If there’s one thing you can count on in the tropics, it’s running into some impressive creepy crawlies.
And as you might expect, in addition to all the geckos, ants, and giant centipedes, there are cockroaches in Hawaii, too. While most are harmless thankfully, a few are definitely not good bugs to have around.
Let’s look at the more dangerous roaches in Hawaii, then explore some strategies to get rid of them if you discover you have a problem.
Types of Roaches in Hawaii
Of the 19 cockroach species that Hawaii lays claim to, only 4 are considered significant pests.
Two of them are “domestic,” or indoor roaches that specifically target Hawaiian homes. Two others are “peridomestic” roaches that mostly live outdoors, but enter homes and businesses when certain conditions are met.
We’ll begin with the outdoor ones, starting with a bug that’s impossible to miss—
The American “B52” Cockroach
Type: Outdoor/Indoor Cockroach
Known as the “B52 roach” among locals, the biggest, boldest, and most “in your face” of these pests is the American cockroach—a notorious flying cockroach Hawaii borders on being famous for.
Found across the islands, and more than two inches long, it’s not only the biggest cockroach in Hawaii, but the largest cockroach in the United States.
If the sheer size of this bug doesn’t startle you when you see it, its ability to fly – sometimes directly toward you – should be enough to do the trick.
Should you encounter a creature that looks like an American cockroach but is wingless (and probably smaller), it’s likely to be a baby American cockroach. You’ll be able to recognize both by their characteristic reddish-brown color, exceedingly long antennae, and the cream-colored, mottled cowl behind their heads.
As outdoor/indoor roaches, you’ll find these bugs just about everywhere outside, especially yards, gardens, trash, and sewers where water is abundant and there’s plenty for them to eat.
Indoors, they seek out and colonize the moist areas of homes like bathrooms, kitchen sinks and drains. When they do come inside, they bring with them all sorts of dangerous bacteria and allergens from things they’ve crawled through and ingested.
Read how to solve an American cockroach problem here.
The Surinam Cockroach
Type: Outdoor Cockroach
Much smaller than the American cockroach, at about an inch long, the Surinam cockroach is brown to black in color and not much of a flyer (females can’t fly at all). It’s a common Hawaiian pest that tunnels through trash, soil, and compost, munching on decaying plant material and damaging living roots and stems.
Found widely across Oahu, Kaui, Molokai, Maui, Lanai, Nihoa, the Big Island, and French Frigate Shoals, you’re unlikely to see these roaches in the daytime, but will see them scatter quickly should you kick over something they’ve infested.
If you grow flowers like roses or lilies, or pineapple, these pests will already be on your radar for the damage they can do.
If you raise chickens, you’ll probably be familiar with them, too. The Surinam cockroach has a special liking for the feces around chicken coops and is a carrier of chicken eye worm, which can damage chicken’s eyes and potentially blind them.
The German Cockroach
Type: Indoor Cockroach
German cockroaches can be found in nearly every area of Hawaii that has human structures.
They’re a dangerous roach that can carry disease and transmit allergens—and they breed quickly. German roaches can cause infestations so intense that even professional pest control workers sometimes find them challenging to control.
If you’re not already familiar with German cockroaches and own or rent property of any kind, you’d do well to memorize what they look like and be on the lookout for them well before they appear.
These aggressive invaders are light brown to pale yellow in color, with flat bodies and long yellow wings. At about half an inch long (sometimes much less) they’re tiny compared to outdoor species like the American cockroach, and can be distinguished by two stripes that run lengthwise down the cowl behind their heads.
German roaches are so small that even in a growing infestation, they can be easily missed. You’ll want to keep an eye out for their young, too. Baby German roaches known as nymphs can be as small as half a grain of rice. With the exception of wings which they grow later, they look almost identical to the adults, and are just as dangerous.
Your house, condominium, hotel room—even your car are fair game for German cockroaches in Hawaii. They thrive in the islands’ tropical warmth and flourish in human environments.
If you find you have these pests, there are many ways they could have gotten in. They could have hitched a ride inside a bag of groceries, a piece of luggage, or a second-hand purchase. If you live in an apartment or condo, they could have traveled into your unit through the walls.
Read how to solve a German cockroach problem here.
