Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The invasive cockroaches

I do not think that there is any household in the Maltese islands that at some time or the other has not had cockroaches visiting the kitchen. These insect pests are scavengers that eat any food and manage to find something edible even in the cleanest of homes.

There are about 4,500 species of cockroach, of which about seven species are found in the Maltese islands. Four can be found in houses and unless controlled can become pests.

The large brown cockroach one sometimes sees scurrying in the street is the American cockroach which did not originate in America but came from Africa. It was introduced in America around 1625 and is now common in most tropical countries thanks to international shipping and commerce. It feeds on decaying organic matter and a variety of other foods and is particularly fond of fermenting foods. It is known in Maltese as wirdiena ħamra.

Another common species is the brown banded cockroach which is known as kokroċ in Maltese. The preferred habitat of this species is houses especially kitchens. It is much smaller but can reach large numbers if it finds the right conditions.

Some species such as the field cockroach which is known in Maltese as wirdiena ta’ l-għelieqi, live in the countryside and do not visit buildings.

Cockroaches are mainly warmth-loving insects. Some species thrive in buildings because these provide warmth and food throughout most of the year. They are known to transport microbes on their body surfaces including those that are potentially dangerous to humans. They also produce chemicals which can trigger allergic reactions and have been linked to asthma

Cockroaches are tough creatures that can survive in the most difficult conditions. They can live without food or water for a very long time. Some species can survive without air for up to 45 minutes and have been submerged in water for half an hour and survived to live another day. It is also said that if man had to destroy himself with a nuclear war the cockroaches would survive and take over the earth. 

This article was published in The Times on 04.08.2010

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