If you’re new to dealing with palmetto bugs and wondering how much a problem they really are, try asking natives of coastal southern states. They’ve been stomping, smashing, and squishing these nasty pests for hundreds of years.
Between their massive size and a certain knack for popping up in places you least want them (like possibly, right in bed with you), palmetto bugs are disgusting, infuriating, and embarrassing creatures to have around.
Fed up and ready to show your terrible housemates out the door?
We’ve put together this survival guide to help you understand what these ugly bugs are, where they come from and why they’re invading your home. At the end, we’ll give you some tips for finally ending your palmetto bug nightmare. Forever.
Let’s dive right in!
What Is a Palmetto Bug?
That’s a bit of a trick question. See, people use “palmetto bug” (or “palm meadow bug,” as some Floridians call them) to refer to a few different insects. These insects are all different species, but all have one important thing in common: they’re cockroaches.
The three most common “palmetto bugs” are:
In this article, we’ll be focusing on the palmetto roach most people are referring to: the American cockroach.
What Does a Palmetto Bug Look Like?
The first thing you’ll notice about an American cockroach is its size. At up to 2 inches long, with antennae that can make it appear even larger, the American cockroach can grow to a startling size. If you look more closely, you’ll notice a distinctive yellow band running across the back of its head. The rest of its thorax is reddish-brown.
You can also tell a male from a female by the length of its wings: when folded, a male’s wings reach past the end of its abdomen while a female’s are shorter.
Where They Come From, How They Breed, and Why They Want to Get Into Your Home
Where They Come From
Palmetto bugs live primarily in the southern United States, where the climate is fairly warm and humid year-round. Though they can often be found in nature, they’re also perfectly happy living on the dirty fringes of human civilization, inhabiting everything from garbage dumps to compost heaps, to sewers.
When the conditions in those places somehow change—through a weather event perhaps, or nearby road work—they have no problem hopping straight from their normal filthy haunts to your home.
There, they’ll crawl in through drain pipes, laundry vents, cracks in a foundation, or any other roach-sized spaces they can find. They’ll also glide down from nearby branches to your rooftop, then squeeze their way into your attic beneath loose shingles or other gaps or flaws.
And it’s not just houses. Palmetto bugs are especially fond of apartment buildings, nursing homes and similar shared living spaces that offer lots of warmth and plenty of food and water–basically, perfect conditions for them.
Once they’ve penetrated your home, it’s only a matter of (very little) time before they start laying eggs, leading to a potential palmetto bug infestation.
How They Breed
There are 3 stages in the palmetto roach life cycle:
- Egg (in egg case)
- Nymph (with multiple stages of molting)
A female lays her eggs in a dark brown egg capsule called an ootheca (see picture above). Just one capsule contains about 14 to 16 eggs. She can produce 10 or more egg cases in her lifetime, resulting in potentially hundreds of offspring from a single bug!
The result of all that breeding, the baby palmetto bug, looks almost identical to its parents, but of course is smaller, and lacks the grown bug’s wings. It matures within six months to a year, developing wings in a final stage, and more importantly—the ability to reproduce.
And that’s why it’s so dangerous to leave a palmetto roach problem alone. You never know if the occasional sighting is harmless, or the sign of a more serious problem—roaches breeding out of sight.
What Attracts Palmetto Bugs to Your Home?
Palmetto bugs are the worst house guests. They’re dirty, selfish and never want to leave. Worse, they bring all their friends with them and won’t stop having babies while they’re there!
These cockroaches need plenty of moisture to thrive. When things get too cool or too dry outside, they’ll start looking for better habitats indoors.
It doesn’t take a filthy house to attract palmetto bugs, just the right combination of warmth, humidity, hiding places and, of course, easy access to food.
That’s why the kitchen is one of the most common places people find them. These pests have a way of getting into more than just the garbage—they’ll munch on cooking scraps and pet food, dig into pantry foods and sneak inside already-opened bags of rice and sugar. Unsealed leftovers and dirty dishes are common targets for these bugs, so it’s important to keep things clean and store all of your food in sealed containers.
But there’s more… a palmetto cockroach will eat almost any type of organic material. It will feed on paper, glue, the oils and skin flakes on dirty clothing, old leather and even other dead cockroaches.
If you’re finding palmetto bugs in the bathroom, these pests might be taking advantage of a dripping pipe under the sink or the humidity from hot showers to quench their thirst.
