Turkestan cockroaches are invading California. They’re already “all over the Bay Area”

There’s a relatively new cockroach invading California and it’s sure to have some people cowering under their covers.

Sightings of the Turkestan cockroach have become increasingly common as the insect becomes established in the Golden State and emerges in warmer weather. Cockroaches have been around for about a decade, according to entomologists, making them a new arrival as a common pest.

The population seems to be growing slowly but surely. According to entomologists and vector control officers, the heat, as well as the dryness, could make them more visible, especially in the hottest parts of the state, as the creatures search for water.

Seven years ago, Alameda County Vector Control Services received no calls about Turkestan cockroaches, said agency spokesman Daniel Wilson. In the past 18 months, they have received 33 calls. Most people who spot a cockroach infestation are likely to call an exterminator, Wilson said, so new arrivals are likely much more common.

“It’s spreading throughout the chaparral of California, through the entire Bay Area, into dry, arid parts of California,” said Chris Grinter, entomologist and curator of entomology collections at the Academy of Sciences. from California. “Having millions or billions of cockroaches invade California is certainly an invasive behavior, but we don’t yet know what their impact is.”

But Grinter and Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology and director of the Bohart Museum of Anthropology at UC Davis, agree that the spread of the Turkestan cockroach is no cause for concern. They pose no danger to humans, plants or animals and prefer to live outdoors.

“People shouldn’t panic,” she said. “They are absolutely harmless.”

Unlike some cockroaches that hide in houses and restaurants and can spread viruses, bacteria and cause asthma, Turkestan cockroaches usually stay outdoors, although they sometimes come indoors , either in search of water or during the breeding season.

“They goof around inside sometimes,” Kimsey said. “Cockroaches aren’t very smart. They may be looking for love or something like that.

Cockroaches sometimes seek out areas such as water meters, woodpiles, cracks in the sidewalk or outdoor shelters in an attempt to find shade and moisture, she said. The creatures, which tend to eat plant debris like rotting plant bits or dried fruit, are attracted to gardens, landscaping, lawn edges and parks.

“You could think of them as vegetation scavengers, she said.

They’re often spotted near entrances to homes or garages, Kimsey said, not because they’re plotting to get inside, but because humans are more likely to see them there.

Turkestan cockroaches are long, flat insects with antennae and wings. Females are about an inch long and dark brown to black with cream-colored markings along the edges behind the head and wings, according to the University of California’s Integrated Pest Management Program. Males are slightly smaller with yellowish wings and cream colored stripes along the edges.

While the relative newcomers are likely distributed across most of the state, entomologists said, they’re more likely to be spotted in areas with warmer temperatures, including the Central Valley, where they will sometimes spill onto sidewalks on a hot summer night. , said Kimsey.

In Alameda County, Wilson said, Turkestan cockroaches are most often spotted in Pleasanton, Livermore, Fremont and Union City, where temperatures tend to be higher. With its cool, foggy climate, San Francisco is a less hospitable host.

“I’m sure they’re here, but it’s not like they’re invading backyards,” Grinter said, adding he’s never seen one in San Francisco.

While cockroaches don’t pose a real threat, “a lot of people have a gut reaction,” he acknowledged.

Think twice before reaching for that bug spray box, Kimsey advised.

“Which is more dangerous – a stupid stupid bug or the poisonous spray you’re about to spread around the universe?” said Kimsey.

She recommends stepping on them or stomping on them with a shoe instead.

Michael Cabanatuan (he/him) is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: mcabanatuan@sfchronicle.comTwitter: @ctuan

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