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Cockroach Identification

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Many kinds of bugs can wind up in your home. But when you discover one that looks like it came in on purpose, you may begin to wonder if you have a cockroach problem.

In this guide, you’ll learn how to figure that out, starting with an easy question: how many legs do cockroaches have? Then, to narrow things down more, you’ll see a few other bugs that look like cockroaches so you can compare them. 

Finally, you’ll see what several kinds of roaches look like, and with some helpful links, learn how to get rid of them (along with all their friends).

Let’s get to it!

Roach Legs: What They Look Like and What They Do

Illustration of an American cockroach on orange. Label reads: 6 Legs
How many legs do roaches have? Six—two front legs, 2 middle legs, and 2 hind legs.

Like all insects, cockroaches have six legs. That alone doesn’t tell you exactly what your bug is, but at least you know it’s not a spider! (Those have eight legs. They’re arachnids, not insects.)

The Science of Cockroach Legs (Skip this section if you just need to identify the bugs)

Roach legs are slender, spiny and jointed. They come in three pairs, each of which is attached to a segment of the roach’s thorax—the “torso” part of its body.

The three pairs of legs serve different purposes and, thus, have different names.

  1. Right behind the head are the prothoracic legs, which the cockroach uses to slow itself down. They’re the shortest.
  2. In the middle are the mesothoracic legs, which help the insect adjust its speed, speeding up or slowing down as needed.
  3. At the rear are the metathoracic legs, the roach’s strong hind legs that propel it forward at speeds of up to 50 body lengths per second!

As a cockroach walks, it moves its middle leg on one side with the front and back legs on the opposite side. By alternating steps in this way, it gains incredible mobility on even the most difficult terrain.

Fun fact: When a roach is climbing upside-down on the ceiling, it takes slower, longer strides to better maintain contact and avoid falling off. This takes a lot of energy and care, so a roach runs much more slowly on the ceiling. 

Other Important Cockroach Characteristics

Illustration of 3 cockroaches side-by-side: Oriental cockroach, American cockroach, and German cockroach
Oriental cockroach (left), American cockroach (middle), and German cockroach (right)

In addition to its legs, you can begin to ID a cockroach by its color. Most are brown, tan, reddish-brown or black.

Roaches also have two long antennae, flat bodies, a small head, and wings (though in some species and sexes you can barely see them). If you were to examine a cockroach closely, you’d also find a pair of small tendril-like filaments called cerci at its base. If you were to discover a female cockroach carrying an egg case, you’d see the egg case protruding from behind, sometimes looking very much like part of the roach’s body.

Size is a less reliable characteristic since roach sizes vary widely. The very small German cockroach grows to only about 0.5 inches long. While the much larger American cockroach grows up to 2 inches in length.

Why You Might Not Always See Six Legs on a Cockroach

Realistic illustration of a cockroach that appears to have 4 legs.
Illustration of a cockroach missing a leg.

At first glance, you might see only four legs on the bug you’ve spotted, but that doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. Sometimes, a roach’s front legs are small enough to be hidden beneath its body, making it look like the insect has four legs.

Additionally, not every cockroach has six legs. A roach can live on after losing a leg or two as it scavenges and explores new environments. You might spot one with five or even four legs, hobbling along but refusing to leave you alone nonetheless.

One incredible part of the cockroach’s genome even allows these insects to regenerate lost legs! After enough time, that five-legged cockroach could return to its true six-legged form.

With the basics out of the way, we’re going to start narrowing down your suspect by eliminating some of the bugs that look like cockroaches.

How Cockroaches Are Different From Beetles

Comparison illustration of an American cockroach, Oriental cockroach, and Smoky Brown cockroach vs a Bor beetle

Most beetles have spiny legs, just like cockroaches. But beetles’ legs tend to be shorter than cockroach legs. On a ground beetle, an occasional household pest, you’ll notice that its mouth has pincers. You won’t find these on a cockroach.

You can also look at the wings (if it has any). Flying roaches have a single pair of long, thin wings. Beetles usually have two pairs of wings, one of which is thick and protective.

If the bug you saw was flying around your house and fluttered away as you tried to swat it, it probably wasn’t a cockroach.

Most roaches don’t like to fly. Even among the ones that can, they’re rarely very good at it. Roaches mostly use their wings to glide or “hop” to higher elevations. They like to keep their feet on the ground, where they’re fast runners.

How to Tell a Cockroach from a Cricket

Illustration of an American cockroach, a German cockroach, and a cricket in the foreground

With its huge hind legs, it’s hard to mistake a cricket for anything else. A roach’s six legs all look about the same, though they’re slightly different in length. But a cricket’s rear legs are much bigger than their other legs. They use them to make their signature chirping sound and to hop long distances.

