What do you do when you just can’t find the source of a pest infestation?
The American cockroach (Periplaneta americana) is one of the largest and most prolific cockroach species in the United States. In some areas they are known as “water bugs” or “Bombay canaries,” but in the Southeast they are affectionately called “palmetto bugs.” It’s a fitting name for the largest cockroach in the “Palmetto state” of South Carolina. American cockroaches are built for stealth and speed. These cockroaches easily can scale up a plumbing pipe and squeeze through a tiny crack to make their way indoors. Having a large, speedy insect running past you on the kitchen floor in the middle of the night is scary enough, but these suckers are pretty good fliers too. With wings outstretched, they can easily be mistaken for a small bird.
I remember vividly one day when I visited a small hardware store in Beaufort, S.C., to pick up some supplies. While examining the different types of duct tape on a shelf, something moving caught the corner of my eye. I turned and noticed several feet down the aisle a bird flitting around the hammer section. It didn’t strike me as unusual because you commonly see birds in hardware stores. As I made my way down the aisle, I see the “bird” land on a shelf and realize that it’s an American cockroach. It’s an impressive insect.
Because of their size, having a half-dozen of these fast-running insects lurking inside a residence can be quite unnerving to the people living there. Imagine having several dozen American cockroaches appearing in your home on a consistent basis over several months. This situation was happening to a customer in our area. Charleston is somewhat known for its “palmetto bugs.” When the sun goes down, the American cockroaches emerge from the sewers and storm drains among the cobblestone streets to take in the sites of the city and to nibble on remnants of shrimp and grits and spilled beer.
Their slightly smaller cousins, smokybrown cockroaches (Perplaneta fuliginosa), also called “palmetto bugs” by the locals, emerge in large numbers from their harborages in live oaks and palmetto trees to join in the fun. Native Charlestonians are used to dealing with these large cockroaches and expect to see, and somewhat tolerate, one or two occasionally wandering indoors. Newcomers, however, tend to get a little culture shock when they first move to this beautiful historic city.