A common myth about cockroaches is that they have been around, unchanged, for 300 million years. New research shows the fossils from back then aren’t really anything like modern-day cockroaches. The oldest cockroaches are closer to 125-140 million years old. Still, that is a considerable amount of time. These pests are truly a marvel in design when it comes to multiplying, surviving, adapting to changes, and spreading.
The three major cockroach species—American, Oriental, and German cockroaches—despite their names, all originated from North and West Africa. They spread world-wide by hitching rides on early trading ships. German and Oriental roaches found their way from Africa to Europe in the Middle Ages, then reached America several centuries later via early ships from Europe.
Sailing ships became so infested with cockroaches that sometimes the entire store of provisions was in danger of being eaten or spoiled by these scavengers. In a desperate, but futile, attempt to deal with this situation, ship captains sometimes held official “roach hunts.” A typical prize for a thousand cockroaches was a bottle of brandy. The Danish Navy Annals of 1611 A.D. records one hunt of this sort that yielded 32,500 cockroaches. That’s a lot of brandy!
Today cockroaches are a common and widespread pest. They are found virtually everywhere, even on offshore oil platforms and in heated facilities in the Artic. Besides being a nuisance and embarrassment, they spoil food, spread disease-causing germs, and cause serious allergies. In addition, they love to crawl into warm, tight places, and have been known to damage everything from computers to clocks and radios.