Cockroaches are known for their flat, oval-shaped bodies. They can squeeze through tiny crevices because of that shape. Crickets aren’t as flat. They also tend to have bigger heads, while a roach’s head is tiny and almost completely covered by a cowl-like structure (it looks like armor behind its neck).

How to Correctly Identify a Cockroach

Cartoon illustration of an angry cockroach caught inside a sticky trap

It’s going to be hard to tell with 100% certainty that you have a cockroach problem without seeing the bugs up close. For that, you’ll need a few sticky traps. These pest control products are inexpensive but extremely effective at catching, killing and, most importantly, revealing the bugs that have invaded your house.

One of the most popular sticky traps is the roach motel. To catch the bugs, place one roach motel close to the place where you saw the bug. Choose a spot that’s relatively hidden or out of the way—cockroaches don’t like to venture out in the open.

Depending on the size of the room, place 1–3 more traps, focusing on areas near appliances, large furniture or holes in the walls. If you can, put them behind or under the appliances or furniture, where insects would most likely hide.

The traps will attract any nearby roaches. By the next morning, you should have one (or more) trapped specimens to examine up close.

For more tips on identifying cockroaches and determining which species you’re dealing with, check out our guide to the types of roaches with pictures.

Conclusion

We started with a common first question: “how many legs do cockroaches have?” But you have to look a bit further than the legs to truly distinguish cockroaches from beetles, crickets and other insects that might’ve wandered into your home.

If you do have roaches, welcome to your new favorite site! You’ll find detailed overviews and step-by-step guides on how to eliminate any type of cockroach inside and outside of your home.

Don’t give the roaches a chance to get comfortable. Start getting rid of cockroaches today!

Frequently Asked Questions

How many pairs of walking legs do cockroaches have?

A cockroach has six walking legs. Its legs attach in three pairs to its thorax. The front, prothoracic legs are its brakes. The middle, mesothoracic legs are for adjusting speed. And the rear, metathoracic legs are for pushing it forward.

How do cockroaches walk on walls?

The segment of a cockroach’s leg closest to the floor is called the tarsus, and it might be the most important part of the leg. Underneath each subsegment of the tarsus are tiny, adhesive organs that act like sticky pads, suctioning the roach’s feet to smooth or vertical surfaces. This allows it to scale vertical walls and even climb on ceilings.

Can cockroaches regrow legs?

Cockroaches can regrow legs. It has a stronger ability to regenerate limbs in its nymphal stage, but adult roaches can regrow lost legs, too.

Can cockroaches walk backwards?

Cockroaches can walk backwards but, like most animals, they’re not as fast or agile as when they’re moving forwards. Their smaller front legs simply aren’t designed to propel them as quickly as their large hind legs.


Sources

  1. Wilson, Tracy V. Cockroach Anatomy and Physiology. HowStuffWorks. Retrieved from https://animals.howstuffworks.com/insects/cockroach1.htm
  2. Li, Sheng, et al. (2018) The genomic and functional landscapes of developmental plasticity in the American cockroach. Nature. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467–018–03281–1

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?

Illustration comparing 3 cockroaches referred to as the palmetto bug
Palmetto bug size comparison: The American cockroach, the biggest palmetto bug (left), the Florida Woods cockroach (middle), and the Smokybrown cockroach (right).

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:

  1. The American Cockroach
  2. The Florida Woods Cockroach
  3. The Smokybrown Cockroach

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?

American cockroach adult, nymph, and egg sac beside penny for scale

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

Illustration of an American cockroach, nymph, and hatching egg sac
1. Palmetto bug eggs (rear), 2. newly hatched nymphs on top of them (they’re white when they first emerge), and 3. an older, larger nymph (front).

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:

  1. Egg (in egg case)
  2. Nymph (with multiple stages of molting)
  3. Adult

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?

Closeup image of a kitchen window with an American cockroach trying to get in from outside

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?

Illustration of a cockroach surrounded by bacteria

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.

If you spot a palmetto roach, good luck crushing it. These insects can run at speeds up to 5 feet per second! You’ll stand a better chance of spraying it with a fast-knockdown roach spray.

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.

Learn More

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

Do palmetto bugs fly?

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.

How long do palmetto bugs live?

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.

What eats palmetto bugs?

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.

Do palm trees attract roaches?

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.


