also point to sanitation issues that might need to be dealt with (e.g., not leaving the chocolate out on the counter) or other conducive conditions that can be remedied or minimized. Businesses like Facility X likely will always have German cockroaches (as I will always have to deal with my sister), but monitoring will allow for earlier responses and help create a more manageable situation.
  4. Obviously preventing pests, like my little sister, is the first and best line of defense and treatment is the last step. At last check, there were no EPA-registered pesticides for little sisters. There are, however, a number of treatment options for cockroaches, including liquid residuals, baits, aerosols and IGRs, to name a few. At Facility X, because of the conditions, there is little opportunity to broadcast residuals (just like I can’t spray my sister down!), so heavy use of baits at this site is required. Speaking of bait, my little sister loves chocolate. No matter how much she likes chocolate, if that is the only thing she has to eat for weeks or months, she is going to get sick of it and start avoiding it. Well, the same goes for German cockroaches. That’s why it is essential to rotate baits often so the cockroaches don’t build up a resistance or an aversion.
  5. Follow-up often gets overlooked. This is where the data from the monitoring devices will help. Monitoring devices combined with comprehensive documentation provide proof of efficacy and spotting trends and changes in activity. When my mom yells at me that I never let my sister come visit, I can pull out my records and show her exactly how many times she has been there. There may even be a record of how much food (bait) she has consumed (as shown by my grocery bill!) to show an increase or decrease in occurrences. Careful documentation and ongoing communication with customers experiencing these difficult situations, like Facility X, are key. Otherwise, it’s easy for Facility X to say “the cockroaches are getting worse!” And if there’s no documentation to support that claim either way, it will be difficult to argue with them.

Facility X (like my little sister) is a challenging situation because there is a lot of basic IPM (mainly sanitation and exclusion) that is just not possible. While totally eliminating German cockroaches at this site is not likely, minimizing the impact of them is. It will just require thinking about the problem a little differently; a little outside the box. Sometimes, relating a challenging scenario with a different problem can lead to creative thinking and problem solving.

Full disclaimer: I do have a little sister and she is very nice and I swear I like her!

The author is Rollins’ technical services manager.