You have probably heard of the term “Flight or Fight Response” and not only associated with cockroaches. It is when an animal in a dangerous situation will either flee or stay to fight in order to survive. In both cases that animal is normally flooded with adrenaline after a perceived threat is assessed.
Perception of threats. That is what it comes down to. The interesting fact is that not all threats are perceived in the same way, or in the same manner. Many mammals use sight and smell to sense danger. In the world of cockroaches, they have evolved a different approach for that same tactic at survival.
When you normally see a cockroach, it’s when you turn on a light or move something they were hiding under. You would assume that it’s the light that makes them scurry away, as they are normally nocturnal in nature. That assumption is a bit incorrect; one, even I had made.
Cockroaches have a very stimulus based sense of perception when it comes to threats and a flight response; I haven’t seen any cases of a fight response, yet.
Along the legs of cockroaches are many different downwards pointing hairs, at the base of each hair on the leg there is a mechanoreceptor running next to a nerve. A mechanoreceptor sounds exactly like what it is. It’s a receptor that is activated by movement, which triggers a mechanical reaction. So when that hair is moved, it activates the mechanoreceptor to send a signal along the nerve; for the cockroach to run.
That hair can be moved by as little as the vibrations in a footstep across a room, or the air displaced by a foot coming down to stomp the cockroach. It is a very handy survival mechanism and has helped the cockroach to survive millions of years and many extinctions (think the dinosaurs). It appears that when that hair is moved by the appropriate stimuli, the response to flee is very fast, and somewhat not up to the cockroach. That’s why they move so fast when you see them, it’s like a knee-jerk reaction. Almost literally.
The really interesting part to me is that it’s not just you turning on the light when you walk into a room that makes a cockroach run. It is more based on that they sense you by the vibrations of your steps, which is what makes them run.
I would like to explain this best with an example of how amazing this tactic works for them.
Let’s say that you have a cockroach that lives in a very loud place such as around the bars on N Colleges Street in Uptown Charlotte. It’s has a ton of foot traffic, is most active at night when cockroaches are active, and is so loud that the air literally is vibrating with music and people. You would think that this little cockroach would be frantically scurrying everywhere under the constant stimuli moving their little leg hairs and making them run non-stop. That assumption would be a bit wrong as well.
Nerves and sense work a bit the same in both of us. If something is constantly stimulating a nerve signal, that nerve becomes less sensitive to activate to that stimuli over time. It’s why we can’t constantly feel the clothes on our skin. Think about it. Remember when you were little and you hated putting clothes on because you were constantly aware of them and their sensation? (I myself hated those little ends of the socks with the seam). Your body learned to stop being so sensitive to that stimuli and now’s it just background noise which you don’t process, otherwise you would go crazy.
It’s a bit the same for that cockroach on N College Street. He had to get used to his living space or he wouldn’t survive long because he was reacting to the wrong stimulus. If he constantly runs from everything, he’s not eating. He dies. If he runs from one wrongly perceived threat into an actual one. He dies.
This concept is important. You need to understand how a cockroach perceives an environment it lives in. The sense of perception which allows a cockroach to survive in such a place as your home is knowledge which can be used against it. This is just a facet of its life cycle. A professional pest control agent uses every bit of that knowledge for an insect that is a pest in a home; to effectively combat it.
If you are experiencing issues with roaches in your home, do yourself a favor, hire a professional with the knowledge to help you best.
Pheromones. Many insects use pheromones to leave markers where food is located or to lay down a path to food. You usually see this trait in social insects like ants and other very successful insect species. When I say successful, I mean abundant. Ants are abundant worldwide, as are most social insects like bees, termites, and some wasp species. Another group of insects which are not actually social like the bees in a hive, but come together all the same. Is that of the cockroach. Many species of cockroach are known to aggregate. Once the presence food is announced, they generally appear. Aggregation is the term that describes when individuals form together into a group or cluster. To use an analogy, it’s like if you were to post a “FREE BEER” sign in the center of a college campus. One student would show up and then tell his friends. Soon enough many would all start coming in droves out of the woodwork. Like the college student with the promise of free beer, cockroaches too will come together drawn towards the promise of free food.
