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Living Sanibel: American Cockroach

By Staff | Nov 1, 2013

American cockroach. Wikipedia Commons.

While this common insect has an American name, its origins are believed to be rooted in Western Africa, arriving to North America as a stowaway as early as 1625. Most entomologists think that it crossed the Atlantic during the era of slave ships where the wretched conditions provided ample food for an insect whose dining preferences include carrion and raw sewage.

The cockroach is a survivor. Ancestors of today’s cockroaches date back to the Carboniferous period, originating some 360 million years ago. Their ability to withstand lethal doses of radiation, toxic levels of chemicals and a host of other conditions that would kill most other living things, makes the future of this enduring insect secure well into the distant future.

In Florida the American cockroach is kindly referred to as the “palmetto bug.” In New York, where it is common inside of buildings, they refer to it as a “waterbug.” The adage, “a rose by any other name is still a rose,” applies equally well to roaches, but it’s easier on everyone concerned to say your house has a palmetto bug infestation than to admit your house is full of roaches.

Cockroaches are common in the wild where they feed in garbage bins, rotting wood piles and in the thick under story of the wetlands. The American cockroach is not cold tolerant and will retreat into homes during excessive cold snaps during the winter months. In the north they compensate for this by spending most of their lives in sewers, basements and wall cavities. A female cockroach will produce an average of 150 offspring during her one year life cycle.

Although a scourge on humans, cockroaches are a favorite food of many birds, mammals and lizards. Fire ants prey upon them all the time, biting them en masse, killing, then devouring all but the exoskeleton. Although they appear to be able to run at twenty miles per hour when you are chasing them with a newspaper, it is only an illusion. The University of California at Berkeley registered a record speed of a mere 3.4 mph. The illusion is created because that equates to 50 body lengths per second. If an Olympic athlete could match that number, they would be running at 205 miles per hour.

-This article is an excerpt from Living Sanibel-A Nature Guide to Sanibel & Captiva Islands by Charles Sobczak. The book is available at Barnes & Nobles, all Island bookstores, Baileys, Jerry’s and your favorite online sites.