Household Pest Control: Tips From A Pro

A career exterminator discusses low-impact pest control of ants, fleas, roaches, rats and mice.

| February/March 1999

Humankind has been dealing with some type of household pest since the dawn of its existence, though I imagine our early ancestors worried more about wild animals than they did about a cockroach or two. The fact remains that, despite all our best efforts, household pests continue to exist and invade our homes. And since the cockroach is hardy enough to get the nod as the species most likely to survive in the wake of a comet strike or nuclear catastrophe, my job dealing with them (and the other critters that follow) is more accurately described as pest control than pest elimination. For the time being, what I--and you--man do is create little oases in which we live our lives without them.

It will not shock you to learn that most pests gain entrance to our buildings and homes through doors, windows, chimneys, vents, cracks, or any other openings to the outside. But an avenue that is nearly as troublesome and less obvious is through groceries and grocery bags. You can have but a very limited idea of how clean or dirty your corner store's supplier's warehouse is. If a particular warehouse has a pest problem and it delivers to an establishment you frequent, you are going to have a pest problem. I mention this only to challenge the notion that a house with pests is by definition a dirty home. Cleanliness will always help, but even the most fastidious among us will be forced to act as an exterminator at some point. A basic understanding of your adversaries and of low-impact methods to control them will save you time, money, and embarrassment.


There are more than 3,500 known roach species in the world, 57 of which reside in the United States. Only five of these pose any significant pest problems, however. They are the German, Brown Banded, Oriental, American, and the Smoky Brown roaches.

The Smoky Brown roach is solid dark brown to black in color and rather large at one and a half inches. It is found in sewers but mainly lives outdoors and is a problem in the Gulf and Southeastern United States. The time from egg to adult is from 320 to 388 days.

The American roach is reddish brown throughout, with a pale band just below its head. This is the largest roach at one and three quarter inches. It prefers moisture and is most common on ships, as well as in basements and sewers. The time from egg to adult is 265 to 616 days.

The Oriental roach is dark red to brown to black throughout and measures in at an inch and a quarter. This species is also a moisture-lover. Time from egg to adult is 300 to 800 days.

The Brown Banded roach is tan to golden, with faint V-shaped lighter bands on its wings. This is a smaller roach at nine-sixteenths of an inch. It prefers dry areas such as closets and upper levels of buildings. The egg to adult time is 95 to 276 days.

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