There are some things that belong in a computer. Wires, chips, whirring mechanical doodads—what most of us would think of, sensibly, as “hard drive stuff.” Absent from this list—absent from most lists, except those dealing with repugnant, six-legged disease vectors—are cockroaches. A cockroach in a hard drive? That is simply not where a cockroach is supposed to be. And yet there they are, defying the laws of hard drives, not to mention nature. What is responsible for this abomination? What is it in the twisted cockroach psyche that compels them over and over to commit this particular crime? For this week’s Giz Asks, we reached out to a number of experts to find out.
Owner at York Computer Repair
They really like the warmth of electronic devices—they’ll find their way into televisions, computers, almost anything they can fit their little body into. I’ve seen it many, many times.
I’ve seen computers come into our service center just infested with roaches, to the point that we have to immediately take them outside and put them in a trash bag and treat them like a biohazard. You tend to know pretty quickly whether a machine is infested beyond repair—more than once we’ve started to take a machine apart and they’ve started going crazy and pouring out of the computer like they’re scared. It’s terrible. I once saw roaches pouring out of a TV—they were in all the little holes and vents around the top.
Partly, it’s just gross, but it can get to the point where it actively ruins the hardware—I’ve seen situations where there’s gunk or feces in the components which will eventually destroy them.
You also tend to see a lot of spiders and dust bunnies. Occasionally you’ll see a small mouse, though that doesn’t happen too often—it’s a little too noisy in there for them.
“They really like the warmth of electronic devices.”
CEO of New York Computer Help
We’ve been doing this for twenty years, and in that time we’ve seen dead roaches, we’ve seen half-alive roaches, we’ve seen crawling ones. We’ve gotten to the point where we’ve had to bag a computer up. Not many techs do well with things that are crawling around.
How do they get in there? I hate to say it—I would never name names—but: uncleanliness. You can tell a lot about the state of somebody’s house or apartment just based on their computer. If you’ve seen somebody’s computer, you’ll know how well-kept that home is, typically.
As for what attracts roaches to computers—two things. There’s the heat, which they really like, especially in the wintertime. And then there’s crumbs. A typical computer user might, for instance, eat breakfast over the keyboard, or bake and cook over it—which is definitely happening a lot more now, with the coronavirus.
“There’s the heat, which they really like, especially in the wintertime. And then there’s crumbs.”
That said, roaches are rare—when you see them, that’s when you know you really need to intervene with somebody. Are they hoarding? Not taking care of themselves? It’s an extreme. But we’ve also seen bugs. We’ve seen flies. Worst case scenario, we’ve seen feces and urine from animals. When Apple sees anything like that, they’ll deem it hazardous and refuse to fix it. A lot of these people come to us. If it’s over-the-top creepy-crawly, we’re not going to take it, but if it’s a leg or something, or if it looks like the roaches have already taken their course, then, yeah, we’ll take it in.
When people come into us with issues like this, I tell them to be mindful of their laptop’s vents and fans. Be mindful of the space around you—keep it clean. If you’re working on a table, wipe it down, dry it down, make sure there’s no room for infestation. Roaches can pretty easily come in through the vents and fans. And you want to keep crumbs away from the keyboard, too, because that could lead not just to roaches but also to worms, and bugs, and all that fun stuff.
CEO of Gillware Data Recovery
Bugs and electronics have been a thing since electronics have been a thing. The computing term bugs (as in buggy software) got coined back in the 1940s when a moth got smoked in an early computer. The zapped bug and log are supposedly in the Smithsonian somewhere.
Cockroaches love to hide in dark warm places. What better place than a toasty warm Playstation, a desktop computer or an external hard drive? Gross! Most of the time people don’t notice they got in there, until those electronics don’t turn on anymore. When you or a service technician open them up, that’s when you are going to see the lovely roach poop and hopefully the dead and zapped cockroaches that introduced themselves into the circuitry and rode the lightning. Or you may see a live one skittering, in which case you are going to drop said device on the ground and likely scream in terror, at least that is how I would personally handle it.
If you are looking for advice on how to get rid of them, I’m the wrong man. Kill them with fire? People send the hard drives with shorted electronics to us for temporary repair (so we can recover their data). So we’re great at the recovery work, but not cockroach removal experts. The only less popular situation with our data recovery engineering staff is when cats urinate on electronics. Don’t ignore your cats people. We often get the call that there was a liquid spill on a laptop that shorted out the electronics. Water, beer, wine, no problem! But there is nothing quite like the smell in the room while doing SMT rework on electrical components with dried cat urine.
“Cockroaches love to hide in dark warm places. What better place than a toasty warm Playstation, a desktop computer or an external hard drive? Gross!”
Being in business for 20 years, we’ve encountered all kinds of weird repairs ranging from flea infested devices to bullet holes in people’s laptops. One of the most difficult and frustrating things we have encountered are devices that are filled with dead and living roaches. The reason these pests like to reside inside of computers and laptops is because the interior of these devices are very warm and dark. The cramped spaces inside makes them feel secure and closely mimics their natural habitat. Also, the processor and the motherboard both generate a lot of heat and are usually located close to the hard-drive. The roaches cannot get into the physical drive but can often reside on it and on parts around it. That said, one of the best ways to avoid getting your device compromised by bugs and roaches is to make sure your home is free of these pests. Also if possible, open your desktop monthly to check and see if you can spot any living creatures crawling around inside.
The last and most important cause of these infestations is when the desktop/device user leaves food on or around their device(s). This attracts all sorts of insects and will make them more likely to crawl inside. Tiny particles of food can often fall into the many cracks and crevices located on your machine and this gives these pests an incentive to explore further. The faster you can identify their presence in the machine, the quicker you can stop them from laying eggs and multiplying inside. It is always a good idea to bring your device to a professional instead of dealing with this problem yourself. If one or more roaches are left unfound, they can lay their eggs and quickly bring you back to square one. All in all, taking proper care, staying vigilant, and maintaining a clean space around your machine is the best way to prevent these infestations.
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