The Brown-Banded Cockroach
Type: Indoor Cockroach
If roaches have you climbing the walls, the brown-banded cockroach will be more than happy to join you there.
Though not quite as common as other roaches thanks to a parasite that nearly wiped them out, brown-banded infestations still occur. And like other roaches in Hawaii, the tropical warmth can help them thrive.
For an indoor roach, the brown-banded cockroach is an unusual little pest.
In contrast to the German cockroach, it prefers spaces with less direct access to food and water, like closets, living rooms, and garages. It also prefers to live “up high,” where warmth collects and the air is drier—areas like ceilings, picture frames, shelving, furniture, and the upper corners of walls and moldings.
Once on your walls and other high-up spaces, they’ll breed, attach their eggs to the undersides of things, and eat essentially anything they can find, including paper, cardboard, and the glues that hold your drawers, shelves, and picture frames together.
If you think you might have brown-banded roaches, they can easily be identified by their size (they’re about the size of German roaches) and the brown bands that stretch across their abdomens.
Read how to solve a brown-banded cockroach problem here.
Two Last (Less Likely) Cockroach Contenders
Type: Outdoor/Indoor (Oriental cockroach) | Type: Outdoor/Indoor (Australian cockroach)
Spot a roach that didn’t look like the American, Surinam, or brown-banded cockroach? There are a couple of other possibilities. It could be an Oriental cockroach which loves cool, damp spaces, and thrives in landfills, sewers (and unfortunately, bathrooms). It could also be an Australian cockroach, which looks a lot like the American cockroach, but invades homes far less often.
Steps to Solving a Hawaii Roach Problem
Roach problems are best tackled head-on, and in steps. And regardless of the roach, some of the steps are similar.
Step 1: Removing food and water sources
The first step begins with starving roaches out—sealing up foods they could otherwise get into, cleaning up crumbs and spills throughout your home that would otherwise feed them, and making sure your garbage is well away from your home, sealed up nice and tight, or both.
It also means finding and eliminating any sources of water that could be luring roaches in, or if they’ve already gotten in, could be keeping them alive. Drips, leaky pipes, or surfaces where condensation regularly occurs.
If roaches have infested your car or truck, the same rules apply there too. Clear out any food, empty soft drink cans, food wrappers and leftover coffee cups that may be lying around, then vacuum up every trace of crumbs, smudges, or smears that could provide a roach a snack.
Step 2: Buttoning up your home
The second step is about keeping roaches out by sealing up your home. This can be more challenging in tropical environments where homes don’t have to button up against the cold.
This step begins by inspecting your home for potential entry points—gaps, cracks and crevices, or holes in your walls that a roach might squeeze through. Once you find them, carefully seal them up using supplies like wood filler, steel or copper mesh, and silicone caulk.
Step 3: Extermination
The final step is extermination, which you can either have done professionally (see how to hire a roach exterminator) or tackle on your own, using pest-specific strategies that begin here:
Now that you know a little more about cockroaches in Hawaii (and hopefully the problem bug you came here for), it’s time to reclaim your space and peace of mind. With a little effort, you can end your Hawaiian cockroach problem, hopefully for a good long time. ALOHA.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, there are roaches in Maui, both the huge flying American “B52” roaches, and tiny German cockroaches which infest kitchen and pantry areas. If you’re a resident, you know about them already. If you’re a guest or visitor, your hotel or rental manager will (hopefully) be taking care of them before they become a problem.
Yes, there are roaches in Kauai, too. As on the other islands, they’re to some degree a fact of life.
- Mark K.H. Leong and J. Kenneth Grace (2008) Occurrence and Distribution of Ants (Hymenoptera:Formicidae), Cockroaches (Blattodea), Centipedes (Chilopoda), and Wasps (Hymenoptera: Vespidae) of Public Health Importance on the Island of Oahu. Retrieved from http://manoa.hawaii.edu/ctahr/termite/aboutcontact/grace/pdfs/248.pdf
- Calvin W. Schwabe (1948) Observations on the Life History of Pycnoscelus surinamensis (JLinn.), the Intermediate Host of the Chicken Eyeworm in Hawaii. Retrieved from https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/5104646.pdf