It started last winter when an exterminator in New York City noticed a strange looking cockroach in a bait station in a Manhattan apartment complex. After subsequent unsuccessful attempts to exterminate the strange looking cockroaches, a sample roach was passed on until it came to cockraoch experts at Rutgers University, who positively identified the mysterious roach as a totally new species.
At least new to America. The species, identified as the Asian Periplaneta japonica, comes from Japan, Korea and China. It probably came into New York city through luggage or possibly in imported plants. The distinctive characteristic of the Asian japonica roach is its extreme resilience to cold. Like many insects who are cold-tolerant, the Asian cockroach has a built-in defense mechanism that helps it to survive the cold winters of China and Korea – a natural antifreeze called trehalose that prevents their body functions from shutting down at extremely low temperatures.
Practically speaking, this means that New Yorkers dealing with japonica roach infestations might not get a reprieve during the winter, Whereas typical American cockroaches will go dormant in extreme cold, the japonica stays active.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that it is unlikely that the Asian japonica will breed in numbers to have a real detrimental impact on New York’s ecosystem. Cockroach genitalia are incredibly complex and diverse, making it very difficult for different species of roaches to breed with one another. This makes it extremely unlikely that the japonica will be able to mate with native roaches. In an ecosystem that is already glutted with millions of other native species, such as the German roach and the American roach, the market might simply be too crowded for another roach competitor.
In the meantime, the roach team at Rutgers is continuing to study the new roach and monitor their presence in New York.