Alien Cockroach Species Invading the U.S.

Adult males of the Turkestan cockroach (left) and the oriental cockroach, two invaders to the U.S. Photograph by Entomological Society of America

New York City, home to eight million people and untold numbers of cockroaches, just got a few more of the latter.

A newly seen species, Periplaneta japonica, has just been discovered in New York’s elevated High Line park. As its name implies, the cockroach is native to Japan, and this is the first time it’s been spotted in the United States.

“It is closely related to the common American cockroach (Periplaneta americana) although it is a bit smaller,” said Dominic Evangelista, a Ph.D. candidate in insect biology at Rutgers University in New Jersey, who, with co-author Jessica Ware, documented the roach’s presence in a new study just published in the Journal of Economic Entomology.

What has New Yorkers’ ears perking up (and skin crawling) about the news isn’t just the fact that there’s a new bug in town, but that it boasts an unusual resistance to cold weather, which perhaps isn’t the most welcome development when it concerns a creature already popularly known for its hardiness and supposed ability to survive an atomic blast.

“It can survive outdoors, and thrives on ice,” said Ware, whose lab conducted the study, meaning the newcomers could have a better chance of toughing out a New York winter than their local cousins have. “It is possible that they will spread and thrive over the winter given their cold tolerance,” said Ware in an email.

While it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how the newcomer arrived, the researchers suspect that imported ornamental plants in the High Line park could have brought the bugs as stowaways in their soil.

As for whether New York’s latest import will spread in its new environment: “We really don’t know yet,” said Evangelista. “We hear that they are very abundant on the High Line but so far haven’t been reported anywhere else.”

Evangelista added that New Yorkers who spot the small, black roach can help track the newly arrived species by sharing a photo with BugGuide.net or tweeting it to the Twitter handles @Roach_Brain or @NYInvasiveSpp.

The thought of yet another insect home invader to contend with may do little to help already-much-pestered New Yorkers rest easy, but the good news, according to Ware and Evangelista, is that the new species will have to compete with local roaches, which could have a limiting effect on both populations.

Net Effect

New York isn’t the only place seeing changes in its roach population. Throughout the southwestern United States, the invasive Turkestan cockroach (Blatta lateralis) is thought to be displacing the so-called oriental cockroach (Blatta orientalis) in urban centers.

With a faster life cycle and larger broods, the Turkestan cockroach is thought to be outlaying and outpacing its competition.

“Clearly the Turkestan cockroach breeds faster than does the oriental cockroach,” Michael K. Rust, a professor of entomology at the University of California, Riverside, and author of a new article on the subject in the Journal of Economic Entomology, said in an email.

“At this point, I think the greater reproductive capacity may be the reason that Turkestan cockroaches are displacing oriental cockroaches.”

Rust explained that the Turkestan cockroach is thought to originate from central Asia. While the origins of the oriental cockroach are more murky, he said recent studies suggest it may be from the Middle East.

Though its role has yet to be examined, the Internet may also be a contributing factor to its spread, as the Turkestan cockroach can be easily bought and sold online and is popular as live feed among animal breeders, particularly those dealing with reptiles.

“Since they can’t climb smooth surfaces and breed quickly for a large cockroach species, it appears to be pretty popular,” said Rust.

Insect Shifts

While the spread of invasive new roach species may constitute a demographic shift in the U.S. roach population, Ware pointed out that it wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened.

“The American cockroach invaded the U.S., probably with the slave trade, so we are experiencing perhaps another shift in pests in NYC,” she said. (Ware said the American cockroach is thought to have originated in Africa.)

Ware also put in a good word for the much-maligned insects, which, for all their creepiness, do little actual harm.

“Cockroaches are amazing, and of the roughly 4,500 species there are only two percent that are pests,” says Ware.

“The rest are remarkable.”

Follow Stefan Sirucek on Twitter.

Stefan Sirucek is a writer and journalist who reports from both sides of the Atlantic. He's written for the Huffington Post and Wall Street Journal. Follow him on Twitter at @sirstefan.
  • reality33

    It’s actually came from CHINA.
    I study insects but I’ve never seen that particular species in JAPAN.

  • Chad McDonald

    Sounds like an MIB issue

  • William R Woodward

    We had cockroaches in Vienna, VA and killed them by putting the belongings in a U-Pac storage bin for a week in November when the weather was cold and the conditions were dry.

  • anon

    There’s only one coach roach that I am aware of, a dead one!

  • john123

    this seems a little wierd

  • john123

    really this time of year talk about bad timeing

  • that2345

    That’s bad news for the us, but we can handle it its just bunch of

  • Yusuf

    I study insects too, significantly, cockroach won’t give too much Bad impact to the human society as mosquitoes does. Hope that helpful. TEEHEE.

  • fatcattx

    reality23 you have to be careful because the picture is not about the Roach from Japan but shows roaches from Asia and the Middle East that are talked about at the end of the story… not sure why they do not have a pic of the Roach the Tagline is about


    really were so worried about a bug!

  • Matt Chew

    China, Japan, New York, Asia, Honshu, Manhattan, and North America are irrelevant to the roaches, and not just because they don’t have words for them. Insects don’t live in countries, or on continents, or on islands, or in cities. Very little about how people delineate and understand geography is relevant to them. In an important sense, a roach carried in the soil of a potted plant hasn’t moved at all–for the practical purposes of being a roach. A nursery grown tree will normally be transplanted to a site where the conditions maintained for it will be effectively identical to those where it was originally planted. Replanting the tree without stressing it will replant all the accompanying organisms without stressing them. Could a roach in pot have the same perception of departure from one place and arrival in another as, say, we imagine Dorothy Gale did when her house departed Kansas and landed in Oz? Probably not. If it took you one minute to read this comment to this point, while you were reading you moved about 30km rotationally, 900km along the planet’s orbital path around the sun, 1500km along the solar system’s orbital path around the galaxy and 18,000km within the ‘local group’ of galaxies. Quite a ride. Did you notice that you were being transplanted?

  • LeafyJune

    While it”s true that roaches aren’t dirty, themselves, it’s their habit of eating in any sequence : most species’ feces, our foodstuffs, our wastes (even when properly contained, like in sanitary waste-drains), our pets’ food & waste, dead wildlife’s decomposing bodies, and even our “toe-jam” (in vivo! as we sleep!); even this would be alright were it not for the fact that they defecate profusely and involuntarily,anywhere. And they do not necessarily groom or clean themselves “between meals”, each time. Add to this that ever-present population of rats, and extremely un-clean people in most urban centers, and you have a real picnic in the making! Our only control in NYC is[was] the freezing-down of roach populations each Winter; which also controlled the population of the vermin who eat them(rats & mice).Too bad the Turkestani roach didn’t end up in NY, and the P. japonica in the arid Southwest, where each would’ve had to at least struggle a bit to survive.

  • bob

    Yes, of course we should “be worried about a little bug”. They are creatures of infestation and spread a disgusting residue of insect vomit and excrement anywhere they congregate. They are a pest that should be eradicated however possible.

  • Eric

    @ Matt Chew
    How much time did you spend writing this for how irrelevant it actually is…

  • Elana

    ew this is disgusting but it’s probably not a good thing the insect came here.

  • rajesh sk

    So it is alien.

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