The child in this case study had a cockroach nymph removed from her ear. The infestation of ear canals with various arthropods such as cockroaches, ticks, maggots, etc. is not uncommon and numerous reports are present in the literature. Most of these infestations occur in crowded areas or where the living conditions are conducive to invasion by arthropods.
Some identifications made by readers were that of a bed bug. And this is understandable for various reasons. First, the heavily segmented body of the cockroach nymph can resemble the segmented body of the bed bug. However the shape of the body is not typical of a bed bug. Most bed bugs have a rounder shape to the body and are flat. Though well-fed bedbugs will assume a somewhat elongated body. Cockroaches on the other hand are oval to oval-elongate in shape and are often described as “football shaped”. Unlike the bed bug which has a well exposed head, the head of the cockroach is concealed by a large shield shaped pronotum. The legs of the cockroach are covered with spines while those of the bed bug are not. The antennae of the cockroach are significantly longer than those of the bed bug. Nymph cockroaches have no wings while adult cockroaches generally have wings, and bed bugs have no hind wings with the front wings reduced to leathery pads. That having been said, the cockroach usually will have wings that are either functional or not depending on the species.
While the mouth parts of the bed bug are developed for piercing and sucking, the mouthparts of the cockroach are developed for chewing.
Perhaps the most prominent identifying feature is the presence of two small appendages at the posterior end of the cockroach’s abdomen. These small yet prominent appendages are called “cerci” and are especially prominent in cockroach nymphs. These can be seen in the photograph of the nymph above. Though they can be difficult to see in adults where they are usually covered above by the hind wings.
Infestations in homes and buildings can be extremely difficult to eradicate. The cockroach is extremely resilient and move rapidly, adapting to its environment. Eradication is nearly impossible in one unit of housing if the whole building is not treated and possibly surrounding buildings that are infested. They are mobile and will search out food and new places to dwell. It is an unfortunate consequence of poverty.
On a personal note, I can attest to the psychological effect of an infestation with cockroaches.
When I was young my mother, sister and I had to move into inner city projects. A collection of low income apartments, I can still remember the musty smell that permeated the complex maze of buildings that was our home for at least two years. I remember the weekly violence, the drugs, the hopelessness. But most of all I remember those cockroaches.
They seemed like armies continuously invading our house. Sporadically seen during the day. Seemingly hundreds scurrying around in the darkness of the night. The more we killed the more that seemed to reappear. My sister and I would sleep with fear of them crawling on us in our sleep or worse. Meanwhile my mother who prided herself as being meticulously neat and clean would relentlessly try to rid the apartment of them.
Most disheartening was the memory of my mother’s look of defeat on those days that she felt it was all but hopeless.
When I see a person suffering from an infestation my past brings me to an empathetic understanding of what it is like to be in a position of poverty. Most of these people are just victims of their environment and the social ills that afflict them. If they could, I do not doubt that they would move or rid themselves of the infestation. Many have been fortunate enough in life not to experience and therefore understand the plight of poverty. But I sometimes wonder if it is best to have been unfortunate in life and thereby be able to more easily understand and be empathetic to those around us less unfortunate.
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