Sunday, March 24, 2013

Are Cockroaches Coming to Gate City, Virginia?

First the credit, or blame, goes to Glenn Beck, for recommending in Cowards that conservative bloggers attend neighborhood meetings and write about those. That's why I went to the neighborhood meeting last week.

My neighborhood, just past the western limits of Gate City, has had very few meetings. So few that there is no public gathering place. The meeting was held on private property.

The topic was a proposed replacement for septic tanks, which is what many of these people currently have. Some people have had little trouble with their septic tanks. Because the hosts of the meeting are related to me, and the school bus used to stop at their property, I remember some of their problems with septic tanks. Those rental houses they used to try to manage, with the renters that moved out every year no matter how low the rent was, and the lush, marshy lawns that looked marshy and smelled...why am I not surprised that the senior male in this family told the meeting, twice, "I want sewers!"?

If his property were my property, I'd be tempted to want sewers. They might still be a nasty mess--sewers are not a great technological improvement over septic tanks, and are apt to flood, such that people walking down the street don't know whether a Situation of Extreme Pollutedness is coming from a septic tank or a sewer--but I personally wouldn't be blamed for the mess.

The weird part about the meeting was that nobody even seemed aware of the real twenty-first-century solution, which happens to be what my forward-thinking parents installed at the Cat Sanctuary back in the 1990s. Namely, water-free toilets. They're not mess-free; in fact they're built to need cleaning daily. But the mess is never quite as nasty as a flooded sewer. Or septic tank.

There are valid reasons why people would choose a sewer system, especially the people who live in the valley below the mountain on which the Cat Sanctuary sits, and in view of the population density in the valley and the age of the residents a sewer system may be viable and sustainable for them. It's not the Greenest option, it's not the cheapest option, and technologically it's retrograde, but it's probably the easiest option for disabled senior citizens to handle.

All I have to say about the proposed sewer system is, don't even think about extending it up onto the mountain, as someone suggested after the meeting broke up. Sewers may be sustainable for a flat road where a lot of people live just a few feet away from the proposed installation. They are not a viable option for the mountain.

But in view of last week's discussion of German Roaches at The Blaze, and of last week's discussion of sewers for the west end of Gate City, here is a short discussion of the new fauna that are likely to be observed in the valley if sewers are adopted (per one of those Sustainable Communities grants Stanley Kurtz just blasted)...Warning: this discussion contains graphic gross-outs.

North America now has five species of insects in the cockroach family that are often found near human homes. The one that's familiar in Gate City is the Wood Roach, Parcoblatta pennsylvanica. Wood Roaches are the purists of the family; they live outdoors and eat only decaying wood or wood products. Male Wood Roaches can fly, like to travel, and sometimes come into a house with a load of firewood or a box or crate that's been outdoors. They don't usually panic and bolt for the outdoors; they rest peacefully indoors until sundown, when they find their way out again.

Although they're not especially pleasant to look at or be around, and their presence can indicate that your walls, shed, woodwork, or stored objects are dangerously damp, Wood Roaches are considered harmless. They're vulnerable to the same treatments you'd use to get rid of other roaches, and the species is not endangered, but there's no need to do anything about Wood Roaches.

Here's the Wikipedia page for Wood Roaches:

Here's a page from Sweetbriar College:

Another species many of us know better than we want to know is the much larger Palmetto Roach, Eurycotis floridana, also known as the Florida Woods Roach, Southern Roach, Queen Roach, Water Roach, Water Bug, Stinking Roach, Giant Flying Roach, or Horrid Kingsport Bug. Here's their Wikipedia page:

Easily twice as long as a Wood Roach and sometimes longer than the American Roach, the Palmetto Roach isn't afraid of light or of much else. Its strong odor is thought to come from stomach gas produced by its willingness to eat anything. You can see bite marks where it's nibbled on a book binding, a piece of fruit, etc., and if you fall asleep with food traces on your hands or face it just might nibble on you. (Palmetto Roaches aren't strong enough to bite seriously, but they're not vegetarians and will happily swallow flakes of your epidermis along with the grease or sugar they're removing for you.) You can hear a Palmetto Roach scuttling across a hardwood floor. If you wake up and step into your slippers in the dark, and a Palmetto Roach happens to be gnawing on the lining of your slipper, the crunch and squish will cover a good half of the sole.

(I said this article would contain graphic gross-outs. It gets ickier. Don't read this post while eating.)

