My mother-in-law moved to the Lowcountry.

Coming from Arizona, where scorpions can lurk beneath your bed, you would think cockroaches would be a nonfactor. But as everyone who has relocated to the Lowcountry knows, you never forget the first time you hear a palmetto bug fly across the room. That sound will forever haunt your dreams.

Palmetto bugs are technically American cockroaches. When they're adults, they have wings that help them sort of fly, at least far enough to reach your bed.

There is good news, believe it or not. Palmetto bugs don't bite or sting. They're fast and creepy, but compared to a scorpion's barbed tail, they're relatively harmless.

Palmetto bugs generally live outdoors, another upside to our large, skittering friends. The problem is they come inside in search of food and moisture.

They're more likely to pay a visit during cold winters or after heavy rains, but I see them more often during summer. Unlike their cousin, the German cockroach, palmetto bugs will not lay eggs and start a family under your coffee pot.

I almost never kill a cockroach in the house. Instead, I throw them outside. And I do this bare-handed. They're just too messy to squish. Besides, after 300 million years of evolution, cockroaches have proved resilient. Killing one won't make a difference.

After bare-handing a palmetto bug, I will most certainly wash my hands. Cockroaches thrive in warm, moist environments such as sewers. They do pose a health risk by carrying infectious bacteria that can be transferred to food and have been linked to food poisoning, diarrhea and allergens.

In other words, they can be more than just creepy. They're dirty, filthy, germ-ridden critters. If you bare-hand one, it's wise to wash up.

Palmetto bugs will eat just about anything: dog food, postage stamps, trash, etc. They'll thrive in wood piles and recycling bins so inspect that cardboard box from the garage before bringing it inside. Weatherproofing cracks around doors and windows can limit access, although it's certainly not foolproof.

Last year, when the weather was nice, we slept with the window open. During this time, a palmetto bug paid me a visit in bed. It happened twice.

Each time, I would come out of deep REM sleep to snatch one off my head and wonder, on my way to the bathroom, if I was dreaming.

Thankfully, they never found my wife and it's probably because I sleep next to the window. Ever since we've kept the window closed, I've slept cockroach-free.

Be especially aware of free moisture and available food sources. I know someone who used to sleep with a glass of water by her bed. She doesn't anymore. We store our dog food in a sealed container to keep out palmetto bugs, as well as the dogs.

Most cockroaches can be found in kitchens because of food and water. We once had German cockroaches take up residence behind the dishwasher. We avoided leaving out dirty dishes, quickly removed the trash and treated with insecticide products, but to no avail.

Once I began using a gel bait, however, they soon disappeared. Dollops of gel bait can be dispensed with a syringe under the sink, beneath the dishwasher and other places that pets won't reach. German cockroaches will consume the brown, putty-like material that is laced with an insecticide.

To control palmetto bugs, I treat the outside perimeter of the house with a backpack sprayer and an insecticide. The frequency varies, depending on palmetto bug sightings. During the summer, this is typically once a month, or when we begin seeing them indoors.

The next time you see a palmetto bug crawling across the carpet, and at some point you will, remind yourself they don't bite or sting. They're just creepy.

Tony Bertauski is a horticulture instructor at Trident Technical College. To give feedback, e-mail him at tony.