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Turkestan Cockroaches Spread Like Wildfire Across the Central Valley



Turkestan cockroaches were first discovered at U.S. army bases after being brought from the Middle East. (Shutterstock)
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As California endures record-breaking heat, it has become the perfect place for Turkestan cockroaches to thrive and reproduce.

In fact, the Central Valley, with its mild winter and severe drought, is a breeding ground for these pesky outdoor pests.

Brett Clay, who is a supervisor for San Joaquin Valley Pest Control, says Turkestan cockroaches have become a huge problem.

“We get about 200 calls a day, and 5% to 10% of them will be for these cockroaches,” said Clay. “They will become the dominant species here, the Valley weather is perfect for them.”

Nathan Metheny owns Valley Wide Pest Control. He says Turkestan cockroaches have become increasingly abundant over the last five to seven years.

“About 30% to 40% of our calls in the spring are related to them,” Metheny said.

How Did Turkestan Cockroaches Land in The Valley?

The Turkestan cockroach has been around longer than most people think, says Gene Hannon, the staff entomologist at the Fresno County Agriculture Department.

Hannon says they were first spotted and discovered at U.S. army bases as far as back as 1978.

However, they are still considered a new arrival compared to other more well-known and established cockroaches like the American or oriental cockroach.

Hannon said their rapid spread over the last few years can be attributed to the U.S.military’s presence in the Middle East.

Differences between American and Turkestan cockroaches. (UC IPM)

They hitched their way over to the U.S. by riding with soldiers returning from war zones in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran.

Meaning it’s just the latest chapter in the story of invading cockroaches.

“None are native. They’re all from elsewhere,” said Hannon. “They have been associated with humans for so long, and these Turkestan cockroaches more than likely came over from the military.”

In the last two years, Clay says his company has held specialized training sessions to help staff identify and differentiate the Turkestan cockroach from the oriental version.

Reptile Pet Owners Contribute to the Spread

In addition to hopping a ride with returning troops, this invasive pest has been invited to the U.S. by reptile owners.

Metheny says many reptile owners prefer to feed Turkestan cockroaches to their pet lizards and will fly them in from Middle Eastern countries.

“They are preferred among pet owners because they’re not very good climbers, and are easier for reptiles to trap,” said Metheny.

Another issue, according to Clay, is cities like Clovis and Fresno no longer flush out the sewer systems.

“They’re coming out of the sewers, they’re coming out of the drains, and it’s not helping when no one is cooperating,” said Clay.

Be Careful on How You Landscape Your Yard

According to the University of California’s Integrated Pest Management Program, Turkestan cockroaches are often found in outdoor locations like water meter boxes, cracks between blocks of poured concrete, compost piles, leaf litter, potted plants, and sewer systems.

Clay advises homeowners to be proactive in preventing overgrowth from shrubs and bushes. In addition, he recommends eliminating piles of leaves around the house.

Metheny says they tend to seek out moist and dark areas. That is why it’s important for homeowners to inspect their property and asses whether insecticide treatment is needed.

Hannon says they are nocturnal and tend to thrive underneath trees, tree roots, plastic tarps, and woodchips.

“Plastic tarps used to keep weeds out are the perfect habitat for them,” said Hannon. “Sometimes what’s perfect for your plants is also bad.”

What to Do If You Have a Turkestan Pest Problem?

Despite the problems that could arise due to landscaping choices, Hannon warns against changing your entire home landscape. Instead, he encourages homeowners to look for less costly ways to get rid of them.

He suggests swapping out woodchips or mulch for pea gravel or granite rocks — making it harder for the pests to crawl under due to limited space.

“I would hate to see someone rip out their yard,” said Hannon.

Individuals can buy sticky traps to place around the house or contract a pest control company for regular service.

“It’s important to have pest control all year round now that the Valley doesn’t really get below freezing temperatures,” said Valley Wide’s Metheny. “A cold winter freeze would usually help eliminate certain insects. But now the ecosystem has changed and they have become a real issue in the Valley.”

Liz Juarez joined GV Wire in July, 2021 as a Digital News Producer. She has experience working for publications around the Central Valley including the Clovis Roundup, Porterville Recorder and Hanford Sentinel. While in college, she interned for Mountain West Athletics and served as Outreach Chair for the Fresno State Radio and Television Digital News Association (RTDNA). Liz earned a bachelor's degree in Media Communications and Journalism at Fresno State and a master's degree in Communications from Arizona State University. In her down time, she enjoys reading, drawing and staying active by playing basketball, taking trips to the coast and visiting national parks. You can contact Liz at