They flock here like retirees. You see them in the kitchen, the bathroom, hanging out under the palm tree next to the lanai. They fill their little motels to the max, no vacancy.
Eek!-Blech!-Gross! … Oh dear lord there's another … maybe it's just a palmetto bug … cockroaches (scientific name, from the Latin for "horrific insect."). The big kind and the little kind. The red ones and the brown ones. The ones with all the legs and the ones with tiny wings, too. Tampa Bay's got 'em in abundance.
So much that the U.S. Census Bureau in its latest American Housing Survey found that Tampa and Miami are among the roach-iest metropolitan areas in the nation. More so than New York or Houston.
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"At some point you're going to have them," said Carol Brown, general manager at Chet's Termite and Pest Management. "It keeps us in business."
Why here? Well, this isn't only a human paradise. The warm weather, the abundant moisture — it's Cockroach Eden, too.
"We have a really good environment for cockroaches," said Philip Koehler, an entomology professor at the University of Florida.
The climate also draws a bevy of other insects, which provide a food source to omnivorous roaches.
"There are a lot of things that they can feed on that they wouldn't be able to get elsewhere in the country," Koehler said. Think mosquitoes, beetles and all the other creepy-crawlies under your doormat.
Most roaches, in fact, live outside. German cockroaches, the little buggers behind big infestations, notably favor the indoors. The American, Australian and Asian varieties of roach enter homes in search of food, water or shelter.
"They can live without the food, but they have to have the water," Brown said. The Asian Cockroach might also gravitate toward light.
Some people know the American cockroach as a palmetto bug. Balderdash, Koehler said. The term palmetto bug is just a euphemism, a chamber of commerce term to make bugs seem less scary.
"A palmetto bug is a cockroach," he said.
Owners can pay for spraying or set traps around their home, wash surfaces with soapy water and keep pet food locked up, but roaches will always, eventually get in.
The Census Bureau counts roaches, in addition to mice and rats, primarily as a quality of life measure. The American Housing Survey occurs every other year and is sponsored by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. It tracks changes in the housing market and illuminates the conditions, costs and challenges of American households.
Compared to the 30.4 percent of surveyed households that had roaches in Miami, Tampa Bay and St. Pete had 37.6 percent, New York City had just 18.7 percent. Houston had 34 percent, and Jacksonville 22.5 percent. Just 1.7 percent of households in Detroit had roaches.
The numbers are no surprise, Koehler said. Cockroaches struggle in colder climates and seem to thrive especially on Florida's Gulf Coast compared to the Atlantic.
For the bay area, though, the figures represent not just another ignominious distinction, like the time Honeywell Fans ranked Tampa America's sweatiest city. There are real health and safety concerns with cockroaches.
The Asian roach can carry germs and disease, according to Orkin, and cockroach dust is an allergen, leading to breathing trouble for some people, especially those with pre-existing asthma.
Sue Thompson, assistant office manager at Partners in Allergy and Asthma Care Inc., in Valrico and Riverview, said her company has a "fair amount" of patients who are allergic to roach dust — think shed skins — though she did not have an exact figure.
"Somebody that is allergic to cockroaches and they're asthmatic, it certainly could exacerbate or make it worse," she said.
State inspectors issued nearly 6,000 citations to public food service establishments in fiscal year 2013-14 for the presence of insects, rodents, pets or live animals, according figures from the Florida Division of Hotels and Restaurants. Data was not available specifically for roach infestations. Inspectors issued 939 violations for "vermin control" in hotels and motels during the same year.
Another problem? The flat-out eww factor. Koehler said people hate roaches because they view them as filthy and undesirable.
"They're like the vulture of the insect world," he said. "People don't want to be associated with dead and dying things, and cockroaches are."