Exotic Cockroaches Appear in Florida

Thursday, Jan 7, 2010  |  Updated 5:18 PM CDT
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Exotic Cockroaches Appear in Florida

GAINESVILLE, Florida, October 9, 2008 (ENS) - Several new cockroach species are entering Florida, warn Phil Koehler and Roberto Pereira, insect researchers with University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

They say exotic roaches such as the Turkestan cockroach hitchhike into the state on gear brought back by members of the armed forces returning from the Middle East. These roaches have already settled in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.

In addition, a growing interest among reptile enthusiasts to raise the insects as lizard food has multiplied the number of roach species being shipped into Florida by insect suppliers.

The scientists say Floridians might soon be seeing the three-inch long Madagascar hissing roach, the lobster roach and the orange spotted roach, although none these species are known to be established in the state.

"We have 69 species of cockroaches in the United States and 29 of them were brought in from other countries," said Koehler. "And now we have these new species being shipped into the state."

"They keep telling us we live in a global economy and society," said Pereira. "All of these cockroaches you can get over the Internet - you can order something from the Pacific Northwest and have it here in two days or less. You can transfer things that way very easily."

Koehler and Pereira alerted pest control operators and homeowners to the new roaches in an article in last month's "Florida Pest Pro" magazine.

Ron Box, director of education and scientific affairs with Hulett Environmental Services in West Palm Beach, said he is gathering photographs of the cockroach species mentioned in the article for his technicians, so they will recognize them if they see them.

"So far, knock on wood, we haven't had any," said Box, whose company has 10 offices across Florida. "But I wouldn't be surprised at all if we did."

James Tuttle, a reptile enthusiast who runs a roach supply company called blaberus.com ships insects all across the country. He says buying roaches as reptile food "is probably the most popular thing going these days."

Crickets, which used to be a more popular reptile food source, are noisy, smell bad when they die and don't reproduce quickly the way roaches do once a farm is up and running, he says. And they cost more.

"It's the economy," Tuttle said. "You can spend $50 a month buying crickets, so that's $600 a year, or you could spend $50 [on roaches] and in six months, never have to buy food again."

Tuttle said he agrees with the University of Florida researchers that the Turkestan roach poses the biggest threat.

The male Turkestan roach is often mistaken for the ordinary brown American cockroach, and the female can be mistaken for the oriental cockroach. Where this roach is established, it is prevalent in sewer systems and is capable of carrying bacteria that cause dysentery.

Breeding roaches in captivity is not easy, said Tuttle, and roaches have many natural predators - spiders, turtles, frogs, birds and rodents among others - that unless a large number of captive roaches escaped at once, they would have a tough time getting established in the wild.

Tuttle says several pet reptile owners in Florida already have roach farms in their homes that have not disrupted the environment, even when a few insects escape here and there.

But under perfect conditions, he conceded, "it's possible."

{Photo: Turkestan cockroaches, photo credit unknown}

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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