Cold-resistant cockroaches found in Manhattan

Credit: Lyle Buss, University of Florida
This male (left) and female of the species Periplaneta japonica were found on New York City’s High Line iin 2012.
Credit: Lyle Buss, University of Florida

Watch out New York: These cockroaches can walk in a winter wonderland.

An Asian cockroach that can survive cold climates was found for the first time in the U.S. along Manhattan’s High Line, according to a study published in the Journal of Economic Entomology.

“This is a winter-ready cockroach,” explained Rutgers University biologist Jessica Ware, one of the study’s authors.

A few dozen dead cockroaches were collected by a city exterminator from the High Line last year and sent to a two labs before being passed to Ware. Study co-author Dominic Evangelista, who is working toward a doctorate in Ware’s lab, matched the insect’s genes with the Japanese roach, found in parts of Asia.

Unlike the American and German cockroach varieties New Yorkers have come to know — and probably not love — the Periplaneta japonica can survive in freezing temperatures.

Researchers are still uncertain if the insects can survive dirty snow usually lining city sidewalks after winter storms. But 20 years ago, when Japanese researchers submerged some of the insects in driven snow for three hours, the roaches were up and walking six minutes later.

And while this means the roaches can stay outside of apartments in the winter, they’ll also be able to lay eggs outside, Ware said, which ultimately means more roaches to contend with.

Ware thinks the insects might have come to the city by “hitchhiking” on ornamental plants along the High Line. She said the roaches, like other invasive species, could eventually take over natives.

“Their ability to withstand these temperature conditions increases their ability to compete with other species,” Evangelista added.

Ware and other researchers will study the city’s population of roaches when the weather warms. She said it’s too soon to tell if these beasts can best the city’s current pest-control measures.

“We don’t really know enough about this cockroach to understand what measures we have that will work against them,” Ware said.

City exterminators are also wary of the insects.

“There are a few concerns with them,” said Tom King, an exterminator with M&M Pest Control. For one, they might not respond to the same granular bait that are used to lure and kill other cockroaches, he said.

“We don’t really know if they are something that needs to be controlled yet,” King added.

Urban etymologist Gil Bloom said the city is always getting new species of insects.

“It shows how cosmopolitan New York is,” said Bloom, also the president of Standard Pest Management, a family-owned exterminator in the city.

As for Ware, she finds the roaches fascinating.

“But I still think they’re gross,” she said.

Follow Anna Sanders on Twitter @AnnaESanders


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