Zoo employees making their plant-watering rounds in the aviary were used to critters of all shapes and sizes, especially the free-flying birds in the lush tropical environment. But they were not accustomed to what lay deep beneath the plants of the facility.
“The cockroaches were down in the soil and just came ‘boiling’ forth when plants were watered,” says Waldvogel. “They were American roaches (water bugs), Australian roaches and Surinam roaches, from South America. A lot of them came with the exotic plants. Also the bird food was out, so they were thriving on that. They’re tropical roaches, so add the factor of the climate in the aviary, and this was cockroach heaven.”
However, it was not healthy for them to be there or for the birds to eat them. Fortunately, the problem, while noticeable to workers, was not as apparent to visitors. Waldvogel and Schal, cockroach expert and Blanton J. Whitmire Professor of Structural Pest Management, were consulted for a solution.
“We needed to develop a program for them that’s spray-free to reduce the amount of pesticides. We wanted the chemicals limited in space — invisible to humans but visible to cockroaches,” recalls Schal.
“Our problem was we had to get the population of roaches down, but obviously you can’t spray in this environment where birds fly free and the public is passing through,” says Waldvogel. “So how can you control in this environment?”
Their solution was to get the roaches to the pesticides through baiting, a method by which no chemicals encroached upon the environment of the birds or the aviary’s visitors. “We devised a piece of PVC tube and/or a section of garden hose, put a little dab of bait inside, out of reach of a bird’s beak, and capped the other end. Cockroaches love to crawl into things like this, so we were using their behavior against them,” says Waldvogel.
Upon receiving the technical advice, zoo staff members did all the bait placement, a procedure approved by both the zoo veterinarian and the USDA.
“People could not even see the tubes stuck under foliage and among the branches of trees” says Waldvogel. “And it did the trick. Fewer and fewer were coming out. Finally you couldn’t find any! It was so successful, when we went to make a videotape of the facility and the project, there were no live roaches for us to use. Also, they were having an ant problem that the same baits cleared up. The success lay in delivering baits so the birds couldn’t get them.”