Seeking a sweet cockroach control solution

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May 9, 2024

Photo: ErikKarits / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

Sucralose may be like Kryptonite to cockroaches, new research reveals. Photo: ErikKarits / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

As noted in Pest Management Professional’s March issue (p. 22), the Journal of Economic Entomology published a study evaluating the oral toxicity of sucralose, marketed in the U.S. as Splenda, on insecticide-resistant and insecticide-susceptible German cockroaches (Blattella germanica). The researchers found mortality was highest when fed a 20 percent concentration.

Given that sucralose is a food-grade product, I found this study interesting because of the implications it could have on our ability to control German cockroaches in sensitive environments, such as kitchens. But that’s not why I wanted to discuss this paper here.

When I’ve shared this study with friends and family, many incorrectly assumed these findings must also suggest that sucralose is toxic to people because it killed German cockroaches. That’s simply not what this study implies.

Just because something is safe or toxic to humans doesn’t always apply to other organisms. The toxicity of dark chocolate to dogs is a great example. I can consume dark chocolate without issue. But if my dogs eat a small piece, it could be life-threatening. That’s because the alkaloid theobromine found in dark chocolate (among other things) is toxic to dogs. Their internal physiology is different enough than ours to change how they respond to such substances.

Artificial sweeteners can impact insects in several ways, including enhanced dehydration, altered feeding behavior and reduced fecundity. Differences in the internal physiology of insects compared to humans include variations in metabolites and receptors that enhance the toxicity of artificial sweeteners to insects.

We’re still learning how these changes and their interactions affect different insects, but the findings in this latest study could mean great things for the future of German cockroach management.

About the Author

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Dr. Bentley is director of training and education for the National Pest Management Association. You can reach him at mbentley@pestworld.org.

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