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Just what Florida needs — a new cockroach

This is the pale bordered field cockroach that Marc Minno found in his office in Live Oak. It's fairly new to Florida. [Marc C. Minno]

A scientist named Marc C. Minno was organizing some files in his office last month when something odd fell out of a folder. He peered down at the floor and saw it was a small cockroach, maybe half an inch long.

At this point, most Floridians would have either squished the bug with a shoe or run screaming from the room. Not Minno. He has written several books on butterflies and moths. Bugs don't bug him.

The cockroach he saw on his office floor at the Suwannee River Water Management District in Live Oak didn't look like any of the other cockroaches he'd seen before. In describing it later, he used a word you don't normally hear associated with cockroaches:

Pretty.

Unlike most of Florida's roaches — the American, the German, the Florida woods roach — it wasn't a solid brown color. Instead, it resembled a chocolate-covered skateboard with snazzy tan trim and a ruby-like jewel set in its leading edge.

Minno pinned it to a board and started researching what he'd stumbled across. He learned that what he'd found is a fairly new species to Florida, which is already infested with more invasive species than any other state (Hello, Burmese pythons! Welcome to the Sunshine State, giant African land snails! Enjoy yourselves, all you lovebugs!)

The bug that fell out of Minno's file was a pale-bordered field cockroach, aka Pseudomops septentrionalis Hebard. It's a native of Costa Rica and Mexico that in recent years has spread to Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Alabama.

Because cockroaches don't fly very well and can't cross big bodies of water, scientists believe they're spread accidentally by humans. This particular species had turned up only twice before in Florida, in 2013 and 2015, both times in Tallahassee (insert joke about roaches and politicians here).

Roaches may not be welcome in kitchens, but they serve a role outside. They are the insect version of buzzards, aiding with the decomposition process. The good news is this species prefers the outdoors, which means it's unlikely to be skittering around your living room making your Aunt Hattie squeal in terror.

"It does not appear to be a pest," said Paul Skelley, the scientist in charge of the entomology section of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. "The fact many of these things seem to jump around is simply because no one is actively looking, and they are not pests bothering the public."

Minno thinks there is a bigger reason for the spread of pale-bordered roaches. He has seen climate change alter the flight patterns and habitats of butterflies, with rising temperatures pushing them north. He believes something similar may have persuaded the pale-bordered roach to move north, as well.

Since he found that one specimen, Minno has been hunting for more of the pale-bordered roaches in the bushes around his office but so far hasn't found any. He still wonders how that one got inside his office, out of all the possible places it could have landed.

"Things just get into the building," he said. "But how it ended up in the staff entomologist's office — that's why this thing is so weird."

Craig Pittman can be reached at craig@tampabay.com. Follow @craigtimes on Twitter.

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