Old Cockroaches Learn New Tricks

By Frank Meek International Technical & Training Director, Orkin, LLC | October 28, 2008

It seems cockroaches, one of Earth's oldest active species, are learning new tricks when it comes to survival. These hardy pests, which have survived 350 million years on the planet, lately are demonstrating more of the cunning that has made them so resilient. Since the 1990s, cockroaches have exhibited an increasing tendency to avoid pesticide baits commonly used in pest control. If your hotels are seeing an upswing in the reports of roach activity, this could be a reason why.

Baiting is a popular method of roach control for hotels because baits lower the chances of pesticide exposure, as compared to airborne sprays. The problem is not that cockroaches have become resistant to the chemicals used in the baits themselves. Rather, these pests have "learned" to avoid the baits altogether. For researchers looking into the matter, this discovery is concerning because roaches are circumventing extermination efforts, but fascinating because the pests have actually learned how to work around specific kinds of baits. For hoteliers and the pest control industry, the phenomenon can be frustrating.

The current trend, known to pest management professionals as "bait aversion," was first observed in 1999 in Florida when pest management professionals noticed that some bait materials previously effective on roaches were beginning to lose their edge. Over the next two years, similar situations began to crop up in Texas, Louisiana, Illinois, Georgia, Wisconsin, California and other areas. In all of these locations, baits that had previously worked were coming up short.

As the pest control industry began to realize what was happening, technicians and bait manufacturers quickly went to work to figure how to turn the tide. According to a recent study performed at Purdue University, bait aversion appears to be rooted in the inactive ingredients in the bait. In other words, cockroaches are not avoiding the pesticide in the baits, but the presence of the material altogether. Manufacturers are currently developing new bait materials that will entice roaches to feed.

The realization that cockroaches can learn to avoid baits has helped reinforce the importance of integrated pest management (IPM) for long-term control of roach populations. IPM is a method of pest management that stresses non-chemical methods such as trapping, physical removal and exclusion in order to control pests and keep them out of a facility in the first place.

It is imperative that hotels partner with their pest control provider to implement effective IPM strategies. For example:

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Eco-Friendly Practices: The Greening of Your Bottom Line

There are strong moral and ethical reasons why a hotel should incorporate eco-friendly practices into their business but it is also becoming abundantly clear that “going green” can dramatically improve a hotel's bottom line. When energy-saving measures are introduced - fluorescent bulbs, ceiling fans, linen cards, lights out cards, motion sensors for all public spaces, and energy management systems - energy bills are substantially reduced. When water-saving equipment is introduced - low-flow showerheads, low-flow toilets, waterless urinals, and serving water only on request in restaurants - water bills are also considerably reduced. Waste hauling is another major expense which can be lowered through recycling efforts and by avoiding wastefully-packaged products. Vendors can be asked to deliver products in minimal wrapping, and to deliver products one day, and pick up the packaging materials the next day - generating substantial savings. In addition, renewable sources of energy (solar, geothermal, wind, etc.) have substantially improved the economics of using alternative energies at the property level. There are other compelling reasons to initiate sustainability practices in their operation. Being green means guests and staff are healthier, which can lead to an increase in staff retention, as well as increased business from health conscious guests. Also, sooner or later, all properties will be sold, and green hotels will command a higher price due to its energy efficiencies. Finally, some hotels qualify for tax credits, subsidies and rebates from local, regional and federal governments for the eco-friendly investments they've made in their hotels. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document how some hotels are integrating sustainable practices into their operations and how their hotels are benefiting from them.