Last week I said that German Roaches are harder to get rid of than Palmetto Roaches. That's true in the sense that Palmetto Roaches seldom actually live in human homes. As with Wood Roaches, the ones found in our houses are usually wandering males. Females occasionally get lost and lay eggs indoors, but Palmetto Roaches like wide-open spaces, so even if they hatch indoors they'll probably go outdoors all by themselves.

In Florida, however, where Palmetto Roaches are active all year, there is no getting rid of them. They like sewage and garbage as much as American Cockroaches do, so they run up and down drains and are likely to invade homes all...year...long. Florida houses are seldom really infested with Palmetto Roaches but they're seldom free from them either.

The truly revolting species is known to the world as the American Roach, Periplaneta americana, although scientists think it probably originated in Africa. Here's its Wikipedia page:

Although nervous people may describe both American and Palmetto Roaches as "as big as your hand," as a matter of scientific fact neither normally grows even two inches long...apart from the antennae. Palmetto Roaches average 1.75" long, American Roaches only 1.6". American Roaches are, however, fatter. And they do live in human houses...full-time.

Although they don't like light, American Roaches do love rich food. Almost anything humans eat counts as rich food for roaches, who also eat damp wood, paper, fabric, glue, and dung. American Roaches are attracted to plain flour and cornstarch but they go wild over the chocolate, candy, cookies, sugary juice, and greasy chips found in many American carpets. They also seem to like the insides of computers. If anything they smell worse than Palmetto Roaches, and if anything they're more likely to nibble on humans...they eat human hair.

Periplaneta americana are also known as Giant Roaches, Sewer Roaches, and Water Bugs...and of course lots of other names that won't be displayed at this web site. The Virginia Tech web page even says that this species is also called "Palmetto Bug." That would be by the confused.

Confusingly enough, the ones I first learned to call Water Bugs are a completely different species, most commonly known as German Roaches (Blattella germanica). Typically less than an inch long, German Roaches are the ones people (different from me) have been known to describe as cute, lovable, and friendly. (Most roaches seem to feel safe when they can squeeze into a thin crevice, so it's possible that German Roaches actually enjoy being held...I know, ick.)

Here's their Wikipedia page:

I'm not positive that that's a German Roach; Morguefile contributors tend to be hazy about the species photographed in their free animal pictures, but the color is right. While other North American roaches can look pretty much alike in photos--you can tell them apart by size, shape, and behavior in real life--Blattella germanica is much smaller and lighter-colored than any other roach on this continent.

Though less disgusting than American Roaches, German Roaches are equally dirty and harder to get rid of, because they multiply faster. German Roaches are also known as Croton Bugs, Groton Bugs, Chinch Bugs, Chinces, Hoods, and other names you won't see on this web site.

Then there's the new pest on the block, the Oriental Banded Roach, Blatta orientalis. This species has only recently invaded North America. It looks like a deformed Wood Roach; while Wood Roaches' and American Roaches' wings cover their bodies, and Palmetto Roaches' wings extend beyond their bodies, Oriental Roaches' wings don't cover their bodies and rarely work well enough to allow the insects to fly.

There's not a clear photo of this species at You're lucky. They just might be the ugliest of all roach species. Oriental Roaches are also sometimes called Water Bugs.

Why are four completely different species all called Water Bugs? Because they go where public water and sewer lines go. Once a sewer line is installed, dirty homes will be the ones that become heavily infested by any or all kinds of roaches first...but all homes will, from time to time, be invaded.

Get used to looking at these things, neighbors. You will probably be living with them soon.

As the old Yankee saying goes, "It's no sin to have roaches [when you have a sewer where they breed and from which they crawl into your bathroom], but it's a sin to keep them."

Extermination services may try to sell you more expensive vapor sprays that are more toxic, to roaches and to humans and their pets. Don't buy into this rip-off. The way to get rid of roaches is to clean and dry the house, coat baseboards and the areas around drain pipes with borax, and persevere for six months after you last see a roach...but once you have sewers, you can plan on doing this continually.

Water-free toilets can in theory attract roaches, but since they work by heating and drying their contents, they probably exterminate any roaches they attract. The Cat Sanctuary gets an occasional stray Palmetto Roach during especially hot, damp summers, and has an active Wood Roach population outdoors, but I have never seen a roach in the bathroom of the Cat Sanctuary.