Bugs and I. I have a love-hate relationship with insects. I love most insects and hate some of them.
In fact I am stricken by a malady known as Entomophobia, which is a fear of insects. More specifically, Blattodeaphobia, which is a fear of cockroaches. Not all cockroaches, just one species, Periplaneta americana.
I guess I am Periplanetaphobic.
I've no problems with other insects... unless I think that the critter crawling across my leg is a cockroach. This usually produces reflex scream-leap-flap actions that continue until the critter is positively identified as something other than a cockcroach. That is, Periplaneta cockroach.
This irrational fear of roaches does not befit my job title, which contains the words 'entomologist' and 'Dr'. I study insects and spend a lot of time with them. I have been an entomologist for nine years, not including four years chasing insects and conducting mini insect research projects in my undergrad years (ah the joys of life). You would think I would have gotten over my fear of roaches by now right? Somewhat, yes. But sometimes, when caught unawares and with my defenses down, I realise that the scream-leap-flap reflex lurks still within my psyche.
Take comfort my friends, you are not alone. An insect scientist is among you roach-fearers. I have somewhat managed to overcome my fear of cockroaches and I'll walk you through the process a little further down this post.
Why am I afraid of cockroaches?
Past horrors with cockroaches. I've had plenty of traumatic run-ins with roaches, which are too many to go into and at the moment, invoke such stressful and negative vibes that I'll save telling these creepy tales for another time, in another post, in a galaxy far, far away, and on a nice sunny day (Update 8 Aug 2012, if you're up to it, I've posted my horror stories HERE).
Cockroaches look ugly. And guess what, it's because they want to look ugly. If you look at the dorsal view of a roach (from the top), you will notice that it has two huge, horrifying eye-like things on its head. These are fake eyes, designed to scare off predators and torment me. I know where exactly the real (very small) eyes are, and these belong on the cockroach head, which is actually very small compared to the rest of the body.
Cockroaches are fast. Their long cursorial legs are adapted to running at high speeds. At 5 m per second, the American cockroach (yes, it's the aforementioned Periplaneta americana) holds the Guiness World Record as the fastest insect. And its six legs do not take credit for helping it achieve these top speeds because the roach goes bipedal (on two feet, just like you and I) in sprint mode. I don't like that they are so fast. I would prefer if they moved very very slowly, so that I could keep my eye on them as I picked up a large heavy object to smash them with.
Cockroaches are sneaky. Their flat bodies let them get into cracks and hide in crevices, squeeze under your door and into your home safe home. There aren't very many places that a cockroach can't slip into. They have flexible tubes for airways, which can temporarily be collapsed as they squeeze past a tight spot to freedom.
Cockroaches are dirty. They like to aggregate in colonies where it is warm and wet, and sewers and drains are their five-star digs. After wallowing in filth, a cockroach can easily spread lots of nasty disease-causing bacteria all over your kitchen countertop, eating utensils and so forth as it scurries around looking for food. A cockroach is not a fussy eater. It can dine on elegant cuisine and junk food, and consume non-foods such as cardboard and glue with equal gusto.
Cockroaches stink. I am a human cockroach detector. Pheromones in their small black fecal pellets and scent glands may be a big turn on for each other, but smells horrible to me. I am hypersensitive to cockroach odors (and many other allergens and chemicals because of my ailments: Multiple Chemical Sensitivities and Henoch Schonlein Purpura described in my other blog wealthhealthwise.com). Even worse than their stink is that they are sources of potent allergens that can cause and worsen asthma and other health conditions. I've handled live Madagascar hissing roaches, which make extremely cute low-maintenance pets, but had trouble breathing afterward. And dead roaches in your home eventually break down into small particles that become airborne and inhaled, with negative health consequences.
Cockroaches breed fast. The sewers and drains mentioned previously are also seedy roach motels where six-legged orgies take place. These unsexy unions produce 150 young from each mated female. If you kill one, many more will arise to take its place (creepy huh?). If you spray a bunch of roaches with pesticides, the ones that don't die may pass the pesticide-resistant gene to the next generation of super roaches. Not much good news here sorry.
Cockroaches are here to stay. Sad but probably true. Roaches were around when the dinosaurs were. They survived when the dinosaurs did not. They can subsist on most anything, and not just survive, but thrive in most conditions.
How to overcome my fear of cockroaches?
There are probably no hard and fast rules for this. What worked for me may not work so well for others, but I'll talk about what worked for me: Thinking and doing.
Cockroaches don't bite. You will not get bitten by a cockroach. These critters cannot directly cause you any physical harm. When I see a roach, I utter this mantra: This roach cannot harm me, this roach cannot harm me. If you have ever been unfortunate enough to have a cockroach crawl on you, you will realise that you actually did not get lacerated, bitten or stung. It just tickles a bit, which still is horrible I admit. Just repeat the "This roach cannot harm me" mantra.
Cockroaches are smaller. You are humongous compared to a roach. A roach has every reason to harbor an unholy fear of you, and it does. You can kill it, but it can't actually kill or even hurt you. That's why it does everything in its capacity to get away from you - run and fly, and fast. YOU are the predator, the top of the food chain. Not the cockroach. Your second mantra could be: I am the predator. Roach is prey.
Cockroaches can and do die. When confronted with a roach, my preferred extermination equipment is a sturdy rolled up magazine or newspaper. To kill a roach, one must be faster than a roach, which is very possible. Approach very slowly to avoid startling the critter. Roaches have extremely unsexy hairy legs that can detect a puff of wind, which subsequently triggers movement in the opposite direction. Very slowly position your execution device about one to two feet directly above the roach, all the while being ready to swoop in for a strike (remember "I am the predator" mantra) if the cockroach panics and tried to make a dash for it. Then take careful aim and WHACK. Repeat until the roach is dead. Dispose of the roach. Roach baits, gels and sprays aren't my favored methods for killing roaches in the house. Either way, the roaches end up dead somewhere in the home, usually in hard to reach places, and as we discussed before, become airborne asthma-triggering particles. However, if you're set on using a pesticide, baits (such as the one pictured on right) are better than spraying (which leaves pesticide residue in your house). (For a review of pesticides used in cockroach control stay tuned by subscribing to my updates).
Cockroaches can be persuaded to leave. A better first alternative to reaching for the bug spray is hygiene. I mean, very very strict hygiene. Your best tool in your arsenal of weapons in the war against roaches at home is Prevention. Since roaches need food and like dark, warm, humid places (the norm in homes in the tropics), your efforts should focus on reducing available roach food and hide out spots. Whatever isn't stored in the fridge must be kept in sealed containers. Clean up after every meal. Dispose of all food scraps before going to bed at night (take out the trash). No food or scraps of food should be available for the hungry Mrs Roach when she crawls out for a meal at night. A crumb of bread or a grain of rice is a feast for a roach. It doesn't take a lot to feed an entire roach colony, so again, clean up after every meal and don't leave snack crumbs around the house. Place moisture-absorbing agents in damp cupboards or a dehumidifier in humid rooms, if practical. Over time the roaches will leave.
Hope this helps, let me know if you have any questions and I will do my best to answer them. Otherwise, for the funnest, easy-to-read, light-on-the-wallet ($4.99 used) book on roach biology, control and other fascinating facts, you can read Dave Gordon's The Compleat Cockroach: a comprehensive guide to the most despised (and least understood) creature on Earth. On the web, a handy pictorial guide to common roach species can be found at the Terminix site.