By Marcia Anderson
New York City is home to eight million people and countless cockroaches, so what’s a few more? That’s right. Better make room in the apartment for a few cousins from across the Pacific.
The new roach is Periplaneta japonica, a petite Asian relative of the common American cockroach. The species was first spotted in New York in 2012 by an exterminator checking a roach trap on the High Line, an elevated walkway and park on Manhattan’s west side. The Asian immigrant was positively identified by two Rutgers University insect biologists: Jessica Ware and Dominic Evangelista, through its DNA. It was documented in the Journal of Economic Entomology “Using DNA Barcodes to Confirm the Presence of a New Invasive Cockroach Pest in New York City.”
The biologists suspect that one or more of the ornamental plants that adorn the High Line arrived in soil that contained the new pest. Despite the fact that the High Line’s gardens focus on native plants, many nurseries grow native plants alongside imports. The roaches, commonly found in China and Korea, may have traveled to the U.S. in the soil of the imports.
Time to call the Mayor and the National Guard? The Rutgers researchers say there probably is no reason for New Yorkers to panic because this species is very similar to the cockroaches that already exist in the city. The new roaches may thrive in the northeast and out-compete their local American cockroach cousins, due to a unique ability to survive freezing temperatures and to tolerate snow. So what? It is not like there is a shortage of cockroaches in New York City or in any other urban area.
Roaches are the real survivors. Think about it. Cockroaches have been around for 300 million years, long before the dinosaurs, and have survived multiple global extinction events. They are built to survive and have a well-earned reputation for the ability to live in the worst of conditions, including scant food or even no air for a time. It is often said that if humanity succeeds in destroying itself, roaches will inherit the Earth.
What about interbreeding and creating a super roach? That’s an unsettling thought! Remember the super roach in “Men in Black”? Will it soon be time to call in Agents K and J to save Manhattan, again? Not to worry. It is highly unlikely there will be any crossbreeding because of physical differences.
Is the Asian cockroach an invasive species? To be truly invasive, a species has to move in, take over and out-compete a native species. That does not appear to be the case here because this species is very similar to the multiple cockroach species that already exist in the urban environment. However, the Rutgers scientists believe that it will likely compete with other species for space and for food. Competition is a good thing. The roaches may spend more time and energy competing and less time and energy reproducing.
Health Concerns: Indoor cockroaches are a leading causes of allergies, asthma and other bronchial disorders in humans. In fact, cockroaches are one of the main triggers for asthma attacks for children living in inner cities, and the higher rate of asthma in kids. Additionally, cockroaches are capable of carrying disease organisms and bacteria on their bodies and in their fecal material. The presence of cockroaches in and around urban structures is an indication that cockroach food, moisture and harborage resources are present. These conditions allow them to proliferate.
Still concerned about roaches invading your neighborhood? Until recently, efforts to control cockroaches in the urban environment have relied almost exclusively on repeated pesticide applications. This approach to cockroach control has become increasingly less popular, primarily due to roaches developing resistance to pesticides and increased public concern about pesticide use in their living environment, especially around children. These two issues emphasize the need for a more holistic approach to cockroach management and for a way off of the pesticide treadmill.
Here’s how to prevent roaches from taking over your home, school, or office: There is a lot that you can do to prevent a roach invasion by following a smart, sensible, and sustainable approach to pest control called Integrated Pest Management (IPM). Roach control is most easily accomplished by exclusion (keeping cockroaches out) and sanitation (eliminating food, water and shelter). Not only will these measures reduce an existing cockroach problem, they will prevent future infestations. In addition to preventative measures, cockroach traps and insecticide baits and gels may be needed to control an active infestation. In the case of infestations, having a professional provide advice and on both IPM and pesticides is a wise decision and may save time, money and reduce unnecessary exposure to pesticides.
Look for more on smart, sensible, and sustainable ways to manage cockroaches in an upcoming blog.
About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.