Laundry rooms, basements, cluttered closets and attics can provide plenty of places to hide and lay eggs. Because they’re so good at squeezing into cracks and crevices, there are probably more (maybe many more) of the bugs than you’re actually seeing.
You might be attracting palmetto bugs to your home by creating the right conditions outside, too. If your garden or landscape retains water or becomes littered with leaves or other plant debris, palmetto bugs can take hold. Then, it’s only a matter of time before they find ways inside. Keeping your landscaping dry and clear of debris can help deter palmetto bugs looking for easy living.
Are Palmetto Bugs Dangerous? How Do I Get Rid of Them?
What Makes Them Dangerous
They don’t often bite people. They won’t hurt your pets. So why are they so dangerous?
Think back a moment to what you’ve just read about where they come from and what they eat. These bugs live in sewers, eat garbage, crawl through dumpsters and gutters and pick up loads of dangerous bacteria along the way. They’re disease vectors, capable of spreading bacteria across everything they touch—including your food, cooking surfaces, utensils, dishes and floors.
If you open the pantry and catch one of these pests scurrying behind your snacks, you’ll have to throw out anything that’s been opened or that the bug could have touched. Palmetto bug in the bathroom? There’s a good chance it checked out the toilet for a drink.
That’s not all; these bugs are one of the most common sources of household allergens. They leave droppings (that look like spilled coffee grounds) everywhere they walk. Their droppings, along with their discarded exoskeletons and corpses, can trigger allergies and asthma attacks in some people.
To summarize: don’t let palmetto bugs hang out in your house. They’re dirty and dangerous to you and your family. They’re also just plain scary-looking bugs.
Here are some tips for getting rid of them.
How To Get Rid of Them
Keep a can of roach spray handy.
Set some sticky traps.
Use large-sized roach motels or other types of palmetto bug traps to start catching palmettos right away. You’ll also get a better idea of where they’re most active and, hopefully, where they’re coming from.
Apply insecticide treatments.
Though typically used for German cockroaches, gel bait will also attract and kill palmetto bugs in homes. You can also sprinkle some roach powder like boric acid or CimeXa that’ll kill any insects that walk through it.
Eliminate food and water sources.
Exterminators call this sanitation. It’s a vital step because it makes palmetto bugs desperate and more likely to fall for the aforementioned traps and baits. In addition, palmetto bugs won’t want to start laying eggs where they can’t find food or water.
Seal up your home.
We’ve already mentioned some of the ways palmetto bugs get into homes. Use that information to do a thorough inspection of your own house and seal up every possible entry point you can find.
If you’re dealing with an infestation, or you just want to get rid of these bugs for good, a plan of attack will help you. Read more at these pages:
Frequently Asked Questions
Palmetto bugs can fly short distances and use their wings to flee from danger. They’re not elegant fliers, though; they spend more time on their feet, using their ability to fly in short bursts.
Because of their size, it’s pretty scary to see a palmetto roach (or several) flying around your house. Luckily, they want nothing to do with you. It might look like it’s flying at you but, really, a cockroach just wants to fly away.
Adult palmetto bugs usually live for a little over 200 days, depending on the environment and how easy it is to find food and water.
Cockroaches might look scary to us but they look tasty to other animals. Frogs, mice, reptiles and some beetles eat palmetto bugs. Spiders do, too, although they’re usually too fast to be spider prey. Palmetto bugs will also eat other, dead roaches if food is scarce.
Palmetto bugs commonly live in tree hollows and around the bases of trees. Sometimes they live around palmetto trees, which is how this bug gets its nickname. Mainly though, they’re attracted by the warm, humid conditions common in the southeastern U.S., not the trees. They’re just as likely to live among wet leaf litter or in a house where they can easily find food.
- Stetson, Brad (2001) Periplaneta americana American Cockroach. Animal Diversity Web. Retrieved from https://animaldiversity.org/site/accounts/information/Periplaneta_americana.html
- American Cockroach. Pest Control Management. Retrieved from http://www.pestcontrolmanagement.org/american-cockroach.html
- French, A. S. and E. J. Sanders (1981) The mechanosensory apparatus of the femoral tactile spine of the cockroach, Periplaneta americana. Cell and Tissue Research. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7285097/
- Jacobs, Steve Sr. (2013) American Cockroaches. PennState Department of Entomology. Retrieved from https://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/american-cockroaches
- Cockroach Predators & Enemies: Animals That Eat Roaches. Orkin. Retrieved from https://www.orkin.com/cockroaches/cockroach-predators