New York’s High Line hit by hardy cockroaches never before seen in US


One of New York’s newest tourist attractions has unwelcome visitor – a cockroach that can withstand the harsh winter cold

The High Line, the New York park that turned a dilapidated stretch of elevated railway on Manhattan’s West Side into one of the city’s newest tourist attractions, may have attracted a different kind of visitor: a cockroach, never seen before in the US, that can withstand the harsh winter cold.

Insect biologists at Rutgers University in New Jersey said Periplaneta japonica was well-documented in Asia, but had never been confirmed in the US – until now. Jessica Ware and Dominic Evangelista, whose findings were published in the Journal of Economic Entomology, say it is too soon to predict the impact, but there is probably little cause for concern. “Because this species is very similar to cockroach species that already exist in the urban environment,” Evangelista said, “they likely will compete with each other for space and for food.” That competition, Ware said, would probably keep the population low.

But Michael Scharf, a professor of urban entomology at Purdue University, said the situation should be monitored. “To be truly invasive, a species has to move in and take over and out-compete a native species,” he said. “There’s no evidence of that, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be concerned about it.”

The newcomer was first spotted in New York in 2012 by an exterminator working on the High Line. The scientists suspect the insect was a stowaway in the soil of the park’s ornamental plants. “Many nurseries in the United States have some native plants and some imported plants,” Ware said. “It’s not a far stretch to picture that as the source.”

Periplaneta japonica has special powers not seen in the local cockroach population, including the ability to survive outdoors in the freezing cold. “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,” Ware said.

The likelihood that the new species will mate with the locals to create a hybrid super-roach is slim, Evangelista says. “The male and female genitalia fit together like a lock and key, and that differs by species,” she said. “So we assume that one won’t fit the other.”

Cockroaches are among the most hardy creatures on the planet. Among the 4,000 or so known species are ones that can withstand ice burial, hefty doses of radiation and decapitation.

  • New York
  • Insects
  • United States

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