Mutants in My Kitchen

If you fought back an urge to swat the screen, you are not alone.

I’ve had roaches on my mind lately. Well, on my kitchen counter, actually, and in my toaster, which they utilize as a chrome high-rise. This morning, I stepped out of the kitchen for a few minutes and came back to find a roach lapping delicately at a droplet of milk, like some miniature brown kitten. I’m a neat freak who keeps a Clorox wipe tucked behind my ear, so I figure the biweekly roach spotting is just part of subtropical life. When you open a drawer and find an insect cozied up to your spatula—it’s kind of like the prize in Cracker Jacks, only with more adrenaline.

photo: Hawaiian Design Elements

The worst sighting was—but of course—when my mother was visiting. When we got to the apartment, there was a serious roach kegger in full swing. There must have been at least 10 of the little revelers, and I was mortified. I was running around screaming with a roll of paper towels. The roaches were dropping their tiny plastic cups and shrieking, “You said they’d be home late!” Mom, though, was a ninja, calmly squashing the buggers one by one. “You have to hit where they’re going to be, not where they are,” she intoned. Well, thank you, Pat Morita.

According to Julian Yates, Ph.D., a specialist in urban pest management at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa, the Islands are plentifully blessed with Blattella germanica (the smaller kind, also known as the German cockroach. That’s why they are always on time and can’t resist a nice schnitzel.) Researchers at the University of Florida claim that the German cockroach is found throughout the world, but only where there are humans. Aw. They need us! Kinda makes you feel bad for them. No? I didn’t think so.

You may also see the parakeet-size variety, Periplaneta americana (called the American cockroach, natch. Supersize me!) University of Florida’s researchers report that P. americana prefers eating sweets, but will also happily consume paper, boots, hair, book bindings, fish, peanuts, old rice and putrid sake. Um, putrid sake? Who has that lying around the house?

“I don’t get as many calls on roaches as I used to,” sighs Yates. “I think there are better control methods.” His advice? “Wipe breadcrumbs off the counter and run your garbage disposal every night to flush out any food. Roaches need food and a source of water, and they can find that easily in a kitchen.”

“They’re kind of a nemesis here in the Islands,” muses P. J. Neri, who penned Hawai‘i Chillers No.6: Killer Cockroaches. The roaches in her book have mutated due to a pesticide. Now six feet tall, they hunker down in a sugar mill and plot to take over the world. Why does this not seem implausible?

“I had so much fun writing that book,” she says. “Did you know that their nervous system isn’t just located in their head? If you squish their head, the body can crawl around for seven days. They’ll only die because they don’t have a mouth to drink water anymore.”

Let’s review: Roaches survive nuclear war, eat boots for fun and can hang out without a head. They must be mutants already. But don’t worry, laughs Neri. We have a secret weapon. “That’s why we invented slippahs.”