Sewerology 101: How & Why Bugs, Rats, Snakes, and other Creepy Crawlies Get Into Homes & Businesses from the Sewer

This article by Jerry Cates, first published on 7 October 2015, was last revised on 31 March 2016. © Bugsinthenews Vol. 16:10(01):

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Prepare Yourself for a Little TMI…

You know all you ever wanted to know about sewers already, right? The operative word is “want” to know. Hardly anybody wants to know more about the sewer. That may explain why plumbers make the big bucks. They “plumb the depths” of things nobody else wants to touch. To most, details about the sewer under their home or place of work is not just TMI, it’s way, way too much information.

But TMI can be translated another way: Too Much Ignorance. We’re mostly ignorant of the things we prefer not to think about. This article will delve into such stuff, but don’t stop reading. Ignorance can be dangerous. Trust us on this: you need to know more about your sewer. Not a whole lot more, maybe, but more. Sometimes a little bit of knowledge can save you a lot of grief. It may even save your life. This is one of those times.

There’s A Whole ‘Nuther World Down There…

Late instar American cockroach, whose favorite habitat is the sewer. This cockroach is known to carry a number of parasites and diseases of concern to humans and our companion pets.

Late instar American cockroach (Periplaneta americana), whose favorite habitat is the sewer. This cockroach is known to carry a number of parasites and diseases of concern to humans and our companion pets. Keep in mind that this insect begins as a small nymph that — on hatching from the egg — is only a few millimeters in length. The nymph molts six to 14 times, over a 600 day period (almost 20 months) before reaching the adult stage where it attains a body length from 1 3/8th inch to 2 1/8th inches (34-53 mm) long. Immediately after molting the insect is white in color, but it soon darkens. All stages of development actively forage for food.

Some naturally associate sewers with death, but in actuality they teem with life. Rats, water bugs (a euphemism for the peridomestic cockroaches known commonly as American cockroaches, and scientifically as Periplaneta americana), snakes, and all kinds of other forms of wildlife. In this article we will be telling the tale of two worlds, the “world of the sewer” and “our world, up here.” In the process we will help the reader come to grips with the not too pleasant fact that though those two spheres seem worlds apart, they are in truth separated by only a few inches — if that.

So, why should we care? Good question. Here’s the answer:

The few inches that separate our world from that of the sewer provide a formidable barrier, as long as we do our part to make sure that barrier is strong. Whenever we fail to keep that barrier intact, those two worlds are capable of coming together in ways that create havoc in ours, the world “up here.” Most people are unaware of the dangers of letting our guard down. This article will not only alert you to those dangers, it will show you how to make sure your home and place of work are kept as safe as possible.

Sewers and the American Cockroach

You may have noticed, earlier, that the American cockroach is a peridomestic insect. The adjective refers to an organism that lives in and around human habitations. Unlike the German cockroach (Blatella germanica), however, which is the cockroach most often associated with humans and which is capable of creating large colonies in our kitchens and bathrooms, the American cockroach prefers habitats that are much more humid, i.e., places like our sewer systems. Still, they are associated with humans because we produce waste products that help them thrive. The moist environs of our sewers are perfect for them, and that’s where you are likely to find hundreds, even thousands of these insects.

Adult male American cockroach (Periplaneta americana). Note the pale margin around the shield behind the head. This distinguishes the American cockroach from the smoky brown cockroach (Periplaneta fuliginosa), which is uniformly dark brown and lives in the landscape rather than in the sewer.

Adult male American cockroach (Periplaneta americana). Note the pale margin around the shield behind the head. This distinguishes the American cockroach from the smoky brown cockroach (Periplaneta fuliginosa), which is uniformly dark brown and lives in the landscape rather than in the sewer.

American cockroaches pose a public health problem because of their association with human waste and disease. Obviously, an organism that lives in sewers gets covered with the stuff sewers have running through them. If these organisms stayed in the sewer and didn’t venture out, we’d never have to worry about them.  Fortunately, most — including the American cockroach — prefer living in the sewer. Furthermore, our sewers are specially designed to keep sewer vermin inside the sewer, where they pose no risk to humans. That’s good news.

The design features of our sewer systems that keep sewer vermin where they belong are the result of hundreds of years of plumbing research and development. Yet, like most things in life, those design features are not static things that work without our assistance. To work right, they require us to keep our plumbing fixtures in good condition. When we fail at that, sewer vermin easily get into our homes and businesses, and that’s very bad news.

Once out of the sewer and into our homes sewer vermin like the American cockroach are capable of contaminating everything they touch with whatever pathogens they may have picked up while they dwelt in the sewer. By way of example, more than 22 species of pathogenic human bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoans, plus as many as five species of helminthic worms, have been isolated from American cockroaches. It goes without saying that you don’t want that stuff in your home. This article has one goal: to show you and others how to make sure sewer vermin stay where they belong, so you don’t have to worry about the results of the contamination they are capable of spreading when they get out of their preferred habitat.

So, How Can We Keep Sewer Vermin Where They Belong?

Easy. Make sure your sewer seals are intact, and that every sewer appliance under your control is always kept fully hydrated. Sounds simple enough, right? And it is. In general. But, again like lots of things in life, the devil is in the details. Some of the details pertinent to the question at hand are less than intuitive. This article is devoted to making those details easy to understand.

More to come…

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References to Scientific Literature

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— Questions? Comments? Corrections? e-mail jerry.cates@entomobiotics.com. You may also register, log in, and leave a detailed comment in the space provided below.

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