Biological Invasions

, Volume 21, Issue 3, pp 693–707 | Cite as

Global spread of the German cockroach, Blattella germanica

  • Qian TangEmail author
  • Thomas Bourguignon
  • Luc Willenmse
  • Eliane De Coninck
  • Theodore Evans


Most people consider cockroaches to be quintessential urban pests, even though very few of the 5000 cockroach species live in urban areas. The German cockroach is the most widespread and common cockroach in urban areas, however how this invasive species has spread globally is poorly understood. We reviewed the published and grey literatures, and museum data, to document the spread of the German cockroach, and how it may have interacted with other urban cockroach species. We found that the German cockroach likely originated from South Asia, was introduced into Europe no later than the 18th century, from where it invaded worldwide. The spread of the German cockroach was facilitated by the improvement of transportation technologies, especially from colonial trading, and indoor heating in cooler climates. Studies of population genetics have found that once introduced into a new location, the German cockroach spread rapidly through local expansion, and this could be within single (large, multiple-story) buildings. This local expansion resulted in displacement of other urban cockroach species, likely due to their small size requiring fewer resources, shorter generation times and so faster evolution, especially for pesticide resistance. These findings may help to identify new pest management methods. Future research could use genetic tools at larger scales to map distribution routes across the globe and interaction with pesticides and the evolution of resistance.


Cosmopolitan urban pest Pesticide resistance Spread routes reconstruction Urban ecology 



This work was supported by NUS (National University of Singapore) Research Scholarship from Ministry of Education, Singapore and the Lee Hiok Kwee Endowed Fund of the Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore, Singapore. TB thanks the Internal Grant Agency of the Faculty of Forestry and Wood Sciences, Czech University of Life Sciences (IGA A11/16), and was supported by a postdoctoral fellowship from the University of Sydney. We thank L. Vidlička for providing his translation of his work and ideas about the etymological history of cockroaches.

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesNational University of SingaporeSingaporeSingapore
  2. 2.School of Life and Environmental SciencesUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia
  3. 3.Faculty of Forestry and Wood SciencesCzech University of Life SciencesPragueCzech Republic
  4. 4.Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate UniversityOnna-sonJapan
  5. 5.NaturlisLeidenThe Netherlands
  6. 6.Royal Museum for Central AfricaTervurenBelgium
  7. 7.School of Animal BiologyUniversity of Western AustraliaPerthAustralia

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