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Roachzilla menaces Florida

Lizard owners fingered for monster cockroach threat

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University of Florida scientists have warned that several species of imported giant cockroach, favoured by reptile owners as an alternative to putting crickets on the menu, could escape and thrive in the state's roach-friendly climate.

The potential threats include the Madagascar hissing cockroach - which grows up to five inches in length - the Turkestan cockroach, the lobster roach and the orange spotted roach. Although Florida has for 20 years banned the sale of such foreign insects, they're easy to buy online* and could "inadvertently be introduced to the state", according to UF entomologist Phil Koehler.

The Orlando Sentinel notes that of 69 species of cockroaches currently living in the US, 29 were introduced from abroad. Koehler cites as an example the Asian cockroach, which "quickly established itself in 1985 in Lakeland", possibly having gained entry to the country "through a commercial port" or "in packing material by an overseas traveler".

However, none of the latest potential immigrants have as yet been spotted in the wild. Entomologist and director of an Orlando pest prevention firm, Bob Belmont, explained that "employees in the field check monitor traps and send in anything they deem unusual". He concluded: "I'm not that concerned." ®

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*Koehler said he spotted 50 Madagascar hissing cockroaches for $89.99 on an unspecified website.

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