Sources

  1. Stetson, Brad (2001) Periplaneta americana American Cockroach. Animal Diversity Web. Retrieved from https://animaldiversity.org/site/accounts/information/Periplaneta_americana.html
  2. American Cockroach. Pest Control Management. Retrieved from http://www.pestcontrolmanagement.org/american-cockroach.html
  3. 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/
  4. Jacobs, Steve Sr. (2013) American Cockroaches. PennState Department of Entomology. Retrieved from https://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/american-cockroaches
  5. Cockroach Predators & Enemies: Animals That Eat Roaches. Orkin. Retrieved from https://www.orkin.com/cockroaches/cockroach-predators

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.

A Simple 5-Step Guide For Getting Rid of Roaches

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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

Illustration of an American cockroach flying over a country home's porch

Type: Outdoor/Indoor Cockroach

About

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.

Appearance

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.

Habits

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

Illustration of a Surinam cockroach feeding on a leaf, alongside 2 Surinam cockroach nymphs.
An adult Surinam cockroach and two nymphs.

Type: Outdoor Cockroach

About

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.

Habits

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.

Special problems

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

German Cockroach infestation with adults and cockroach nymphs
The German cockroach, one of the most common bugs in Hawaii houses.

Type: Indoor Cockroach

About

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.

Appearance

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.

Habits

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

Illustration of a brown-banded cockroach crawling over the title edge of a book on a bookshelf

Type: Indoor Cockroach

About

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.

Habits

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.

Appearance

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

Illustration of an Oriental cockroach compared to an Australian cockroach on yellow background

Type: Outdoor/Indoor (Oriental cockroach) | Type: Outdoor/Indoor (Australian cockroach)

About

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.

Read how to solve an Oriental cockroach problem here, or an Australian cockroach problem here.

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

Are there cockroaches in Maui?

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.

Are there cockroaches in Kauai?

Yes, there are roaches in Kauai, too. As on the other islands, they’re to some degree a fact of life.


Sources

  1. 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
  2. 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

Some pest questions take a little extra explanation—like the difference between a roach and a waterbug. Though it may come as a surprise to some, water bugs and roaches are different, and we’ll tell you just how here.

So. Water bug vs. roach? Let’s go.

A Simple 5-Step Guide For Getting Rid of Roaches

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The Water Bug That Started it All

Illustration of a giant water bug partially submerged in a pond
Giant Water Bugs are true bugs (not roaches) that live in water, and are seldom household pests.

Any discussion about water bugs should include at least a mention of Belostomatidae, the Giant Water Bug (otherwise known as the toe biter or electric light bug), a type of insect common in many ponds and streams.

Huge, predatory, and known for biting people who get too close, this is unquestionably a water bug, unquestionably not a species of cockroach—and (we’re guessing) probably not the critter you had in mind.

For that, we need to look at some other big, bad bugs, at least one of which may be the one you’re looking for.

Water Bug vs Cockroach: Here’s How and Why They’re Different

The Water Bugs

Three grid illustration comparing three outdoor cockroaches: the American, Oriental, and Smoky Brown species
Water bug that looks like a cockroach? The American, Oriental, and Smokybrown cockroach are also known as waterbugs.

Consider the bugs above and take your pick. Is it a roach or waterbug? You’d be right either way.

Because depending on where you live, they’re all considered water bugs. And they’re also all cockroaches.

“Water bug” it turns out, isn’t a particular kind of bug, but a regionally-inspired nickname for a certain type of cockroaches—peridomestic roaches that prefer to live outdoors but infest homes when they choose or need to.

The “water bug” nickname is most frequently used to refer to the American cockroach (the big cockroach on the left), but is sometimes used to refer to the Oriental cockroach and the Smoky brown cockroach, too.

So if all water bugs are roaches (except for the Giant one), would all roaches be waterbugs, too?

Well, no.

The Roaches

Two grid illustration of domestic cockroaches which are not water bugs
The German and Brown-banded (domestic) cockroach.

Because in addition to peridomestic roaches, there are domestic roaches like the Brown-banded and German cockroach which almost never live outside, specifically target human homes, and wouldn’t be referred to as water bugs by anyone familiar with their habits. They’re just roaches.

Some Facts About Water Bugs and Roaches

Ways to Tell a Water Bug & Roach Apart

The most dependable way to identify a cockroach/water bug is to compare a live or dead one to an image like the ones above. But it’s not the only way.

There’s one difference between a cockroach and waterbug you can notice easily, even from a distance. And two more you can deduce from the evidence they leave behind.