Sometimes just one species, sometimes many different ones. You may see generations of the same ones, or they may appear all at once. Depending on the species you will see different forms of aggregation. A very strong example of this is the German Cockroach, who are well known to aggregate as well as using pheromones. Insects that use pheromones to advertise food to other individuals of their same species are generally very successful. This is even more true for the German cockroach, who is not a social insect, but when aggregate together gains many of the same benefits of those that are social. These benefits range from protection in numbers from predators; an individual is less likely to be eaten in a large group; to that of ease in finding a mate.
The last one is the real issue with German cockroaches, you don’t want them to find a mate. They can reach explosive population growth starting at very low numbers. Their ability to reproduce and mature is insanely fast even by cockroach standards and is absolutely terrifying by human standards. So having a bunch in a large group, spells disaster for any unlucky homeowner as they soon will see their home become a giant breeding ground, starting just from a handful of these little guys (and I do mean little).
Cockroaches. A pest of many names, all felt with the same levels of contempt.
Cockroaches can be considered a bit of a social insect. Not as intensely as those of the bees, termites, and ants. Still when you see one, you generally see many more very soon after that. This is because many cockroach species; of which there are many; use chemical signal markers when they encounter food so that others can find it too. It’s called aggregation.
It’s very similar to when a 16 year old decides to post on Facebook about a party they are throwing when the parents are gone. All of a sudden SWAT has shut down the street, and that teenager is hiding in a closet with an expensive vase as men in riot gear start crowd control procedures. Cockroaches like teenagers will aggregate around signals which others have sent out that indicate food is present (And or alcohol).
Cockroaches will eat almost anything. If it’s edible. It’s fair game. Again….kind of like teenagers.
If you see them during the day, pray to your multidenominational deity of choice.
Cockroaches are nocturnal. If you more than one during the day, then you may have an explosive population boom going on in your place. The rule of thumb is one cockroach means a lot. You see a few at the same time? And it’s 1 o’clock in the afternoon? Forget about it. Take the children, and never come back.
Kidding. I am only kidding.
Best course of action? Call a pest control company. Not just some dinky “I’ll come treat one time and that should do it” pest control company. An actual company who has service plans and protocols just for the treatment of your cockroach species. Each species of cockroach that is considered a pest, generally has different life cycles and reproduction rates. It’s important to treat for the individual cockroach species that is being encountered in your home; preferably before it reaches biblical plague levels.
There are many cockroach species that are household pests. The more common American Cockroach, the bit more pesky Oriental cockroach, and the nightmare scenario….the German cockroach. The German cockroach is one of those pest species that absolutely loves hitting that explosive population boom in your home. Generally it is not your fault. You usually have German cockroach problems in apartment complexes, and it can be in the cleanest apartment in America. No amount of cleanliness matters if your neighbors are slobs.
A wonderfully horrible personal experience of mine with German cockroaches was a few years ago. I am a self-admitted clean freak. We are talking Water-spots-in-kitchen-sinks-bothers-me kind of levels. We had seen a few random small looking brown roaches during the day and our complex sprayed after we mentioned seeing them; a personal victory by itself if you have ever had to deal with getting apartment complexes to do absolutely anything.
We had thought the problem dealt with. One night after that I had gotten up in the middle of the night for a glass of water. I switched on the light in the kitchen. The floor, the literal floor parted like the red sea. I felt like moses, except if Moses peed himself a little and then crawled back in bed to stare at the ceiling in mute abject terror until the sun rose, and he was “safe” again.
A literal moving carpet of German cockroaches.
My place was clean. The neighbors upstairs numbering about 8 people in a two bedroom apartment upstairs were not clean. It is not an uncommon story at all. Unfortunately, this is when you have to go out of your way and hire a pest control company to treat your place. This bill is is usually on top of the obviously sub-standard pest control company you are already forcibly paying for through your apartment complex.
I mentioned contempt earlier. Hopefully you never have the same experience. My suggestion for you is to be proactive as soon as you encounter a roach. I know they are just living out their lives and grabbing opportunity by the feelers when they sense it. The proverbial American roach dream. Just not in my home.