Dear Matthew Alice: Please help! Roaches are everywhere. I have used everything to try to get rid of them in my house, but nothing works. I remember about two years ago you mentioned something about some type of chemical powder that was really effective. Would you please print the name of that chemical and where I can find it? I’m desperate. — A.F., East San Diego
I think you have Matthew Alice confused with the Orkin Man. Don’t recall ever recommending miracle chemicals to fight roaches. But I’ll take a guess that you’re thinking of the fabled “Chinese chalk,” imported from China and sold in Asian markets. It’s a white powder pressed into sticks that look like ordinary blackboard chalk. Draw a double line around baseboards, cabinets, whatever, and when the roaches step on it, they die. Or so the Chinese say. But they also say right on the box that it’s nontoxic and completely safe for humans and animals. Not true! In fact, Chinese chalk is so toxic that it can’t be sold here anymore. So you probably won’t be able to find the stuff anyway.
But as long as you’ve asked, I have another solution to your bugful woes. It’s completely biofriendly, though the idea may take a little getting used to. Go to a pet store that sells reptiles and buy a few house geckos. Four or six should do it, depending on how many square feet of space the roaches have claimed. A house gecko will set you back about $4. The gecko family of lizards has made the news recently because they’re champion roach eaters. Most of the publicity has featured the tokay gecko, but that’s a more feisty, foot-long member of the clan, the Doberman of geckoland, that “barks” and bites and won’t let go once it’s clamped down. For some reason they’re popular in New York City for roach control. Well, Gotham may have an especially pugnacious strain of bugs or perhaps the lizards double as a self-defense weapon. House geckos grow to be only a few inches long and spend virtually all their time hiding under and behind things or hunkered down inside your walls waiting for lunch to scurry by. Once you release them, you’ll probably never see them again. And maybe you’ll never see another roach again.
Cockroaches have survived on Earth for about 350 million years, and they’ll surely continue to outthink us. The bug fighters of tomorrow will be armed with biological controls— roach-killing fungus, nematodes, and parasitic wasps. But until then, the old-fashioned, low-tech gecko may be your best bet. Actually, if I were the wagering sort, my dinero would be on the cucarachas. Good luck, and I’d be flattered if you’d name one after me. A gecko, not a roach.