A winter-proof cockroach!? It's just New York's latest invader

Image: CockroachThese male (right) and female specimens of Periplaneta japonica, a cold-tolerant cockroach species from Asia, were found on New York City’s High Line in 2012.

Life just got tougher for New Yorkers now that cold-weather cockroaches have moved in — but compared to the far more damaging invasive species out there, these bugs aren’t so bad.

When you’re talking about cockroaches, you’re hitting many New Yorkers right where they live. One recent study showed that New York City’s cockroach population mirrors the neighborhoods of the city’s human population. Now there’s a new breed of cockroach in Gotham: Periplaneta japonica, an Asian immigrant.

“We are both deliberately and inadvertently mixing species at an unprecedented rate,” Christopher Dionigi, assistant director for national policy and programs at the National Invasive Species Council, told NBC News. “This is going on worldwide.”

Roaches on snow Periplaneta japonica can be particularly pernicious because the nymphs are able to survive on snow for long periods of time. Researchers say they appear to use a natural antifreeze called trehalose to stay alive through the long, cold winters in Japan, Korea and China — and now, perhaps in New York as well.

The first New York specimens of the winter-proof cockroach were found last year by an exterminator in rodent-bait stations at the High Line public garden, built on an old railway line in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. More of them were seen in mulch piles and under the park’s boardwalk. They were sent away to the University of Florida’s Insect Identification Laboratory for tentative classification — but the conclusive ID was done by bug experts at Rutgers University, using a genetic technique known as DNA barcoding.

“I am not aware of any other sighting of this species,” Rutgers’ Dominic Evangelista, one of the researchers behind a study published Monday in the Journal of Economic Entomology, told NBC News.

He and his colleagues speculate that the bugs could have hitchhiked to New York on imported plants, or soil, or perhaps even as egg cases on somebody’s luggage. The pest-control company tried to get rid of the cockroaches at the High Line park, but Evangelista said, “I think they are still thriving.”