Cockroaches Hitching Rides With Military Cargo

October 14, 2008 06:59 AM
by Emily Coakley
Turkestan cockroaches, which are being found in the Southwest and Florida, may be accompanying U.S. troops on their return journeys from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Roaches Also Used for Reptile Food

Southern Florida and parts of the Southwest have some unfortunate new residents: the Turkestan cockroach, which University of Florida scientists say arrived with U.S. soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, reports the Tampa Tribune.

Other species invading South Florida include the orange spotted roach, lobster roach and Madagascar hissing roach. These roaches, the Tribune said, are coming in because Internet retailers are shipping them to reptile owners.

The Discovery News blog Born Animal elaborates. James Tuttle, owner of an Internet roach supplier,, told the blog: “It’s the economy. 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.”

But not everyone may be happy with reptile owners who save some money. Phil Koehler, a University of Florida entomology professor, pointed to a three-inch Madagascar roach and told Born Animal, “People just won’t like having that around their house.” The blog also has a video of cockroach hissing.

Non-native insects can be devastating for crops and vegetation. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer last year reported that U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents found Asian long-horned beetles, bark beetles and wood wasps in packing material in cargo at the Port of Seattle.

In 2002, 1,000 trees had to be cut down after the discovery of a longhorn beetle in a nursery, the P-I said.

Eric Johnson of CBP told the newspaper, “We’re finding more and more pests from the countries we’re dealing with more and more, and China is certainly one of them, especially here in the Northwest. We’re going to look at a larger portion of Chinese merchandise than other ports do, and we have for the last couple of years, and we are finding our share of quarantined pests.”

Related Topic: Intentional species invasions

Last year on National Public Radio’s Science Friday, Jeffrey Lockwood talked about insect warfare. Lockwood, an entomology professor at the University of Wyoming, told Flora Lichtman that the United States should be doing more to protect itself from the possibility.

“It’s not been given its proportional level of attention. I don’t know that we want to overreact, but I think we’ve dangerously under-reacted,” he said.

Lockwood said insect warfare has been used throughout history, including in ancient Greece and Rome.

“[W]ar ships were often equipped with fragile earthen beehives that were plugged with grass. They would launch them onto the enemy ship. Boy it was a great way to clear the decks,” he said.

He’s concerned that terrorists could bring in disease-carrying bugs with little cost and effort. And the nation’s initial response to West Nile Virus outbreaks nearly a decade ago, he said, is evidence the United States isn’t prepared to respond to insect warfare.

Reference: The Turkestan cockroach; bug-proofing homes


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