- The Washington Times - Monday, May 8, 2000

TAMPA, Fla. Don't flush that roach.

Twenty-five cockroaches are lurking around Florida's Pasco and Pinellas counties with tiny bar codes glued to their backs.

Turn one of them in alive or squished flat by a magazine and you could win up to $1 million.

Another of the roaches is good for a new car a 2000 Volkswagen Bug, of course.

It's part of a gimmick by a Clearwater, Fla., pest control company and 13 other exterminators nationwide promoting themselves by offering prizes for finding the lucky roaches.

"Next year we may bar code mice, or rats, or lawyers," said Howard Bright, owner of Anti-Pesto Bug Killers in Clearwater.

Mr. Bright, his wife and 9-month-old son last week drove through Pinellas and Pasco unleashing the tagged pests, all of which were locals anyway. He won't say where he left them.

The $1 million roach could be in any one of the 14 urban areas participating in the contest.

"I'd say their money is pretty safe," University of Florida entomologist Phil Koehler said of the pest companies.

In warm climates, Mr. Koehler said, the roaches most likely stayed outside. He said people probably have a better shot of winning the lottery than finding a tagged cockroach scampering somewhere in the United States. Some roaches can live a year or more, spending that time mostly eating, drinking, reproducing and hiding.

The contest, which started May 1 and runs through June 30, offers several shots at a prize. One of the 25 Tampa Bay roaches has a code that wins a 2000 Volkswagen, and the rest would earn $100 if turned in to Anti-Pesto.

Anti-Pesto also will pay $1,000 for the largest roach (with or without a bar code) found in Tampa Bay. That winner will be eligible for a $5,000 award if the roach is bigger than any other turned in across the country. (The odds are with Florida, as the state produces some of the grandest roaches on the continent.)

It has to be a native roach, however, not some gargantuan exotic species. "I saw one when I was in the Dominican Republic that was 3 inches," Mr. Bright recounted. "This thing was a monster. You could have rode him."

How, you might reluctantly ponder, does one attach bar codes to cockroaches? Not easily.

First, they placed live roaches in the office freezer for 40 seconds to daze the cold-blooded buggers. Then they used surgical glue to attach the bar codes, roughly an eighth of an inch long.

"It was quite an experience. They would start to come out of it and start running around. It got quite interesting," said Mr. Bright, who advises against trying to scan any coded roaches at the supermarket.

He already has one nominee turned in for Tampa Bay's biggest. It's lying dead on his desk. "I've been in this business for 18 years," Mr. Bright said. "They don't give me the heebie-jeebies anymore."

• Distributed by Scripps Howard

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