  • Waterbugs are Bigger. Waterbugs are bigger—sometimes much bigger than domestic cockroaches. The American cockroach/waterbug for example, can grow over two inches long. While the tiny German cockroach (a domestic roach) rarely grows larger than the surface of a penny.
  • You May Find Water Bugs and Cockroaches Infesting Different Places. Water bugs thrive in areas with lots of moisture, and unlike domestic roaches which love the food source in your pantry, seek out humid areas like your bathroom or basement floor. Based on where you spot them, you can make a pretty good guess about what kind of bug they are.
  • Waterbug Droppings are Different. You don’t actually need to see a water bug/roach to know that they’re around. They leave egg cases, discarded shells, and droppings where they’ve been living, and it’s often easy to find. The droppings of a domestic cockroach will be tiny, looking something like black pepper or coffee grounds. Water Bug droppings on the other hand, will be be bigger and often cylindrical in shape.

Can Water Bugs Infest Your House the Way That Indoor Roaches Do?

Despite being outdoor insects, water bugs do infest houses.

They usually come inside if they’re searching for food or trying to escape harsh, dry conditions. Outside, they live in mulch, tall grass, tree hollows and, sometimes, dumpsters or utility boxes. Inside, they prefer the bathroom and kitchen but they’ll also infest humid attics or damp basements.

Can Water Bugs Come Up Through Toilets?

No, fortunately. So long as your throne hasn’t gone dry from lack of use, it’s safe from marauding water bugs.

However, other drains are not as safe. Sink, bathtub and shower drains let water bugs climb through the pipes, straight into the bathroom or kitchen. Oriental cockroaches are one of the biggest culprits of this behavior, hiding in drains and moving from room to room through the piping.

Is It Normal to Find a Water Bug/Roach in Your House?

While it’s not normal to find cockroaches and waterbugs in your house, it’s definitely a common problem in many parts of the U.S. The larger water bugs seem to pop up everywhere in the South, invading cupboards, drains, pantries and more.

The commonness of cockroach infestations makes them simply a part of life in many areas. That fact could contribute to the use of the nickname “water bug” as a more polite way to speak about a “roach infestation.”

What Causes Water Bugs in Your House?

Water bugs (the cockroach kind) are attracted by all kinds of food, from cooking scraps and loosely wrapped desserts to the stuff that builds up in the garbage disposal and breaks down in your compost pile.

Sometimes, water bugs come indoors because they’re thirsty. These insects are sensitive to dehydration and, though they can go weeks without eating, they need lots of water to survive.

Tips & Solutions for a Water Bug Cockroach Problem

Water bugs can become a major problem if they’ve gotten into your home. They’ll contaminate food and spread dangerous bacteria around your house. Don’t let their nickname fool you: the faster you can get rid of these harmful pests, the better.

How Do You Get Water Bugs Out of Your House

You have 3 choices when it comes to getting rid of water bugs:

1. Clean up and hope they leave.

Keeping everything sparkling-clean can go a long way toward getting rid of roaches. But in some places, water bugs just seem to be everywhere, even in the cleanest of houses. In those cases, it takes a bit of offense, too.

2. Use baits or natural cockroach killers.

Chemical baits or natural roach repellents can get rid of water bugs in most cases. Boric acid is one solution that kills water bugs instantly. When you’re taking them on DIY-style, persistence and patience are the keys to success.

3. Call in backup: hire a professional.

If you’re facing a large infestation of water bugs, calling your local pest control service is the best idea. They have the tools to get rid of the problem as quickly as possible.

Conclusion

Water bugs are a fact of life for many people and despite their reputation for scurrying back into the darkness at the first sign of a person, they can pose real risks to your family.

The real water bug vs. roach question should be: How do I get rid of them?

We’ll take you step-by-step through the process of getting rid of cockroaches so you can keep your home bug-free.

You can do it!

You spy a tiny insect hustling across the floor. The glint and color of its shell is like a beetle’s or a cricket’s. But what it really looks like is a tiny, wingless—baby palmetto bug. Is it?

Let’s see…

Remember, when using insecticides, the label is the law—read and follow the instructions carefully, not only for your own safety, but to make sure each treatment is as effective as possible.

A Simple 5-Step Guide For Getting Rid of Roaches

“Print or Follow on Your Phone. It’s FREE!”

Do Palmetto Bugs Have Babies?

The first thing to understand about palmetto bugs in general, is that they’re not just bugs. They’re cockroaches. And they’re typically not just any cockroaches, but the biggest (some would say scariest) cockroach in the United States, the American cockroach (known to some as water bugs).

And does the American cockroach make babies? It does—lots and lots of babies. In fact, given the rate at which roaches breed (females produce about 16 new roaches per month), there are likely to be more baby palmetto roaches running around the world at any given time, than palmetto roach adults.

Where Do Palmetto Bug Babies Come From?

