Never-Seen-Before Asian Cockroach Species That Can Survive Harsh Winters Found In New York

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Add yet another critter to New York City's list of pests. This time, it's a new species of cockroach.

The latest import, from Asia, can survive harsh winters and has been seen for the first time in the United States, and in one of New York’s most popular tourist attractions, The High Line park, according to researchers. Unlike the city's local roaches, the new species, called Periplaneta Japonica, is capable of withstanding both warm indoor temperatures and freezing outdoor temperatures, according to a study published in the Journal of Economic Entomology on Monday.

“About 20 years ago colleagues of ours in Japan reared nymphs of this species and measured their tolerance to being able to survive in snow,” Jessica Ware of Rutgers University's Newark campus, said in a statement. “As the species has invaded Korea and China, there has been some confirmation that it does very well in cold climates, so it is very conceivable that it could live outdoors during winter in New York. That is in addition to its being well suited to live indoors alongside the species that already are here.”

The Asian species was first spotted in New York in 2012 by an exterminator working on the High Line. These cockroaches looked different to him from the type that usually crawl around Manhattan, so he sent the carcasses to the University of Florida for analysis.

Ware, along with Dominic Evangelista of Rutgers, used various scientific methods to confirm the cockroach’s Asian origin. And though it is still unclear how the species arrived in the U.S., Ware and Evangelista suspect that one or more of the ornamental plants that decorate the High Line arrived in soil that might have contained the new bug.

“Many nurseries in the United States have some native plants and some imported plants, so it's not a far stretch to picture that that is the source,” Ware and Evangelista said. “If we discover more populations in the U.S., we could trace their genes back to try to figure out their exact sources.”

The High Line is a nearly two-mile stretch of unused elevated railway line on the city's western flank that was converted to a park and opened to the public in June 2009.

As for potential roach sightings on sidewalks and in parks during the dead of winter, Ware and Evangelista believe such encounters could be possible. However, the researchers say, there is little likelihood that the different species could interbreed and create a hybrid because their genitalia do not match.

“The male and female genitalia fit together like a lock and key and that differs by species,” Evangelista said. “So we assume that one won’t fit the other.”

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