NYC Cockroaches Stick To Their Neighborhoods

Cockroaches, it just so happens, actually resemble humans, forming distinct groups and neighborhoods. Host Scott Simon talks to Mark Stoeckle of Rockefeller University, whose research uncovered this roach behavior.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is "West Side Story" - on six legs. Dr. Mark Stoeckle, who's a researcher at Rockefeller University, says that New York cockroaches can be just about as territorial as the Sharks and the Jets. He joins us from the studios of the Radio Foundation on the Upper West Side. Thanks so much for being with us.

MARK STOECKLE: It's good to be here. Thank you.

SIMON: So are cockroaches as native to New York as poppy seed bagels?

STOECKLE: No, I think cockroaches are really immigrants like the rest of New Yorkers. They came here from somewhere else, but they've made a home here.

SIMON: And am I right? I gather that they kind of, as they say, the lyrics have it in "West Side Story," they stick to their own kind, stick to their own kind?

STOECKLE: Well, the study we did was looking at genetic types in this one species, the American cockroach, and we found four distinct genetic types, and that was a surprise, and they differ by neighborhood in New York.

SIMON: Such as?

STOECKLE: Well, we've looked in detail at three neighborhoods: Upper West Side, Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island. In each of those areas, about 70 or 80 percent of the cockroaches are one genetic type and is different than the other areas.

SIMON: So where you are on the Upper West Side, not that there are any cockroaches in the studios of the Radio Foundation, but if there were, in theory, they would be different than the ones you might find on Park Avenue?

STOECKLE: That's exactly right. That's what, so far that's what we have. We didn't get a lot of cockroaches sent in from Park Avenue yet.

SIMON: They're there, believe you me. Dr. Stoeckle, you work a lot with cockroaches?

STOECKLE: No, this is a new project.

SIMON: You know, come to think of it, I've asked that question of a lot of New Yorkers who are not insect researchers and they all say I sure do work with a lot of cockroaches. But you really do.

STOECKLE: Well, I do. Whenever I'm out, you know, I always have my eyes out for cockroaches. We do have a good-sized collection in the freezer at home that we haven't analyzed yet.

SIMON: Oh that's delightful. Do you ever get them confused with the popsicles?

STOECKLE: Well, we don't let guests open the freezer.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: So you don't find cockroaches yucky?

STOECKLE: I really don't like seeing them walking across the floor, but for the purposes of the study, this is just fine.

SIMON: Dr. Mark Stoeckle is a researcher at Rockefeller University, joined us from the Radio Foundation in New York. Dr. Stoeckle, thanks so much for being with us.

STOECKLE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "A BOY LIKE THAT")

RITA MORENO: (Singing) A boy like that will kill your brother, forget that boy and find another, one of your own kind, stick to your own kind. A boy like that will give you sorrow, you'll....

SIMON: This is NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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