Saturday, December 28, 2013

A cockroach that looks like a beetle

The Egyptian cockroach is one of about seven species of cockroaches that occur in the Maltese islands. The males and females of this species are very different from each other and one would not be blamed for assuming that they are two different species.

The male looks like a black American cockroach (wirdiena ─žamra) which is more common and familiar. The female on the other hand resembles a wingless black beetle.

In Maltese the Egyptian cockroach is known as wirdiena sewda but the male and female are often called patri and soru respectively. In English they would be monk and nun.

The Egyptian cockroach is found around the Mediterranean especially along the southern shores. It prefers warm, moist environments such as caves and cellars where it can find plenty of debris and organic matter on which it feeds.

In large territories it prefers to live in coastal areas but on a small island like Malta there would probably not be much difference in the number of cockroaches present between coastal areas and the central parts of the island.

About four thousand species of cockroaches have been described. Most live in tropical areas and feed on decaying wood and leaves and are important components of the ecosystem as they help to convert organic matter into nutrients. Thirty or so species live in association with man but of these only four can be considered as pests.

The Egyptian cockroach is one of the species that lives close to humans but it is not very common and most people never actually see one.
Pest species such as the American cockroach usually become pests in countries where they are not indigenous. Despite its name the American cockroach is indigenous to Africa. It crossed the ocean on slave ships and in the past it was often associated with slaves. It has now travelled to other parts of the world and has become a cosmopolitan species. 

This article was published in the Times of Malta  on 2 October 2013.


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