Illustration of an American cockroach, nymph, and hatching egg sac

Palmetto bugs begin life from an egg case called an ootheca which can contain over a dozen individual eggs. The female deposits its egg case in tiny cracks and crevices, or other protected space that provides access to food and water. Then in a few weeks, the young cockroaches hatch.

As juveniles, palmetto bugs are not technically referred to as babies, but nymphs, and they’re so tiny (about the size of a grain of rice) that you’d be unlikely to ever notice one if you weren’t specifically looking for it.

The nymph is soft and white as it emerges from its egg case, and remains in this vulnerable condition for several hours, waiting for its shell to harden.

Molting cockroach: A soft, white cockroach emerges from its discarded exoskeleton.
Illustration of a Palmetto bug nymph in a final molt into adulthood. Its shell is a creamy white color before hardening and turning reddish-brown.

It will return to this creamy white state several more times over the next months as it outgrows its old shell and grows a new one, shedding the old shell each time it completes a molt.

What Does a Baby Palmetto Bug Look Like?

Closeup illustration of a wingless baby palmetto bug in a natural habitat

After its body hardens and darkens, a palmetto bug baby will begin to look a lot like its adult counterpart—but with some easily spotted differences.

The most striking thing you’ll notice is the nymph’s lack of wings. Palmetto bugs don’t grow wings until their final molt, which means that they remain wingless for up to two years as they mature and grow.

They’re also typically lighter in color than the adults and closer to a shade of orange than the characteristic reddish-brown of palmetto bug adults.

Palmetto bug babies are of course, also smaller than the adults. But the fact that the roach you found is smaller than the palmetto bugs you’re used to, doesn’t mean that it’s a palmetto bug nymph.

If it turns out to be a tiny adult German cockroach for example, you’re going to have a whole different set of problems on your hands.

Where and How Do Baby Palmetto Bugs Live?

Like adults, palmetto bug nymphs survive by eating almost any kind of organic material, from human food to paper, glue and garbage. They stay mostly hidden, only venturing into the open for food and water.

As a species, palmetto bugs prefer tropical areas (like Florida), and thrive in them year round.

In certain areas of Florida for example, palmetto bugs seem to be everywhere. And they are.

Outdoors, you’ll find them in your garage, shed, garden, around your patio and on your lawn. Indoors, you’ll usually find them close to water pipes, sinks, and bathrooms. They’ll also shamelessly inhabit drains, sewers, crawl spaces, and garbage piles, feeding on truly disgusting buffets.

And where the adults are, the babies are right with them, helping palmetto bug colonies to grow, infest and spread.

Will I Notice Them in My Home?

Being small and vulnerable, palmetto bug nymphs are careful about being seen by predators, respond negatively to light, and spend most of their time hiding. Still, they need to come out to eat.

Though they could pop up anywhere, you’re most likely to find them in your bathroom, hiding under sinks and cabinets. Or crawling around inside your drains.

And once they’re inside your bathroom, they’ll dodge you and wait until you’re sleeping to do their business, surviving on tiny amounts of food and plentiful sources of standing and dripping water. A single leaky faucet or regular puddles in the shower make it easy for these cockroaches to survive.

How Do I Get Rid of Baby Palmetto Bugs?

Luckily, palmetto nymphs can be controlled in exactly the same ways as adults, and at the same time, too.

To begin with, water attracts palmetto bugs, and both nymphs and adults are extremely sensitive to humidity levels. Without enough moisture, they quickly become dehydrated. For these cockroaches, access to water is more important than food.

One way to get rid of palmetto bugs is to cut off their water supply. And if you haven’t already begun to do it, you should begin to do it now.

Make sure you dry up spills and fix any leaky faucets or pipes to force them out of your home. It’s also vital to starve them out the best you can. Keep your house free of crumbs and put away leftovers so palmetto bugs can’t share your food.

If you need to take more aggressive steps, but don’t have the level of infestation that calls for an exterminator, you can easily make progress with natural roach control solutions.

Food-grade diatomaceous earth kills palmetto bugs by dehydrating them. Boric acid and borax for roaches is effective. Roach baits are effective. And applying soapy water to the pests’ potential hiding places is an easy trick to try. You can also mix up a bit of baking soda with something sweet and let the bugs eat the (to them) poisonous mixture.

Conclusion

Finding a baby palmetto bug in your home is likely to be the sign of a bigger problem. Palmetto nymphs don’t travel far, so the chances of adults living nearby are very high.

If you’ve just discovered a pest problem, try solving it on your own first. If you find yourself facing an actual infestation, contact a pest control professional for help.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do baby palmetto bugs fly?

Baby palmetto bugs can’t fly because they don’t yet have their wings. Baby palmetto bugs don’t begin to grow their wings until their final instars (or molting stages), when they’re almost adults. Adults will sometimes use their wings to fly short distances.

