How cockroaches spread around the globe

Cockroaches, those resilient six-legged intruders, seem to defy eradication no matter the effort expended. Masters of survival indoors, they skillfully evade detection, lurking in kitchen nooks or damp corners. However, their journey to becoming such adept indoor dwellers had humble beginnings.

A recent study delves into the genetic history of cockroaches, tracing their migration from southeast Asia to Europe and beyond over millennia. The research, which involved analyzing the genes of over 280 cockroaches from 17 countries across six continents, sheds light on the intertwined tale of insects and humanity.

The study reveals that the ubiquitous German cockroach, found worldwide, actually originated in southeast Asia, likely evolving from its Asian counterpart around 2,100 years ago. This discovery aligns with longstanding suspicions, as similar species still inhabit the region.

According to the findings published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, cockroaches embarked on two major migration routes. They journeyed westward to the Middle East approximately 1,200 years ago, possibly hitchhiking in soldiers’ provisions. Subsequently, they may have hitched rides on Dutch and British East India Company trade routes, arriving in Europe around 270 years ago, as suggested by reconstructions and historical records.

Upon reaching new territories, advancements such as the steam engine and indoor plumbing likely facilitated their further spread and adaptation to indoor habitats, where they predominantly reside today.

Understanding the historical conquests of cockroaches may provide insights for more effective pest control. Despite modern challenges, such as their rapid evolution to resist pesticides, studying their past resilience could inform strategies for managing these persistent pests.

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