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What’s life without one?

Maneka Gandhi
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It takes a lot to eliminate a cockroach; even more to appreciate it. Maneka Gandhi

Which human does not shudder at the sight of a cockroach? The first reaction is to kill; the second, to chase it away. The presence of a cockroach also brings on feelings of guilt — that the house is not clean enough — or irritation, if you are in someone else’s house. The cockroach may be the most objectionable household insect. It consumes human food and contaminates it with saliva and excrement. It also produces secretions that impart a characteristic stinking odour.

Actually, the cockroach is an extremely useful scavenger. If you did not have cockroaches, no city could work, as they clean the drains into which every city human pours his filth. In the forest, the cockroaches eat the dead leaves and other decaying matter and turn it into mulch which is essential for the growth of new trees.

Let me tell you the marvels of the cockroach.

If your children ever get to the moon they might find that the only inhabitants there are cockroaches. When the Apollo Space mission was going to the moon the astronauts noticed a cockroach in their spaceship. When they returned, the craft was thoroughly inspected and no trace was found of the cockroach. This has led NASA to believe that it crept out — with its usual curiosity and intrepidity — and was left behind. But how can a single cockroach populate a planet? Here lies the miracle. Some female cockroaches mate once and are pregnant for the rest of their lives!

Everything about the cockroach is amazing.

l It can run three miles in one hour — the fastest insect alive.

l It can hold its breath for 40 minutes.

l It can live a week without a head, only dying of thirst because it has no mouth to drink water.

l It can squeeze into cracks that are 1.6 millimetres thick — the equivalent of you trying to fit into a football.

l It can survive temperatures as low as 0 degrees centigrade but when it gets really cold, it likes snuggling with humans or any other warm body.

l It can recognise members of its own family just by their smell.

l Its heart is a simple tube that can pump blood both backwards and forward and even stop at will without harming the insect.

The cockroach is the greatest escape artist of all time with an uncanny ability to sense danger, whether that of a live predator or a broom. How does it do that? With its hair (when was the last time your hair told you anything?)

Fine sensors

The cockroach has tiny hair on its back which are designed to bend easily. These hair grow in every direction and can sense changes in wind direction from all sides. For instance, when you lift a shoe from behind, the insect senses a slight change in the shift in wind pattern from behind as the hair on its back is pushed forward. It immediately darts off in a different direction. It has little claws on its feet so it can climb walls and of course it can squeeze itself under any door.

What is the role of a cockroach in helping the world survive: It is a scavenger. It cleans your sewers and other places by eating the filth that you create and which, if allowed to rot, would make disease unmanageable. It is eaten by other insects, frogs, snakes and birds. It has an important role in the decomposition of forest litter and excreta.

That doesn’t mean that you encourage it, only that you understand that its role in the world is more important than yours.

Never say die

Cockroaches are hardy creatures. The insecticides that have been invented to kill them are poisonous to human beings. Since they only kill adult cockroaches, they have to be sprayed several times a week. However, since cockroaches taste their food before eating it, they learn to avoid chemically-treated products. Therefore, most chemicals do not provide good long-term control.

There are several non-pesticide approaches to managing cockroaches, including food, water removal, natural repellents. The efficacy of each method may vary and combinations of methods may be necessary. Since cockroaches like to eat carbohydrates of vegetable origin, meat, grease, starch, sweets, and beer, the first act of cockroach control is to reduce or eliminate access to these foods. Here are some non-poisonous ways in which you can keep them away from your house:

Make a swab ( pocha ) of Eucalyptus oil — Two ounces per five litres of water and swab it daily. You can do the same with Peppermint oil — two ounces per five litres of water and concentrate on the areas where you think cockroaches come from. Rosemary oil — three ounces per five litres of water is another option.

Another option is Garlic oil but that will leave you uneasy as well, so use it when you really have an infestation and keep it only in the cockroach areas.

Okra ( bhindi ), raw or stewed. Place on a dish under sinks.

Stewed cucumber peel. Place one cup of the stewed peel in areas where cockroaches congregate.

Crushed bay leaves can be used to repel cockroaches. Put into cupboards, fridges.

Take some atta (flour), water, few drops of cedarwood, sandalwood and patchouli oil. Make little balls and place it in microwave oven, cupboards, drains etc.

Take camphor, carom seeds and some neem oil which can be sprinkled in drains to keep the cockroaches away.

Tie wild sage in bunches and hang around the house, around outdoor porches, terraces, window sills etc. Put basil, cayenne pepper, rosemary, dried root of khus khus.

Of course, the happiest thing is to keep chickens as pets — instead of as food. Chickens eat a wide range of insects, including ticks and cockroaches, and therefore can be used for insect control. Hence, in rural areas, chickens provide natural pest control.

To join the animal welfare movement, contact gandhim@nic.in

The cockroach is the greatest escape artist of all time with an uncanny ability to sense danger, whether that of a live predator or a broom.


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