Thai officials vowed on Tuesday to crack down on sellers and importers of giant African cockroaches, saying the exotic insects currently in vogue as pets could pose a health hazard.



The Madagascar hissing cockroach, which can grow up to 10 centimetres (four inches) long and live for seven years, has become the latest darling of exotic pet lovers, with specimens selling in a busy Bangkok market for 50 baht (1.20 dollars) each, according to news reports.


“For short-term measures, we will arrest sellers but, as for the long term, the health and agriculture ministries will cooperate to ban their import,” Health Minister Sudarat Keyuraphan told reporters.



“We still have problems combatting our own insects, and this cockroach is even more difficult. They also lead to many gastrointestinal diseases.”



Thais are renowned for their culinary appreciation of a variety of critters, including grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, cicadas and even scorpions.



But health officials warned that the rapidly multiplying roaches could eventually spread diseases such as typhoid and severe diarrhoea.



“If the roaches are left in dirty environments and forced to live on waste, they can become disease carriers,” Thanyalak Phansiri, an academic at the vector-borne disease control office, told the Nation newspaper.



Sudarat said two giant cockroach farms in suburban Bangkok may soon be subject to raids.