It’s a common question, one that’s both horrifying and well – sort of bravely optimistic:

“I saw one cockroach. Should I be worried?”

So should you? Should you be worried? Honestly, you probably should be.

But if there really is a problem, you’ll know how to handle it. Because by the end of this short 5 minute read, you’ll know exactly what to do if you see a cockroach.

Ready? Let’s go.

Is It Possible to Have Just One Cockroach?

Illustration of one German cockroach in closeup on a kitchen floor

Seriously, is it possible to have just one cockroach in a home or apartment? Sure.

It could be a loner of some sort, or the last of its colony, or even a cockroach scout. It could even be a hapless, relatively harmless wood roach that got carried in along with the firewood – a bug that never wanted to be in your home in the first place.

But without proof, those would be some pretty risky assumptions. Cockroaches are nocturnal so you don’t see them when they’re most active, they rarely live alone, several species will actively try to infest your home – and there are consequences for making a wrong or overly-slow decision.

Having found one cockroach in your house or apartment, how do you know if it’s the only one or an actual cockroach problem? By putting on your detective gear and inspecting the scene for clues – particularly for where they hide, and the evidence they leave behind.

Discovering if There are More

Illustration depicting many cockroaches on a black wall, with a front-facing cockroach in the foreground

Hiding is one of the things that cockroaches do quite well. There are lots of things that want to kill or eat them, and they know they’re safer if predators (like you) never even know that they’re around.

So to begin to understand what you’re dealing with, you need to find those potential hiding places, and you need to look for signs. Do you have to turn your house upside down to find them? No. You only need to know what to look for and where to start your search.

Finding Their Hiding Spots

Illustration of a nest of hiding cockroaches

So, where do roaches hide?

It’s probably no surprise that cockroaches prefer dark, out-of-reach places. After all, they’re more afraid of you than you are of them! But most home-infesting roaches typically live pretty close to food and water sources, and you’ll want to hunt these down.

Poke around the back of kitchen cabinets and underneath refrigerators. Look in trash cans and behind pet food bowls. Look underneath sinks in the kitchen and bathroom and carry a flashlight to the basement where roaches might be hiding around leaking pipes.

As you explore, don’t underestimate their ability to hide in tiny, out-of-sight places. German cockroaches and other small species can squeeze through tiny holes and live anywhere from sink drains to gaps beneath the floor.

Recognizing the Signs

Cockroach poop from small species such as the German roach and the Brown-Banded cockroach

Sometimes, you have more than intuition to go on in your search for creepy crawlies–sometimes, you have evidence.

Roach Droppings

One roach infestation indicator is feces. Roaches leave tiny droppings in the areas they frequent. That’s gross—and it’s one of the reasons they’re dangerous. Cockroach droppings look like tiny black specks.

If enough roaches are present, their droppings can look like crushed pepper or scattered coffee grounds. The amount of feces you find is a good indicator of the size of the roach infestation.

Cockroach Body Parts

Roaches leave body parts of every kind behind. As young or baby roaches grow, they slough off their old, outgrown exoskeletons. You may find these entirely intact, or in bits and pieces after other cockroaches have fed on them.

Cockroaches also simply die of course, and other roaches readily eat their bodies, leaving body parts, bits of wings, and antennae in areas in your home.

Cockroach Eggs

A rarer piece of evidence is an egg case. Cockroach egg cases are typically about 1/4 inch long or smaller and brown or reddish-brown. Cockroaches take special care when hiding them, so you’re unlikely to find them without some serious sleuthing.

Adult female roaches hide egg cases in cracks, crevices and, sometimes, inside cardboard boxes. Some species such as the brown banded cockroach also stick them to walls, and if it’s a brown banded roach you’re dealing with, you’ll want to look on the tops of picture frames, and in areas closer to the ceiling.

It’s also possible that you’ll start to smell cockroaches in your home. As the roach problem grows, you might notice a sharp, oily odor. If you start to sense this kind of musty smell, don’t ignore it. It’s a good signal that they’re nearby and also a warning that there are probably more than one.

By following these clues, you can start to narrow down their potential hiding places and begin to assess the actual level of the problem.

