Periplaneta japonica: New cockroach in town sneers at a New York winter

Periplaneta japonica: Biologists identify a species of cockroach in New York City that can reportedly survive a winter there, according to a report released Monday. The newcomer is from Asia. Might it evict its American cousin?

University of Florida/ AP/ File
The male (left) and female Periplaneta japonica are a species of cockroach that is able to withstand harsh winter temperatures. Native to Japan, one has now been confirmed as having taken up residence in New York City.

While the New York City real estate market is tight for humans, it just got a bit more competitive for cockroaches as well. A species of this much-maligned insect – one that can survive in freezing temperatures – has lately made its way from Asia to the Big Apple. 

The species, Periplaneta japonica, is native to Japan and could threaten the American cockroach, currently the pervasive species in New York, according to a recent report published by the Journal of Economic Entomology. 

In situations like this, when a migrating species arrives, the new and old rarely end up cohabiting. Moreover, the Japanese cockroaches’ ability to withstand cold temperatures could give them a one-up on their American counterparts. 

“It is very conceivable that it [the Japanese cockroach] 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,” researcher Jessica Ware said, in a statement. 

The two types of cockroaches “are competing for space and food,” says Ms. Ware, from Rutgers University in Rutgers, N.J. This means there will likely be a winner, and a loser, in the cockroach real estate game, she explains in a telephone interview with the Monitor. 

During winter, American cockroaches survive by finding a warm corner in which to weather the cold, bouncing among a building's apartments to escape exterminators. 

Alas for the vast majority of Americans who do not like cockroaches, competition between the two species is not likely to cause them to eliminate each other, Ware adds. 

It is also very unlikely that the two species would cross-breed and create a hybrid super roach. “The male and female genitalia fit together like a lock and key that that differs by species,” explained Dominic Evangelista, a graduate at student working with Ware at Rutgers, according to the university's report on the research. “So we assume that one won’t fit the other.” 

Researchers began looking into the new cockroach arrivals last year, when an exterminator at the High Line Park in New York City found an unusual-looking insect carcass and decided to send it to the University of Florida for analysis. 

The recipient of the cockroach remains, Lyle Buss, contacted the Smithsonian, which in turn brought in Ware because of her expertise on cockroaches, according to the Rutgers website. 

Mr. Evangelista analyzed the species’ genetic characteristic to confirm that there is, in fact, a different species of insect on American shores.

It’s not clear how the cockroach arrived, says Ware, but researchers suspect that one or more of the ornamental plants that adorn the new High Line Park might have spirited the insect on its cross-continental journey. 

Though there have been no other sightings of the new cockroach species, “they do very well as hitchhikers,” Ware said in the statement. 

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