Old farmhouse becomes roach hotel


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Far from the antiseptic and pristine campus laboratories of Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, an urban entomologist is looking for a good home for a thriving brood of cockroaches.

Real roach hotel.

Don’t worry, Glenn Holbrook, assistant professor of entomology, isn’t coming anywhere near your neighborhood. He’s already found his new roach hotel – er, laboratory – in an old house on Penn State farmland.

“This structure is perfect for studying urban insect infestations because it’s off by itself with no surrounding houses,” Holbrook said.

“While not decrepit, this old farmhouse is in about the same shape as many of the homes where we find large roach infestations – it adds an air of realism to our studies.”

Located on property near the University Park Airport, the house will be used to track a growing population of German cockroaches, the primary roach species found indoors in Pennsylvania.

About the research.

Holbrook’s research will concentrate on the social organization of cockroach populations. If researchers can understand the factors influencing where cockroaches live within a structure, then they can predict the best areas for pesticide applications or other control measures.

“People think roaches live in the kitchen, but the reality is much more complex,” Holbrook said.

“Structural pests are unpredictable. Entomologists are much more advanced in understanding the behavior of agricultural pests.”

Fit for study.

Holbrook’s farmhouse lab will be specially equipped to allow researchers to observe its insect occupants.

Cupboard doors will be replaced with clear plastic doors and most of the lightbulbs in the house will be replaced with red bulbs.

“Cockroaches can’t see red,” Holbrook explains. “So we can work and see within the house and roaches still think it’s dark.”

Researchers also may use night-vision goggles and replace some interior walls with clear plastic materials.

Nearby housing developments do not have to worry about a migrating roach population from Penn State’s farmland, Holbrook said.

German cockroaches do not migrate outside of warm structures, so infestation from an isolated farmhouse is unlikely.

Future work.

Holbrook said the farmhouse also will be used to study other urban insect pests, such as ants.

* * *

How cockroaches get in

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Nothing inspires more disgust than the sight of a cockroach crawling across your floor, but an entomologist in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences said homeowners often inadvertently invite these critters into their homes.

“German cockroaches, which are the most common type of cockroach found indoors in Pennsylvania, do not travel outside of structures,” said Glenn Holbrook, assistant professor of entomology.

You bring them in.

“Homeowners often bring cockroaches into their homes in containers from infested warehouses, stores or other homes.”

Holbrook said the nymph stage cockroach is quite small and can be transported into homes in paper bags and particularly cardboard boxes.

Cockroach nymphs often settle in the corrugated passageways in cardboard containers.

Check your boxes.

“Roaches love to live in small places where they can feel surrounding walls over their entire body, so cardboard is perfect for them,” Holbrook said.

“The best bet is to leave any boxes from stores or from friends outside.”

Holbrook said roaches can hide in any kind of box, regardless of its contents.

“They can hide in an electronics box as well as in a box containing food,” he said. “Many warehouses and warehouse-style retail stores store food containers and other merchandise together.”

Once in, where are they?

Once cockroaches are in your house, Holbrook said there are several likely places to look for them.

* Kitchens. The availability of food makes this the first place to look for cockroaches. “Cockroaches don’t need much – after all, they’re scavengers,” Holbrook said.

* Bedrooms. If homeowners like to eat in bed or keep glasses of water at the bedside, these habits might attract roaches.

* Pet areas. Holbrook said the most often overlooked food source for cockroaches is pet food. He recommends feeding the pet once, cleaning out the food dish every day and never leaving pet food out overnight.

“We raise research cockroaches in our labs and do you know what we feed them?” he said. “Dog food. They love it.”


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