Monster US cockroaches invade British kitchens

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The Independent Online

First there was the superrat. Now Britain is being overrun by giant cockroaches.

First there was the superrat. Now Britain is being overrun by giant cockroaches.

The number of roach infestations is soaring, with native varieties increasingly resistant to permitted poisons and a giant American variety which escaped from laboratories breeding prolifically here.

Environmental health officers, mainly working for local authorities, were called out to treat 12,052 premises for cockroach infestations last year, compared to 6,545 in 1994.

"It is generally accepted cockroaches are becoming more resistant to what is being thrown at them," said Elvira Doghem-Rashid, consultant at Mintel, the market research company, which has produced a report based on figures collated by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health. Environmental concerns restricted the number of poisons allowed.

She added: "There are only two or three chemicals now that can be used to attack them and the cockroaches become resistant to these."

Cockroaches, a primitive form of beetle, not only leave a stench but also carry potentially fatal diseases. In restaurants they transmit food poisoning organisms directly on to kitchen surfaces via drains, lavatories and other dirty places.

Traditionally Britain has been plagued by the German cockroach, measuring 1.5cm across and which can scuttle at up to 30cm per second, and the Oriental, which is 2.5cm across. But the plague is being fuelled by the emergence of the American cockroach which, at 3.5cm, is the largest species in the UK.

It has escaped from university laboratories over the past three decades and is now beginning to breed in enormous numbers, say experts.

"The American cockroaches are increasingly coming over with goods from the US," said Richard Strand, executive director of the British Pest Control Association. "They were traditionally the insects used in laboratories for tests but there were a few escapees and they have done well."

The difficulty for pest controllers is in destroying roach colonies. They only survive at temperatures above 20C, explained Mr Strand, but are not easy to hunt down because they nest during the day in difficult-to-get-at places and only emerge at night. It requires just a small number of cockroaches to survive a pest controller's best efforts for the colony to grow rapidly again.

The creatures thrive in restaurant kitchens and heating systems installed in large apartment buildings as well as airports and hotels.

Mr Strand said the economic boom may be contributing to infestations. "There are more and more restaurants and hotels than there have ever been and that gives more opportunities for cockroaches to get themselves established," he said.

Jeffrey Roberts, Rentokil's pest control spokesman, said cockroaches had even been known to drink from men's moustaches as they slept.

But a new nerve poison was proving effective, he added. It is spread throughout a colony as the cannibalistic insects prey on their dead.