When heat approaches, watch for cockroaches

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Austin’s hottest month to date was March of this year, according to NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. The unceasing summer heat ushered in many outdoor memories for Austin residents, but also invited cockroaches into air-conditioned buildings across the city and UT dormitories.

Srini Kambhampati, UT-Tyler biology chair who studies insect evolution and cockroach genomics, said cockroaches’ cold-blooded bodies reflect ambient temperature. He added that biochemical and physiological processes such as digestion within the insect only work within certain temperature limits, meaning that deviating from these limits will cause the insect’s body functions to decay or die.

On a global scale, climate change has also affected other insects’ distribution, he added. In particular, subtropical insects are expanding their distributions into regions that were previously too cold for their survival, such as Nevada and California. These trends, he said, have implications for insect-borne diseases for diseases like Zika, dengue and yellow fever.

“Cockroaches are escaping the higher than normal heat by moving indoors, where the temperature may be more optimal,” Kambhampati said. “Cafeterias are of course great for cockroaches because there is plenty of food.”

Neuroscience senior Kenia Johnson, a former resident assistant at UT, dealt with cockroach issues the last two semesters at Jester East. Despite frequent extermination in campus buildings, she said she still had to call pest control services multiple times for assistance.

“(The cockroach infestation) was not fun,” Johnson said. “I tried to keep my room clean, so I was surprised when they kept showing up. The outside dry heat of Austin (drove) them inside.” 

Like most UT students, Johnson said that she sees all types of insects while walking home after a late night of studying on campus, particularly cockroaches. She also noticed that there is an increase of cockroaches at night, and attributes this to the increase in humidity and heat. 

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, cockroach presence has dangerous implications as well. Cockroach droppings and waste products may trigger asthma attacks for those who suffer from asthma or who have other respiratory conditions. Cockroaches can also deposit salmonella, staphylococcus and streptococcus on food, which can cause major health complications for those with compromised immune systems.

Cockroach infestations in sewers and surrounding areas have proven to be the most noticeable issue in commercial buildings. According to the most recent American Housing Survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2013, the national average for reported cockroach sightings in 2013 reached over 11 million, averaging over 200,000 sightings that year in each state. 

In the city of Austin alone, there were just below 200,000 sightings in 2013. The city of Austin’s statistics in 2013 still rival the 2015 state average despite a large increase in reported national cockroach sightings. Even so, Austin’s statistics are rising with national numbers.

As Austin gets cooler, the presence of cockroaches may decrease. It is important to realize that climate change and rapid cockroach reproduction will worsen the cockroach issue across the nation by facilitating increasingly favorable warm and humid conditions for cockroach life, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This issue will continue to run rampant in Austin and on campus, so it remains a wise decision to keep a can of Raid on hand.