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Cold-loving cockroaches invade New York, scientists confirm

A cold-tolerant species of roach is calling New York City home and fueling the nightmares of residents.

Periplaneta japonica cockroach
Is it cold in here? Not for these roaches.
Lyle Buss, University of Florida

It sounds like a cross between "The Thing" and "Joe's Apartment," a mostly forgotten film about singing and dancing cockroaches. New York City is now host to an invasion of new bugs from overseas.

The Periplaneta japonica species of roaches love the heat just as much as any other cockroach, but they also laugh in the face of freezing temperatures, making them the polar bears of the cockroach world.

Periplaneta japonica is well known in Asian countries, but was just recently confirmed as taking up residence in the United States. Rutgers insect biologists Jessica Ware and Dominic Evangelista published their squicky findings in the Journal of Economic Entomology.

The pest was first spotted in 2012 by an exterminator in the elevated Manhattan park known as the High Line. Ware suspects the roaches arrived in potted plants that were installed along the park, but there's no direct evidence pointing to the origin of the invasion.

Researchers in Asia had tested japonica's ability to survive in driven snow, which means the roaches could potentially be spotted scurrying across sidewalks in the middle of winter. "I could imagine japonica being outside and walking around, though I don't know how well it would do in dirty New York snow," Ware says.

The new arrivals aren't likely to be welcomed by New York residents, but chances are good the little critters will thrive despite having to compete for resources with the entrenched local roach population. Here's one piece of good news: Periplaneta japonica shouldn't be able to interbreed with the incumbent roaches to make a New York super-roach, according to the Rutgers entomologists. That's a relief.

Ware offers some tips for keeping cockroaches of any kind under control. She recommends keeping a clean house to make sure food isn't on the floor, reducing clutter that gives them hiding places, and using a dehumidifier since very dry air can damage the bugs' egg cases and inhibit reproduction.