By Les Harrison
Wakulla County Extension Director
There are some creatures which are chronically held in low regard by the public at large. These are the Rodney Dangerfields of nature which get no respect.
Sometimes it a long standing misperception of their place in the environment, sometimes it is another factor which causes the bad public relations. Either way, the mention of their identities results in an immediate negative response.
The roach is one of these creatures. There is nothing favorable about being compared to a roach, having roaches, or appearing roach-like. It is all bad.
Here in Wakulla County one of the native species is the woods roach, Eurycotis floridana. Commonly referred to as the palmettobug, this insect can reach almost two inches in length and an inch across its widest point.
Sometimes confused with another native roach species, cockroaches, the woods roach is usually encountered outside structures. Its primary food source is decaying plant matter, which is much more plentiful in the forest and fields.
This insect will settle into stable environments which offer the basics for its survival. Leaf litter in flowerbeds provide food, shelter and moisture needed for an expanding population of these flightless roaches.
In the forest they are often encountered around dead or dying trees. Cavities in logs and stumps, or loose bark, afford these roaches all the necessary inputs to sustain their growing families.
Woods roaches will live over a year, if they do not fall victim to a predator. They are most vulnerable during the nymph stages of development where their only defense is to run and hide.
Adults which are attacked or startled will engage in chemical warfare much like irritated skunks. They have the ability to spray an offensive substance at their adversary, giving them the time to escape to a protected site.
The defensive compound is produced in an abdominal gland of adults. It is effective against insect attackers, small animals and birds.
This foul smelling oily secretion irritates skin and is harmful to sensitive tissues in eyes. It also serves as an alarm pheromone, especially to nymphs and females of this species.
It is true roaches will walk across anything in their path, all the while carrying bits and pieces of debris on their bodies’ underside. This residue of their travels falls at random and is a factor in their bad reputation for spreading filth and disease.
This noxious behavior is especially true of cockroaches, Periplaneta americana. Technically it is an invasive species which was thought to have been introduced in the 17th century and has spread across the country.
Cockroaches are usually found in and close by human habitation sites. Their primary food source is human waste and food byproducts.
Their nocturnal habit of exploring kitchens is the subject of nightmares. Scraps and crumbs provide the basis for their high rate of reproduction.
Turn on the lights and they hurriedly scurry for any crack or crevice. Strike at them with a newspaper or shoe, and they will quickly fly to a safe spot on the ceiling or wall.
Roaches actually serve a beneficial purpose in the overall environment by converting organic materials to compounds usable by plants. Woods roaches have the good graces to conduct business outside and out of human sight.