Why is it that whenever I find a dead cockroach, it is upside down?
Joseph G. Kunkel, a professor in the biology department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, is a cockroach expert who has posted answers to more questions about that peculiar insect that you'll probably ever want to read.
But if you really, really want to dig into all the details about this insect, here's Kunkel's Q&A website: www.bio.umass.edu/biology/kunkel/cockroach_faq.html.
As for this specific question, Kunkel writes that few cockroaches die on their backs in the wild. Most of the time they die in the stomach of a predator, such as a bat, bird or other small animal. Kunkel says cockroaches are good sources of protein and vitamins.
He points out that cockroaches are not used to living on a smooth surface, such as a wood floor. So when a roach manages to get turned upside, it may not be able to right itself because there isn't anything handy for it to grab with its legs so it can turn itself back over. Without nourishment, it will eventually die in that position.
Most cockroaches that die inside buildings do so because they have encountered an insecticide. Kunkel writes that most of these insecticides have nerve poisons that break down a cockroach's neurotransmitters. The ensuing muscular spasms often result in the cockroach flipping onto its back. With its muscular coordination destroyed by the poison, it cannot turn back over and will die in that position.
If you have a young child or pets and worry about accidental exposure to the insecticide, Kunkel recommends using boric acid or live traps to rid yourself of cockroaches. For details, see his answer to question No. 8 at the above website.
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On May 6, Ask the Times had an item discussing the use of mothballs to repel squirrels, rats and other rodents. The answer recommended against such use, because mothballs can be toxic.
Reader Marie F. Hoke Singer responded with the following e-mail, which she gave permission to share:
"I have (had) a squirrel problem. Since I didn't think you should die because you destroyed a couple of screens, and traps are dangerous to both humans and animals, I searched for an answer. I went to the Largo Feed Store and they had the answer ...
"I bought a gallon of bear urine. ... I'll admit it took me two weeks to get up the courage to open the container. When I did it smelled like wet, sour wood.
"So I put in a spray bottle - full strength since I didn't have time to mess with dilution. The next morning the little beasts were in the electric wires and fence using what I perceived to be 'very foul' squirrel language. But they avoid my fence and stuck to the feeding station away from the screen room."