German cockroaches…those small, swift, disgusting insects that live only around people are quickly evolving resistance to a range of pesticides at the same time and may soon be nearly impossible to kill with chemicals alone.
Most exterminators typically rely on different classes of toxic chemicals to eliminate roaches. If the insects happen to be resistant to one class, they’ll usually die from another. However, researchers recently discovered that German roaches are developing cross-resistance to a range of insecticides and pesticides. This means that the roaches’ offspring are born already impervious to toxins that they haven’t directly encountered.
“We didn’t have a clue that something like that could happen this fast. Cockroaches developing resistance to multiple classes of insecticides at once will make controlling these pests almost impossible with chemicals alone”, said study co-author Michael Scharf, a professor and chair with the Department of Entomology at Purdue University in Indiana.
What Did the Studies Show
For the study, the researchers tested the effects of three different courses of insecticides on roach populations in apartment buildings in over six months. They exposed one group of roaches to a single insecticide. A second roach population received two insecticides from different classes. And a third was dosed with rotations of three insecticides.
The scientists also tracked roaches’ resistance to insecticides across multiple generations, trapping live roaches to take back to the lab in greased baby food jars baited with beer-soaked bread.
In most of the cases, the roach populations either remained stable or increased and rotating pesticides were found to be “mostly ineffective” at reducing their numbers, “due to cross-resistance,” the study authors reported. The offspring were not only resistant to the pesticide that their parents encountered but also unexpectedly showed signs of resistance to other classes of insecticides as well, according to the study.
The only experiment that worked at all was the single pesticide; it was highly successful in a population that happened to have almost no resistance to the toxin. However, in another experiment, the researchers tested a group of insects that had slightly more resistance. In that group, the number of roaches actually increased, with generations born to resistant survivors.
The fast-breeding German cockroach lives throughout the world wherever humans live and is “the species that gives all other cockroaches a bad name,” according to the University of Florida’s Department of Entomology and Nematology. Roaches spread bacteria that can cause disease; their feces and shed body parts carry allergens that can trigger asthma, and the mere sight of them can cause psychological distress in some people.
Ridding homes of these pests will require strategies more complex than chemical treatment alone. A combination of approaches such as improved sanitation, traps and even vacuums to suck them up will likely be far more effective than relying on pesticides to do the job.
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