There’s a new cockroach in town, and it’s muscling in on other roach’s turf. Since arriving in the late 1970’s, the Turkestan cockroach has invaded large swaths of the United States and is looking for new territory — which might include your home.

Here are the facts about this emerging pest — where it lives, what it does, and how to prevent it from getting into your house.

Turkestan Roach ID

Illustration for size of the Turkestan cockroach male and Turkestan cockroach female, with egg case, compared to the size of a penny

Roaches, curiously, have lots of nicknames, and the most popular ones for the Turkestan cockroach —the “rusty red cockroach” and the “red runner cockroach”—describe the female somewhat better than the male. While the females are every bit a rusty red color, males are more of a muted orange that’s not so far from tan.

The males are also more slender than the females, with much longer, yellow-tinted wings used for short flights and gliding. Females on the other hand, have short stubby wings with white or cream-colored markings around the edges. The females can’t fly, so if you see a red runner roach fly into your house, you can be doubly sure it’s male.

Both males and females grow to an inch long or so, making them similar in size to the Oriental cockroach (which is part of this roach’s story – see below), and the males are typically larger than the females.

Habitat

Like Oriental and American cockroaches, Turkestan roaches are primarily outdoor insects. They thrive in warm, relatively dry climates and don’t typically live in houses. Most of the time, they’ll stay outside, building colonies in and around your yard.

There, Turkestans are particularly notorious for infesting the voids in outdoor electrical boxes and water meter boxes, and for burrowing into the cracks and crevices of concrete and brick. You might also discover them living in your garden, darting across your compost pile, or hiding in the potted plants atop your deck.

Though they’re very successful outside, there are three reasons they might decide to enter the relatively foreign environment of your home: food, moisture, and light.

Like the male wood roaches that swarm Midwest and Eastern homes in the spring and summer, the Turkestan male roach has an attraction to lights and will happily glide through an open window in search of the light source inside.

Males and females may also on occasion enter looking for food and moisture when conditions become difficult outside.

Should they take a liking to your home or yard, be warned: You’re dealing with a roach that has a trick up its sleeve—having to do with reproduction.

Turkestan Cockroach Life Cycle

Speed of reproduction is key to the Turkestan’s success.

The female Turkestan cockroach can hatch 14-18 nymphs at a time and has a life span of a year and a half or more. She reaches breeding age quickly and is capable of producing as many as 350 baby cockroaches over her lifetime — an extraordinary number for a cockroach species of its size.

Those numbers aren’t without natural world consequences. Turkestan roaches multiply so quickly that they’re forcing out other cockroach species from regions they’ve existed in for decades.

Where Did Turkestan Cockroaches Come From?

Illustrated map with illustration of the Turkestan cockroach geographic range in the United States.
Range of the Turkestan cockroach in the United States (in orange). Data retrieved from BugGuide

The Turkestan cockroach is native to Central Asia, and prevalent across the Middle East and northern Africa. In recent decades, they’ve spread across the southwestern U.S. and have been found in southern states as well, including Florida, Arkansas and Georgia.

Like many other roaches, the Turkestan likely made its way to the U.S. aboard ships. First spotted at an army depot in Lanthrope, California in 1978, they’ve since established themselves as an invasive species that’s changing the balance of ecosystems.

“This habitat’s not big enough for the two of us”

The Turkestan’s spread brought a surprising side effect.

Able to breed nearly twice as fast the Oriental roach which dominated many regions, they began to push them out. At first, scientists didn’t notice the change because the two species (at least the females) look somewhat similar. Now, they’re quickly taking over,with long-term effects yet to be known.

Behavior and Diet of Turkestan Roaches

The Turkestan cockroach, like other roaches, is a night-owl. It scavenges after the sun sets, feeding on a huge variety of food (and not-quite-food) items—from crumbs, leftovers and garbage to compost, leaf litter and decomposing insects.

When it chooses to come inside, it will search for food that’s similar to its outdoor diet, but will happily munch on most anything that ever came from a plant or animal — paper, cardboard boxes, fingernails, leather, and well.. lots more.

Is the Turkestan Cockroach Dangerous to People?

