Cockroaches are not parasitic bloodsuckers like bed bugs, and they are not disease vectors like mosquitoes, and unlike their termite descendents, cockroaches do not inflict structural damage to homes and buildings. However, cockroaches are often referred to as “commensal pests” by entomologists and pest control professionals because roaches have long benefited from living in close association with humans. While “mutualism” sees two species benefit from living in close association with one another, commensalism is a two-way relationship that benefits only one species while the other species is neither harmed nor advanced by the partnership.

Cockroach pests thrive by relying solely on human activity for food, water and shelter, but humans get nothing out of the relationship. In fact, despite what the experts say, commensalism may not be the most accurate term to describe the relationship between humans and cockroaches because humans are clearly harmed by the filthy pests. For example, due to their habit of dwelling in sewers and eating organic waste like feces and rotting food, cockroaches are covered in numerous disease pathogens that can wind up in human foods. It is also well understood that indoor cockroach pests spread allergens that sensitize children to asthma and other allergic conditions. Considering that cockroach pests are extremely prevalent throughout the US where they are one of the most commonly controlled insect pests, it is hard to believe that they were entirely absent from North America until a few centuries ago.

The four primary cockroach pests found in every state in the contiguous US are commonly known as American, German, Oriental, and brown-banded cockroaches. Despite their names, each of these roach species originated from tropical regions in Africa, South America or southeastern Asia. The American cockroach was the first roach pest to arrive in the New World back during the 17th century when they hitchhiked on slave ships departing from their native Africa. It is not clear when exactly German and Oriental cockroaches arrived in the New World, but experts are certain that German cockroaches were active pests on the continent during the early 19th century. Some insect enthusiasts believe that German cockroaches arrived in the New World as early as the 16th century, but evidence for this theory is lacking. Brown-banded cockroaches arrived in North America much later in 1903, and they are the least commonly encountered of the four roach pests in the US.

Have you ever found cockroaches nesting within an electronic device?