Next Steps: Getting Rid of Them

You won’t have to actually find more roaches to know if something needs to be done. Finding signs of their presence will be enough.

If you’ve found those, the next step is to begin a thorough pest management plan. You’ll use a combination of baits, liquid pesticides and preventative measures to eliminate roaches and keep them out.

Insecticides and Other Chemical Cockroach Killers

Comprehensive cockroach control involves more than scrambling for the bug-killer spray any time you happen to spot one. You’re savvier than that.

You’ll use strategy, perseverance and the knowledge you now have about cockroaches’ habits and habitats to target them efficiently.

Cockroach control products come in several forms:

  1. Traps
  2. Baits
  3. Residual sprays
  4. Perimeter treatments

A few roaches probably doesn’t warrant a full-on chemical assault. That’s a lot of work for a problem that’s potentially very small.

Instead, consider starting with roach traps. A few strategically placed traps can help you diagnose the size of the problem and find its epicenter.

Cockroach baits contain insecticides that kill roaches after they’ve gone back to their hiding place and, ideally, spread the poison to other roaches. In combination with a residual spray, which can kill on contact, baits can effectively reduce a cockroach population without requiring too much work on your part.

If you’re worried you’re facing a cockroach infestation on the larger end of the scale, it’s probably a better idea to call a professional pest control service than to take on the problem yourself. A professional can treat your whole home with a perimeter spray and better target cockroach habitats indoors and outdoors.

Natural Cockroach Control

There are a few natural ways to kill cockroaches, too.

Food-grade diatomaceous earth is safe for people and pets but lethal to cockroaches. Sprinkling this around areas you suspect they’re hiding is a good way to eliminate some of them.

You can also mix borax and sugar to make a mixture that’s a natural bait and insecticide.

Preventative Measures: How to Keep Roaches Out

You might be asking yourself, why did that cockroach you saw have to pick your house? In all likelihood, it’s nothing you did. The cockroach only came in for its basic survival needs: food, water and shelter. Finding a cockroach in your house doesn’t necessarily mean your home is dirty.

That said, it won’t hurt to be a little more deliberate in your cleaning routine after you’ve found a roach. Eliminating food sources is an effective way to keep them away. You can also make a few external changes—such as clearing piles of sticks and leaves and organizing boxes in the garage—to keep cockroaches outside.

Oh, and always keep windows covered with screens if you like to leave them open, especially at night. Many flying cockroaches are attracted to lights and they’ll fly straight through an open window to get to your living room lights.

These simple preventative measures can make a big difference in your cockroach control efforts.

Conclusion

You saw one cockroach; should you be worried?

It’s important to pay attention to the evidence and do a careful inspection before you start fearing the worst.

Try to find their hiding place, be strategic with baits or natural pesticides and up your cleaning game until you’re confident the roaches aren’t interested in coming back.

By using the information in this article, you can win back your peace of mind and protect your house from future cockroach break-ins.

Explore the site for more information about cockroaches, facts about the most common species and answers to your questions about how to get rid of them.

Frequently Asked Questions

I found a dead cockroach in my house. What does that mean?

Finding a dead roach means the same thing as finding a living one: it’s time to inspect for evidence of more cockroaches and, if there are more, determine the extent of the problem. Then, you’ll know if you should set baits and spray pesticides or call a professional pest control service.

Can one cockroach cause an infestation?

In a word, yes. Some cockroach females don’t actually need a mate to reproduce. On top of that, it’s unlikely that the lone cockroach you’ve seen is the only one in your home. Cockroaches are excellent at hiding and the one you’ve seen may be a sign that there are others nearby.

I found one cockroach in my apartment. Is that different from finding a cockroach in a house?

Whether an apartment or a house, the steps for identifying a cockroach problem and treating it if necessary is the same. Since you may not have access to all the areas roaches may be hiding, you’ll want to have your landlord take the proper steps.

Sources

  1. Wizzie Brown, Michael Merchant, and Kerry Siders, Cockroach Biology and Management. Retrieved from https://agrilifeextension.tamu.edu/library/insects-of-homes-schools-businesses/cockroach-biology-and-management/

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