Do baby palmetto bugs bite?

Baby palmetto bugs will almost never bite a person. It’s very rare for any cockroaches to bite humans. Baby palmetto bugs are even more hesitant to approach people than adults; they’re much more likely to stay hidden until they’re sure no predators are around.

Written by Andrew Martin. Reviewed by Rae Osborn, PhD.

Disclaimer: This page is strictly for informational use. When using insecticides, keep in mind—the label is the law. Insecticides should be applied correctly and safely when needed, and according to the laws of your state or country.

Andrew Martin

Andrew Martin

Writer/Publisher

Andrew writes for, and along with his daughter, publishes Cockroach Facts. You can read more about him here.

Rae Osborn, PhD.

Rae Osborn, PhD.

Science Editor

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.


Sources

  1. Barbara, Kathryn A. (2014) American cockroach. Featured Creatures. Retrieved from http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/urban/roaches/american_cockroach.htm
  2. 10 Natural Ways to Get Rid Of Palmetto Bugs – Cockroach vs Palmetto Bug. Well Living Ideas. Retrieved from https://www.welllivingideas.com/10-natural-ways-to-get-rid-of-palmetto-bugs-cockroach-vs-palmetto-bug/

No one wants to find a big black cockroach-looking bug menacing their home or business. Especially when there might be more of them, or even a hidden infestation.

But knowledge is power, every cockroach problem can be solved, and this one is pretty clear.

Ready? It’s time to learn about the big black roach you found, and how to make it disappear.

A Simple 5-Step Guide For Getting Rid of Roaches

“Print or Follow on Your Phone. It’s FREE!”

First Things First: A Few Black Bugs That Look Similar to Roaches (But Aren’t)

Before putting the cockroach before the cart, let’s eliminate a few bugs that look sort of like black cockroaches, but really aren’t.

  • Black Carpet Beetles. Similar in size to a black roach nymph, these small black insects do resemble roaches. But unlike a roach, their shells are rounded (as opposed to a roach’s somewhat flattened body) and are visibly thicker. Their antennae are also shorter than a roach’s, and unlike the antennae of a roach, flare out at the ends.
  • Black Ground Beetles. Also black in color, but larger than carpet beetles, ground beetles look sort of like black roaches, but have squatter, rounded bodies, shorter antennae, and thick, un-cockroach-like protruding jaws.
  • Black Field Crickets. These insects grow to about the same size as a nymph (or baby) black cockroach. But their hind legs are longer and more powerfully built than those of any roach. You’ll never see a cockroach hopping, so if the one you’ve spotted does it, you can be pretty sure it’s just a cricket.

Luckily (or not so), if the bug you’ve found is indeed a cockroach, the number of possible candidates are few. The most likely culprit is a pest that invades homes across the United States and Canada: it’s called Blatta orientalis Linnaeus – the Oriental cockroach.

Understanding the Oriental Cockroach

Identification

Illustration of an Oriental black cockroach with labels: 1.Long antennae; 2. Dark, segmented body; 3. Spiny legs; 4. Cerci

Unlike other household roaches which tend to be tan, light brown, or reddish-brown in color, Oriental roaches are a deeper, darker brown that looks more like a shiny black..

3/4 inches to 1 inch in length and oval-shaped, they have segmented, glossy bodies, long antennae, short spiny legs, and a pair of appendages at the bottom of their bodies called cerci.

Males and females look somewhat different, based mostly on the length and structure of their wings. The adult male has short translucent wings that cover only a portion of its back.

The adult female Oriental has wings also, but they’re even shorter, less developed than the males, and blend in with the rest of their bodies. The female’s wings are so inconspicuous that unless you’re actually looking for them, you might miss them altogether.

Habitat

Two black cockroaches crawl across the floor of a basement

Oriental roaches are choosy about where they live and breed. They need lots of moisture to survive, so habitats that support them need to be humid and provide access to sources of water.

For you this means identifying cool, dark, damp areas around your home to note and work with later.

Kitchen cabinets provide lots of suitable nooks and crannies, but the cabinets under sinks are especially attractive. Even a few drips from a sink pipe can be a black cockroach’s water source.

Speaking of pipes, these bugs have no qualms about crawling through them to move around a building. Both sink drains and outdoor drainpipes can give them access to virtually any room or space–no key or invitation required.

Which is one of the reasons they’re such notorious apartment pests. If they get into an apartment building, nursing home, or office building, they can easily spread from unit to unit by traveling through the pipes.