As a cockroach that prefers to live outdoors, the Turkestan doesn’t represent the same level of threat as an indoor species like the German cockroach. But when they do find their way inside, they can bring a variety of health hazards with them.

Like other roaches, they eat and crawl through all sorts of things, including some of the most bacteria-laden matter known to man. Indoors they’ll spread whatever’s on or inside their bodies across countertops, tables, unsealed food, or anything else they touch, posing a potential risk for you and your family.

How to Get Rid of Turkestan Cockroach Infestations

Despite their willingness to enter structures from time to time, Turkestan infestations mainly occur outside. When necessary however, you can fend them off in both places.

Cockroach baits are effective both indoors and outside your home. And in severe infestations, a professional can administer a perimeter treatment around your yard or your home’s foundation.

If you’re hoping to get rid of Turkestan cockroaches without chemicals, there are natural solutions that are effective too, including diatomaceous earth, boric acid and even (potentially), the use of certain essential oils.

Tips for Preventing Turkestan Cockroaches

While you can almost always kill Turkestan roaches that have become a problem, the best approach is to prevent problems before they happen.

Preventing cockroaches begins by learning what attracts them, and what your home’s weaknesses are, then using that knowledge to deprive them of what they need.

Some important tips for preventing Turkestan cockroaches:

  1. Clean and clean up regularly. Cockroaches like to eat, so sweep, vacuum, and wipe crumbs off floors and counters. Wash dishes and seal leftovers in airtight containers.
  2. Seal cracks and crevices. Carefully inspect window screens for rips, and inspect exterior walls for tiny holes that a roach could could crawl through. Then inspect interior walls for gaps and voids around pipes or wiring. Turkestans can squeeze through these openings, even ones you may think are too narrow, tight, or small.
  3. Declutter inside and outside. Organize boxes in storage, rake leaves and store firewood away from your house. If you can, keep your garbage away from the walls until it’s picked up, too.
  4. Crank the heat down from time to time. Turkestan roaches hate the cold, so if you find them wandering in and have the opportunity, try turning the heat down to deter or “dis-invite” them.

For all of the details on roach prevention, explore our comprehensive guide to keeping cockroaches away from your home.

Conclusion

Relative to other roaches, which have been in the U.S. for hundreds of years, the Turkestan cockroach is still new to the neighborhood. Yet they’re spreading quickly, possibly near your home.

Don’t let them invade what’s yours. With just a little knowledge, you’ll be able to say goodbye to Turkestan roaches for good.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can Turkestan cockroaches fly?

Only adult male Turkestan roaches can fly. They have long, yellowish wings that allow them to fly short distances. You’ll want to make sure you have screens in your windows before you leave them open.

Do Turkestan cockroaches live in houses?

Turkestan roaches usually live outside but they’ve been found in homes across the southern U.S. and, occasionally, in northern states. Turkestan roaches come into houses when they need food or when the weather’s harsh.

Do Turkestan cockroaches bite?

Like most cockroaches, the Turkestan cockroach can bite but almost never bites humans. We’re too scary.

What kills Turkestan roaches ?

Many types of pesticides and other pest control products kill the insects. You can use baits to kill them after they’ve taken the chemical back to their colony. Some sprays kill on contact while others act as barriers.

Do I need to call a professional pest control service?

If you’ve seen one or two of them, you can try to control them yourself with baits or non-toxic insect dusts. If you don’t want to take any risks, it’s a good idea to call an exterminator to get rid of them.


Sources

  1. Kim, Tina and Michael K. Rust (2013) Life History and Biology of the Invasive Turkestan Cockroach. Journal of Economic Entomology. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1603/EC13052
  2. The Invasive Turkestan Cockroach is Displacing the Oriental Cockroach in the Southwestern U.S. (2013) Entomology Today. Retrieved from https://entomologytoday.org/2013/12/09/the-invasive-turkestan-cockroach-is-displacing-the-oriental-cockroach-in-the-southwestern-u-s/
  3. Anderson, Marcia (2016) A Changing Population – Turkestan Cockroach Overtakes the American Southwest… and Possibly NYC. The EPA Blog. Retrieved from https://blog.epa.gov/2016/10/25/a-changing-population-turkestan-cockroach-overtakes-the-american-southwest-and-possibly-nyc/

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