You first notice them in your garden, your compost, or your wood pile. A swarm of big brown bugs that aren’t in any hurry to run away – and seem to emit a pungent and peculiar smell.
Chances are – if you live in the southeastern United States – you’ve met the Florida woods cockroach. Or possibly a whole yardful of them.
You’re bound to have some questions. So let’s look at these unusual roaches. What they are. Whether to be concerned. And what you might (and might not) want to do about them.
Florida woods roaches (Eurycotis floridana) are built and move, a little like armored tanks- the kind not made for speed. They’re squat, oval-shaped, and relatively large for roaches, growing to an inch-and-a-half long and up to an inch wide.
Reddish brown to black in color, with yellow markings sometimes at the edges, they have thin, hard shells, and lack developed wings. Adults have two small projections from the back of the body called cerci, which help them sense vibrations through the air or ground. The posterior segment of females has a v-shaped notch while that of males has small, thin, tendril-like filaments.
The Florida woods roach is actually part of the lore of Florida, and one of the few roaches known by a wide and colorful collection of nicknames.
So you might also know it as a “Florida Stink Roach,” a “Skunk Roach,” a “Stinking Roach,” or yes – the famous “Palmetto Bug.”
And while “Palmetto Bug” refers loosely to certain other roaches too (like the American cockroach and Oriental cockroach), the Florida woods cockroach is the original Palmetto Bug, named for its common habitation inside the protective fans of saw palmetto palms.
Where and How Florida Woods Cockroaches Live
Florida woods cockroaches are primarily distributed throughout Florida, with a range that extends into southern Georgia, Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi.
Unlike your typical pest cockroach, Florida woods cockroaches primarily live outdoors where they inhabit dark, moist environments, feeding on the decaying plants, moss, molds, and other organic material they find there.
If you were to go out looking for them, you’d find them in sheltered places: under dead logs, in tree stump cavities, piles of leaf litter, compost, and underneath dense shrubs. As peridomestic roaches, you’ll also sometimes find them in structures near your home.
They are fairly prolific egg layers. And multiply quickly left unchecked. Females produce oothecae, or egg cases, each about 0.5 to 0.6 inches long and containing 21 to 23 eggs.
A female lays her first ootheca after about 55 days as an adult and using a strong, glue-like saliva, often attaches it to a surface in her habitat – such as a leaf, a rock, or a piece of wood.
About 48 days after they are laid, the eggs hatch into immature cockroaches, known as nymphs. The nymphs are the same reddish brown to black color as adults, but are smaller and have underdeveloped cerci.
When you expose a colony, you’ll likely see a mix of adults, eggs, and nymphs of various size.
But unlike the roaches that typically infest a home’s interior, the Florida woods cockroach is unlikely to race away. When it moves, it moves more slowly. And if you wanted to, you might even be able to pick one up.
How You’re Likely to Come into Contact with Them
You’re most likely to encounter these roaches outdoors, particularly if you disturb their habitat. Should you roll over a fallen log, or bag up a pile of yard waste when they’re anywhere around, you’ll probably find at least a few of them.
Do they ever come inside? Sometimes. But generally not on purpose.
Since their food is outside, they tend to remain outside, too. But they can be carried indoors on firewood. Or wander in from a wood pile stacked beside the house.
When that happens, as creatures that prefer a damp environment, they’ll probably end up in a room with a sink, either the bathroom or kitchen. Sometimes, though less often, they also make their way into attics, and even less frequently, breed there.
If you do spot egg sacs (see ootheca picture above) or droppings, it’s a good sign that they’ve moved in.
An actual infestation however, is unlikely. Because Florida wood roaches don’t infest a home the way that other roaches do. As outdoor cockroaches, they don’t survive well indoors, so probably won’t linger. And if they do, they’re unlikely to reproduce.
Are They Dangerous?
Unlike many other roaches, Florida woods cockroaches don’t eat feces or rotting flesh, and won’t track viruses and bacteria all over your pantry.
So they’re far less dangerous than many other pest roaches you might encounter. They do molt and defecate, however. So if a colony somehow found their way inside your home, they could potentially trigger an allergic reaction or asthma attack.
Though not in itself terribly dangerous, you may want to be aware of a fluid the Florida woods cockroach emits from its abdomen when threatened. Described as “foul smelling” or “amaretto-like” (depending on who you talk to), it’s slightly irritating to the skin and eyes, and the reason behind the insect’s “Stinking Cockroach” nickname.
If that’s a concern, you’ll want to take care when moving things it might be hiding under. And keep in mind it can direct the spray (somewhat) to a few feet away.
How to Get Rid of Florida Woods Cockroaches
Because Florida woods cockroaches aren’t likely to infest your home, you can just take them back outside whenever you spot them in the house. They probably won’t come back and it’s a good bet they haven’t deposited an egg case under your kitchen sink.
If they truly creep you out however, you can either use methods we discuss elsewhere – the careful use of pesticides and baits. Or you can hire a pest control professional (see How to Hire a Roach Exterminator) to get rid of them for you.
How to Prevent a Future Infestation
Florida woods cockroaches perform an important role in the ecosystem, including the one in your yard. They are detritivores, recycling decaying plant matter into fertilizer that helps plants grow.
But if you don’t want them hanging around outside your home, there are effective methods of pest control:
- Don’t leave piles of wood, leaves, or yard waste laying around.
- If you’re worried about them coming inside, be sure to stack firewood away from the house and inspect it before carrying it in.
- Don’t plant dense shrubbery around your house.
- And make sure that your doors and windows are properly weather sealed and have tightly fitting screens.
Frequently Asked Questions
Unlike other pest cockroaches that will eat almost anything, the Florida woods cockroach prefers decaying plant matter, including leaves, bark, moss, mulch, and the varied contents of compost piles.
They’re squat, brown, fairly large cockroaches with long antennae, and stubby, barely noticeable wings. They don’t race away when you find them the way that other roaches do, and you might even be able to pick one up.
They’re capable of biting, but seldom do. Like other bugs, it becomes more likely if they’re threatened.
No. Their short, leathery, pad-like wings are incapable of flight.
Their legs are made for crawling and climbing. So, no. They do not jump.
Written by Andrew Martin. Reviewed by Rae Osborn, PhD.
Andrew writes for, and along with his daughter, publishes Cockroach Facts. You can read more about him here.
Rae Osborn, PhD.
Dr. Rae Osborn holds Honors Bachelor of Science degrees in Zoology and Entomology, and a Master of Science in Entomology from the University of Natal in South Africa. She holds a PhD in Quantitative Biology from the University of Texas at Arlington, where her research was in Entomology. You can learn more about our contributors here.
- Florida Woods Cockroach (AKA Palmetto Bug) Eurycotis floridana. University of Florida. Retrieved from https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/in/in91500.pdf
- Featured Creatures: Florida woods cockroach. University of Florida. Retrieved from http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/urban/roaches/florida_woods_cockroach.htm
- Wikipedia. Florida Woods Cockroach. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florida_woods_cockroach