Few creatures are more repugnant than cockroaches. They are the very symbol of nastiness for most people.

The subtropical climate that makes the city a mecca for visitors and new residents, also makes it a haven for roaches. No fewer than seven species of roaches are common pests in the Jacksonville area. You’ll find them both indoors and outside.

Finding them indoors is what gives most people the willies. There’s nothing more disconcerting than turning on the kitchen light at night and seeing one of these big ugly bugs scamper across the floor.

Roberto Pereira
Dr. Roberto Pereira

Speaking of the willies, here’s a fact that will give you a double dose: Cockroaches leave a trail of excrement, oil, and body parts such as legs and antennae wherever they go. Cockroach trails may be present on countertops and dishes that appear to be clean. Their waste leaves an odor that attracts more roaches. These droppings are loaded with diseases such as salmonella and allergens that can cause asthma.

Dr. Roberto Pereira, an entomologist with the University of Florida, says roaches are the chief cause of asthma in low-income neighborhoods in this country. He blames dirty homes for the worst infestations.

“Cockroaches are an indication a property is not as clean as it should be,” he said. But these insects can come into clean homes, too. Some come in from outdoors wherever there’s a hole or crack, others hitch rides in grocery bags. If you live in an apartment or condo that shares walls with other dwelling units, the insects will migrate through plumbing.

You can control cockroaches in your home and yard, but there are no easy fixes. Dr. Pereira says if you have a roach problem, the best course of action is to call a professional.

“We always advise a professional because they have access to products that are better than consumers can get.  They know what to do and recognize better what pests are present,” he said.

Entomologists and most reputable exterminators recommend an integrated pest management (IPM) solution. In laymen’s terms, that means using a variety of methods to get the infestation under control.

Prevention

A key component of IPM is prevention — not letting roaches get a foothold in the first place. There are several ways to stay ahead of the roaches.

Eliminate water sources

Roaches can go a long time without food, but they must have water. Leaking pipes, condensation, water standing in dirty dishes, and pets’ water bowls will attract them.

Eliminate food sources

Dirty dishes in the sink or on the counter are a roach magnet. Clean them immediately after use. Sweep or vacuum anywhere crumbs may have fallen after a meal or snack. Clean countertops regularly with hot soapy water or a disinfectant spray. Do the same around trash cans, a favorite hangout for roaches.

Eliminate hiding places

Roaches like to hide in dark, moist places where they’re out of view and protected from insecticide. Seal any holes or cracks that might give them safe haven. Roaches are attracted to clutter and will infest stacks of clothing, old newspapers, and magazines. These insects have a special fondness for cardboard boxes. Sealable plastic or rubber storage containers are a deterrent to roaches.

Clean regularly

Mop, wipe, sweep, vacuum, scrub. It’s especially important to vacuum carpet and rugs because they’re a refuge for cockroach eggs, which are immune to pesticides.

Tips for Outdoors

Some roach species prefer living outdoors and are unlikely to infest your house. If you don’t want them around, use only a thin layer of roach killer in areas where you have mulch. Roaches like pine straw, ivy, and fallen leaves, so those can be removed or treated with insecticide. Fill holes in trees, a favorite roach nesting place.

If you go the DIY route on getting rid of roaches, Dr. Pereira recommends gels and baits. He said roaches favor kitchens, so bait traps should be placed behind appliances or cabinets, so they’re out of view and away from children and pets. Change them regularly. The gels often come with a syringe-type applicator, so it’s easy to squeeze the contents along cracks and crevices.

Dr. Pereira, who assists with research, education, and extension in several areas of urban entomology, including cockroaches,  warns roach sprays you buy at supermarkets or garden centers are usually not as effective. “Most have been around a long time, and roaches have built up a resistance to them.”

But he reemphasized a clean home is the best defense against roaches. “The cleaner the house, the less the problem.”