What’s With All the Cockroaches in the Valley? (And How to Get Rid of Them)

Excerpt from Valley 101: A Slightly Skewed Guide to Living in Arizona, a collection of Clay Thompson’s columns for The Arizona Republic. (Originally published August 1, 1999.)

Q: We thought we left cockroaches behind in Chicago. Instead, we find they’re huge out here. My wife is completely freaked.

A: Oh, yeah, and you’re not freaked? Perhaps no crawly thing, aside from the Legislature, invokes more horror and disgust than a big old sewer roach skittering around your bathtub or grazing on a box of saltines in the cupboard. Or coming at you across the sheets.

Roaches. We hate ’em. God probably had some good reason when he created them, but it’s a mystery to mortals.

Perhaps it was to keep us humble. Scientists have said their survivability is such that, in the event of a nuclear holocaust, roaches would dominate the charred new world. This raises an interesting question:
If we wiped out our world with nuclear bombs and only roaches survived and evolved, would there be, in a gazillion or so years, a roach Jerry Springer Show?

Anyway, we’re infested with three kinds here in the Valley and, reflecting our diversity, they are the German roach, the Turkestan roach and the good old American roach.

CockroachThe small German model is most likely to take up permanent residence in your house. They like kitchens, especially the insides of electrical appliances. They can fly but prefer to scurry.

The big ugly suckers you’re seeing are the Turkestan and the American. They’re gross and are lumped together under the term “sewer roach,” but only the American is usually found in sewers. It can be hard to tell an American from the Turkestan if you already whomped it with a Size 12 Florsheim.

However, in its pre-whomped state, the Turkestan roach is about an inch long, brown to black, and it actually prefers the out-of-doors. If it is inside, like any roach, it’s going to want a drink and will likely
end up in or near a sink or tub.

The American roach runs up to about 2 inches, is shiny and brown and sometimes flies. Ayaaaaaa!

The American roach, according to Insects of the Southwest, by FloydWerner and CarlOlson, was once nominated as the official U.S. insect but was rejected by the Entomological Society of the United States in favor of the monarch butterfly.

Just think, if roaches had become the official national bug, they might have become a flash point for protesters, and we might now be debating a constitutional amendment to outlaw the burning of an
American roach or whomping it with footwear.

Yes, the American roach dwells in sewers. (A city employee once told us it looks like the walls are moving. Euuuu!) Contrary to what some think, however, they don’t swim up the pipes into your home.
It is theoretically possible, because roaches can swim (and survive on wallpaper glue and, in some countries, vote). But roaches are most likely to enter your house through openings around pipes or wires, under loose weather-stripping, through pet doors, or any other opening that presents itself.

We say hanging’s too good for them, plus they reproduce faster than you can tie the nooses. The Florsheim approach can be viscerally satisfying, but you have to find them before you can whomp them.

Roaches are nocturnal, so the best hunting is at night.

We once read that if you spray roaches with dish detergent, it eats away at some sort of protective outer skeleton and leaves the roach to die a lingering, awful death. It’s a nice thought, but chasing a roach with a bottle of Palmolive is time-consuming, messy and undignified.

Geckos, those little lizards you see on fences and outside walls, are said to be hell on roaches. But trading bugs for lizards isn’t everybody’s idea of victory.

Cleanliness is next to roachlessness. Keep your cupboards and counter tops free of crumbs, keep food containers sealed shut. Don’t leave pet food out in the open unnecessarily. You know what they feed roaches in research facilities? Dry dog food.

Plug up any openings around pipes or wires, inside and outside.

Most Valley cities will dispatch a crew to dust manhole covers in your neighborhood for roaches. Look in your city’s listings in the Blue Pages, usually under the sewer department.

Boric acid is a good deterrent, but if you’re going the do-it-yourself extermination route, be sure to read all the warnings on the label.

Your best bet is probably regular visits by a good exterminator.

Roaches—spray ’em, gas ’em, starve ’em, whomp ’em. Show no mercy. In a gazillion years, they’d do the same to you.

Excerpt from Valley 101: A Slightly Skewed Guide to Living in Arizona, a collection of Clay Thompson’s columns for The Arizona Republic. (Originally published August 1, 1999.)


  1. says

    I’m familiar with the German and American cockroaches but not with the Turkestan; I don’t like any of them however and while I know they’re harmless, aside from carrying diseases, I still don’t like the sight of them! Luckily I’ve never been faced with such an infestation and can only imagine having to deal with one…ugh, makes me shudder just thinking about it!

  2. kat9090 says

    there is a funny smell from our bathrooms that precedes a cockroach being wrangled by our cat. In the middle of the night and she leaves it in the hallway for us. I hate those things.

  3. SaraD says

    Even if you don’t think you have a roach problem, if you are faithful about replacing them with fresh ones when the package instructions tell you to, Combat brand roach baits really do work. They work on the principal that a roach eats some of the contents, returns to the nest, dies from ingesting the bait, and, since roaches are cannibals, other roaches eat it and are also poisoned, die in the nest, are eaten, etc. They can be hidden inside cupboards, closets, or under kitchen appliances where children or pets won’t disturb them. The baits come in small and large sizes for the different types of roaches. The hardest thing about using them is that you have to resist the urge to whomp the roaches you see so they can take the bait back to the nest and make the system work.

  4. S. Hemphill says

    When we lived in the Valley, our first year I had the exterminator come out regularly and spray baseboards and outside. Until the visit when birds started dropping dead out of the trees in the backyard and our pet birds inside both died in horrible seizures. About an hour after the spray. I had toddlers and freaked. Sooooooo ….. we got house geckos and let them loose. We began to tolerate wolf spiders in the house (they’re nocturnal and we didn’t have to spend much quality time with them, just not step on them when they ran from one hiding place to another). Our roach problems greatly diminished and we stopped spraying poison.

  5. TerriB says

    I’ve never seen a roach since I moved to central Snottsdale 9 years ago (and hope I never do). Are there parts of the Valley that get them more than others? But, I don’t get what people have against lizards/geckos, which I DO have, on my patio….I think they’re cute!

  6. Dianne says

    I remember in the mid 70’s I went to a Mervyn’s store. It was at night. One whole outside wall of the store was covered with the big guys and there were some on another wall. It was pretty scary. They were there for several nights. Living in Oregon now, I sure don’t miss the roaches or the black widows.

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