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NMSU professor studies life of cockroaches for ways to control pest

In a small lab at New Mexico State University, with the temperature well above 80 degrees Fahrenheit, Alvaro Romero studies different species of cockroaches including American, Oriental, and Turkestan cockroaches. Romero, an NMSU professor of Urban Entomology tracks the changes in Turkestan cockroaches as well as their biology, sexual behavior and testing different management methods.

Man shows cockroaches in a lab.
Alvaro Romero, NMSU professor of Urban Entomology holds a colony of Turkestan cockroaches, which are the most common in New Mexico. He is researching the biology and behavior of this pest to find ways to control or eliminate it.

"The goal of my research program at NMSU is to produce useful information on the biology, behavior and control of Turkestan cockroaches," Romero said. "This will help us understand this pest better and design strategies for the management of this important urban pest."

Thirty years ago, the Turkestan cockroach made its way from Asia to the U.S., becoming the most common and predominant cockroach in the Southwest, invading homes, barns and entire apartment complexes. Romero has been researching this pest for two years, trying to find ways to control it.

The Turkestan cockroach is a regularly seen in compost piles, leaf litter, potted plants, sewers, water meter boxes, hollow block walls and under broken pavement.

In the lab, the colonies of Turkestan and other cockroaches, which are mostly gathered by putting sticky traps around the building or in the field, are kept in plastic or glass aquarium containers, feeding on dog food and water. The hundreds of cockroaches stay together inside cardboard egg cases, scattering as soon as they sense movement.

Turkestan cockroaches, which Romero has been collecting for three years, were first reported in California, Texas and Arizona and reproduce quickly, taking 6 months to grow to adult stage.

"Unfortunately there is not much information about this cockroach," he said. "The most striking fact about Turkestan cockroaches is how well they have adapted to our climate and dry conditions and also their presence all year. Turkestan cockroaches also develop much faster than some other local cockroaches and this explains why they are more abundant."

The danger with this and other cockroaches in New Mexico, such as the German, American and Oriental, is that they thrive in places that are filled with fecal residue and leftover food, for example, causing significant health problems.

"When they invade homes, they become an important problem because they cause allergies, asthma in some people, can contaminate food and transmit diseases," Romero added.

Barn animals, which may be surrounded by feces and scattered food, are also affected by the nocturnal Turkestan cockroach.

"It can become a significant veterinary problem," he said. "We have seen hundreds of cockroaches in summer nights in animal barns feeding on fecal matter and scattered food in facilities storing animal feed. This is something of great concern to us because they can transmit diseases to animals as well."

Romero suggests the best way to deal with the Turkestan cockroach is to hire a pest control company and to block crevices or cracks to prevent cockroaches from entering buildings.

"Pest control companies can also apply insecticides around buildings to create barriers against cockroaches," Romero said. "We are also interested in researching the effectiveness of commercial insecticide formulations that will control or eliminate this pest."