Author Archives: bjk1

A Shocking Discovery: Blattodea Abound!

Everything’s bigger in Texas… I wish I had a nickel for every time I heard that in the four years that I’ve lived here. This isn’t just a case of Texas pride (which, of course is… bigger) – almost everything in Texas actually is bigger. Take BBQ for example. Or guns. High school football is almost unreal. And cockroaches. The most obscenely large cockroaches I’ve ever seen.

As winter approaches, it has become increasingly difficult to leave the cozy confines of my bed in the morning. Each morning becomes just a little bit cooler than the last. On one particular morning last week, I awoke at 7:15 am for class that would start in about 45 minutes. Of course, by waking up at 7:15 am, I really mean playing the “How many times can I hit my snooze button” game with myself until about 5 minutes before class starts. So there I was, shivering head to toe, throwing on sweat pants, a shirt, and a hoodie as fast as I could so that I could make it to class on time.  Everything was going according to plan until I slipped my feet into my shoes, and felt a little prick on my big toe. Whatever, I thought, and continued towards the bathroom to catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. As I was entering the bathroom, I felt something else in my shoe. As if something was moving a little bit. Strange, I thought, and took the shoe off my foot and shook it upside down. Nothing. I heard a shriek from my roommate, and I looked up to see him pointing towards the outside of my shoe. And there it was. The mystery mover in the shoe, the great tickler of the toes, the Texas-sized American cockroach.

Being the insect nerds that my roommate and I are, we both looked at each other and sang in harmony “BLATTODEA!” (the order of insects to which cockroaches belong). I picked up my shoe and smashed the cockroach to death, and the cockroach was no longer.

You had it coming, little fella.

But, throughout the day, I couldn’t shake the feeling that my deceased cockroach friend laid eggs inside my shoe and its babies were all waiting for the right moment to strike. Or that maybe there was a whole colony of cockroaches underneath my bed and this courageous individual just happened to wander off into my shoe. Or maybe I brought home all sorts of insects from a recent hike through the woods and were now breeding all sorts of hybrid nasty pests… Why did this have to happen to me?!? Why does Houston have to be filled with so many cockroaches? What was the cockroach doing in my shoe? I searched the Internet for answers.

Houston’s semi-tropical climate is a perfect breeding ground for insects. The high humidity and temperatures combine to create a perfect habitat for cockroaches. However, as daytime temperatures fall in the winter months, cockroaches are found more often indoors, due to their intolerance of cold temperatures. American cockroaches in particular, thrive in warm, humid environments, where they can grow up to 2 inches in length ( Sounds familiar. Especially the up to two inches part.

In addition, cockroaches are mainly nocturnal and run away when exposed to light ( So that explains why the cockroach was hanging out inside my shoe as the sun came up in the morning.

Many species of cockroaches, including American cockroaches, only mate one time and are then pregnant for life ( About every 4 days, females produce a capsule, which contain 13-16 eggs. Then, the females glue their capsules in hidden areas. For instance, inside a shoe. Or underneath a bed. Great.

A typical American cockroach capsule, with nymphs.

Image courtesy of

The more I read about cockroach behavioral tendencies, the more worried I became (similar to the webMD paranoia I experience from time to time). As a result, I rushed to CVS and nearly cleared the shelves of all of the pest repellent and cockroach traps it had in stock.

It’s been about a week since my fateful encounter, and thankfully there haven’t been any other cockroach sightings in my dorm. Knock on wood.

Beware the Bees!

About ten years ago, my father had a near death experience (NDE). It wasn’t caused by a car accident, heart attack, or any other sort of traumatic experience. His NDE was the result of a single bee sting; no different from the ones we’ve all had countless times. He collapsed to the ground off his bike and was subsequently rushed to a nearby hospital. Anaphylaxis set in, and his throat nearly closed shut. At first, the nurses disregarded his condition. However, once they measured his blood pressure, they sprung into action, eventually restoring his health.

Of course, anyone who has a wasp or bee allergy has heard these types of horror stories and has taken necessary precautions to avoid these circumstances. However, in my father’s case, he had no idea that he was allergic to bees. He had been stung many times before (as a consequence of working outdoors his entire adult life), and never experienced such a severe reaction. In fact, nearly half of all people who die from bee sting anaphylaxis did not know that they were allergic to bee stings ( So, how do you just become allergic to bees? What should you do if you suddenly find yourself reacting severely to a bee sting? And who should be worried about becoming allergic to bees?

Put bluntly, anyone can become allergic to anything, anytime. Even my father, about 40 years old at the time, suddenly became allergic to bee stings, seemingly over night. The primary suspect is a chemical called melittin, which stimulates nerve endings of nerve receptors in the skin. Injection of melittin into a normal person’s body is followed by a sharp pain that lasts a few minutes, which then gives way to a dull ache. In other words, you’ll heal before you’re married. However, if the melittin circulates your blood stream and finds antibodies associated with cells on your vital organs, these cells will begin to release massive amounts of histamines, and soon your blood pressure drops and fluid builds in your lungs  ( These symptoms, collectively called anaphylaxis, can be life-threatening if not treated.

Luckily, there’s a relatively easy solution to anaphylaxis. Injection of epinephrine (adrenaline) will usually reverse any ill-effects of a bee sting within seconds. Epinephrine works by acting on receptors on blood vessels to increase blood pressure.

Truly a life saving device!

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As far as genetics are considered, people whose parents are allergic to bees are not necessarily allergic to them as well. It is true, however, that if your parents are allergic to bees, there is a great risk that you are allergic to something as well; but not necessarily bees ( It’s important to note that allergies arise from a combination of genetics (from your parents) and a certain exposure to something in the environment.

Every so often, I receive a group text from my mother to all her children. One day last week, we all got this lovely mugshot of my father with the caption “SEND HELP!:

Reppin Rice all the way up in Ohio!

At least he can have a sense of humor about it.