Crawl spaces and basements provide ideal spaces for them. These are often the dampest, least-visited area of a home, and offer black cockroaches a chance to live and reproduce in peace.

Outsides, like several other outdoor cockroach species, they’ll live anywhere that’s dark and damp, including mulch, bushes, your garage, the void below your porch and more. They’ll even live under tree roots or sections of paths and sidewalks.

Reproduction

Illustration of an Oriental cockroach female beside an egg case in a dark basement

Understanding how the black roach reproduces gives you insight into how and where they spread.

Females produce protective egg capsules which they hide in dark, humid areas near food sources. Each of the dozen (or more) egg cases she’s capable of producing over her lifetime contains about 16 eggs – so even a few roaches can multiply quickly.

While finding adult roaches can be difficult, finding their carefully hidden oothecae (the egg cases) is even harder. Less than 1/2 inch long and well-camouflaged, Oriental roaches hide them in crevices or dark, out-of-reach places. After about two months, the eggs hatch into nymphs that will grow for up to a year before reaching adulthood and reproducing themselves.

Food

Illustration of an Oriental "black" cockroach feeding on a rotting potato

The diet of an Oriental roach isn’t exactly limiting.

It will eat virtually anything that ever was, or is alive–decaying plants, dead insects, sewage and more.

Your crumbs, garbage, compost, and every bit of decaying organic matter in your yard or garden are fit for a cockroach buffet. They’re particularly fond of starchy foods (like cereal and bread), and will eat the starches in book bindings and cardboard, too.

How to Get Rid of Them

As you prepare to deal with the Oriental roach, realize that you’re dealing with resourceful pests. They come from harsh places you might never have considered: sewers, drains, gutters and more.

So they’re used to surviving difficult conditions and evading situations that could potentially cause them harm. Grabbing a can of bug spray may kill one or two of them, but won’t do anything to kill the others that are hiding.

You’ll need to take actions to prevent them from entering your home, and actions to get rid of any that have already gotten in. We speak extensively elsewhere about specific strategies for prevention and elimination – and you’ll want to read those, too. Here’s how to start right now:

They’re usually happy living outside, but will go anywhere to find food, including the inside of your home. When they do decide to do that, they’re good at getting in. It only takes a tiny hole or crack in an exterior wall to let these bugs inside.

So that’s your first course of action – finding holes, gaps, and crevices, and sealing your home up tight.

The next, and equally important chore is eliminating the roach’s food sources. If possible, you should store garbage far away from your home until pickup day. Bury your compost pile or use a bin with a lid to keep roaches out. And always clean up crumbs, counters and dishes before bed.

And the last part?

Active pest control usually involves using baits and pesticides to kill bugs, too. Residual sprays around the outside of your home can kill black roaches as they try to come inside.

We tell you elsewhere about specific chemicals used for treating a black cockroach infestation, but if it really is an infestation (as in lots and lots of roaches) you may want to instead consider calling a professional pest control service instead of taking them on alone.

Conclusion

It’s not only unnerving to discover that a big, black cockroach has somehow made your space its own, it’s dangerous. Even a small black roach (like a nymph) can carry dangerous bacteria into your house and reproduce quickly if not controlled.

Now that you know how to identify these bugs and the steps to help eliminate them, it’s time to make it happen. To learn more, read about:

Frequently Asked Questions

Can Oriental roaches fly?

Although black cockroaches have wings, neither males nor females can fly. Their wings–called tegmina–aren’t functional.

What’s the difference between a black beetle and a cockroach?

Oriental cockroaches are often called “black beetles” but they’re much different from beetles. Beetles are typically smaller and some black beetles have two pairs of wings–one hard, outer pair and one soft, functional pair.

Are they poisonous?

No. And they almost never bite (or even approach) humans. Usually, they’ll run away as soon as they see you. However, they do carry bacteria and spread across any surfaces they touch.


Sources

  1. McCanless, Kim (2014) Oriental cockroach. Featured Creatures. Retrieved from http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/urban/roaches/oriental_cockroach.htm

What does a cockroach look like? Take a flat, skinny oval, add six spiny, hairy legs to its sides and two long antennae to the front and you’ve got a cockroach. Some are big, some have wings, but all of them take this basic shape.

When you find a bug in your house, it’s easy to start fearing the worst—a cockroach infestation.

Before your anxiety rises even more, here are all the details on what cockroaches look like so you can compare the bug you saw and, hopefully, conclude that it wasn’t a cockroach.

A Simple 5-Step Guide For Getting Rid of Roaches

“Print or Follow on Your Phone. It’s FREE!”

How Big are Roaches?

