3 February, 2019, 2:48 pm
EVERY so often, especially as a child, I would come across a reference in a book about black beetles.
I wondered what they were, what they looked like if they were deadly.
The (usually English or American) children in my books would scream and run away from them so they were obviously something bad and dangerous.
It is only extremely recently, thanks to Google, that I discovered the evil black beetle is the common cockroach.
This explained the screaming, although as far as I can discover, the black beetle/cockroach does not have any sort of bite or sting, certainly not a fatal one.
They do, however, nibble.
My online research seemed to be somewhat confused about various beetles and their relationship to cockroaches.
For instance, there was quite a bit under black beetles about Egyptian scarab beetles, which I thought were dung beetles and considered it gross that they would be an object of esteem.
They do, it’s true, usefully roll up the poo of some animals into neat little balls and cart it away to eat.
But the real reason they were admired to the point of becoming sacred is their beautifully coloured, shimmering backs. Or that’s as I understand it.
Ancient Egyptians connected the scarab beetle with the sun god Ra, symbolising renewal and transformation and it became a good luck charm, depicted on temples, tombs, jewellery and artworks as well as in hieroglyphs. Nothing black about that.
Your black beetle that we are all so dreadfully familiar with, the cockroach, will also eat poo.
We of the tropics know it eats anything you leave out in the night, from breadcrumbs to drips of curry down the side of the dirty pot to Milo dregs.
Nothing worse than to come across a mug on the sink that someone failed to wash up last night with a trapped cockroach smirking in the bottom.
It will come as a relief to know that cockroaches won’t eat cucumber because it gives them gas.
Other foods they do snack on, according to Google, include sour beer and dead humans.
Regrettably, they don’t always wait for you to die.
They merely lurk until you are deeply asleep and then have a little nibble of your hair or worse, chomp on the hard, dead skin around your toe or gnaw a nail.
Gross, deeply gross, I know.
But ’tis the hot season for the great cockroach invasion, when the blighters fly in through the louvres, meet their mates and get set to party, party, party all night.
If not in gangs, they at least come in pairs and seem to wear their best boots.
If you aren’t asleep, you can hear them crash land on the curtains and start exploring behind the laundry basket or bookshelf.
From the amount of rustling going on, you would think they were devouring the entire works of Shakespeare.
Then they start grooving around the skirting board, clicking and clomping until some flash dancer takes a run up the wall.
Now is the time to pull the bedcover over your head, because the next move is across the ceiling.
With unerring accuracy, they either plunge onto your prone, bedded body or if in flight, do a quick circle of the room to launch themselves directly at the side of your head.
Don’t even try to explain this sort of cockroach behaviour to visiting aunties and cousins from overseas.
Of six people in the living room, a cockroach that zooms through the window will make for the wall just behind the eldest aunt. With a bit of luck, you are situated so that only you, the charming hostess of a clean, insect pest-free household, can see it.
Short of whistling and waving flags, the cockroach does its most frenzied best to attract attention while the agonised hostess tries to slap it down with a tea towel, pretending to fan herself.
If you have the luck to knock it to the floor, the idle cat who has apathetically watched all this suddenly leaps up and rushes to the downed roach, meowing and pretending to catch it. This fools nobody including the cockroach, who disappears under auntie’s chair.
Wait, there is hope. I have two solutions for the conscientious householder who refuses to resort to toxic sprays.
The first is the tried and true sasa broom method: they reach quite high and a smack with a sasa will knock the cockroach down and out until you can finish it off with a flipflop. Screaming and brutally beating it to death with the broom is also possible.
The other method, according to Google, is to spray it with warm soapy water. The roaches are said to die instantly of suffocation.
And an old-fashioned cockroach barrier for those without air conditioning is a well tucked in mosquito net on the bed. It’s a bit stuffy on hot nights but it beats waking up eye to eye with an insect.
* The views expressed are the author’s and not of this newspaper.