Here’s a cheat sheet of cockroach sizes sorted from biggest to smallest:

Cockroach SpeciesSize (inches)
American cockroach1.5 inches to 3 inchesIllustration of an American cockroach on white background
Oriental cockroach1.25 inch (approx.)Illustration of an Oriental cockroach on white background
Smoky Brown cockroach1.5 inch (approx.)
Australian cockroach1.5 inch (approx.)Illustration of an Australian cockroach on white background
Brown Banded cockroach0.5 inch (approx.)
Asian cockroach0.5 inch (approx.)Illustration of an Asian cockroach on white background
German cockroach0.5 inch (approx.) Illustration of a German cockroach on white background

What Does a Large Cockroach Look Like?

Illustration of a large cockroach species- the American cockroach - in a domestic habitat
Illustration of an American cockroach- the largest common cockroach pest in the U.S.

Relative to other bugs you might see around the house—ladybugs, ants, etc.—some cockroaches look like monsters. They seem too big not to have dangerous teeth, deadly venom or some other nightmarish defense mechanism.

The biggest species of cockroaches in the United States—American cockroaches—can grow to 3 inches long! Rest assured, though: they’re way too scared of you to bite.

What do Small Cockroaches Look Like?

Illustration of a small cockroach species- the German cockroach, in an indoor habitat
Illustration of a German cockroach, one of the smallest cockroach species.

Roaches come in miniature sizes, too. Among the most prevalent household pests in the world, German cockroaches are only 1/2 inch in length—about the size of a penny.

Other types of cockroaches, like the Australian roach, come in somewhere in the middle. Regardless of its size, a cockroach’s shape is unmistakable.

The Cockroach Shape: Designed for Survival

6 Grid Illustration of an American cockroach body parts
Illustration of cockroach body parts: Head, legs, body underside, wings, exoskeleton, and cerci.

How can you tell your bug is a cockroach?

Six legs, two long antennae and, sometimes, wings: these are the usual characteristics of a cockroach. Like other insects, it has a head, thorax (“torso”) and abdomen. However, most of its body is covered by a hard exoskeleton, which makes it look a bit like a tiny tank-bug, slow and uncrushable.

A roach’s tiny head is barely visible at the front of its flat, oval-shaped body. At a glance, a cockroach on the wall just looks like a dark oval with two long antennae.

Make no mistake, though—cockroaches are fast runners and flexible enough to squeeze into tiny cracks and crevices. Their exoskeletons are shockingly squish-able, making them tricky to kill.

What Color are Roaches?

Your average cockroach is brown, black or somewhere in between. German roaches are light brown while smoky brown roaches are dark, reddish-brown in color, like a mahogany desk.

Oriental Roaches: On the Dark Side

Illustration of a black Oriental cockroach on a yellow gradient background

Oriental roaches are the darkest species. They often appear black in color and shiny or glossy. Sometimes they’re mistaken for beetles but Oriental roaches have larger, skinnier bodies and longer legs.

Brown Banded: The Name Says It All

Illustration of a brown-banded cockroach highlighting colors

For some, the color is in the name: on the brown banded cockroach, two light-brown (or yellowish) bands run across its dark brown back, near its head.

Roach Twins: German and Asian

Illustration of an Asian and German cockroach highlighting their color

German cockroaches and Asian cockroaches are almost identical in color and size.

As if that weren’t enough, both also have a pair of dark, parallel lines running down their backs. An expert can tell that an Asian roach’s wings are slightly longer but you won’t notice that from your spot across the room.

The Trendy Green One

Illustration of a Cuban cockroach highlighting its green color

Then there’s the standout: the bright green Cuban cockroach. It’s not a common house pest but you’ll know one if you ever see one.

Do cockroaches have wings?

Illustration of a winged American cockroach both in flight and top-down, showing wings

Oh no! Did the bug you saw take off and fly straight at you? Roaches do that, sometimes. That nightmare-inducing experience isn’t an attack, though; it’s just the cockroach escaping anywhere there’s an opening (like the doorway you just walked through).

Quite a few roach species have wings—in fact, nearly all of the species on the list above have wings. But not all of them fly.

Wings on a cockroach can even help you determine if it’s a male or female since only the males of most species have fully-grown wings.

What Does a Baby Cockroach Look Like?

Illustration of an adult German cockroach and a baby German cockroach side-by-side
Illustration of a German cockroach adult beside a German cockroach “baby,” or nymph.

Baby cockroaches might look a bit different from their adult parents. It might be lighter or darker in color and have a different pattern than it will have as an adult. Baby roaches don’t yet have wings, either.

As they grow, cockroaches molt their old exoskeletons and grow new ones. Right after they’ve molted, they might appear pale or white.

It’s very rare to find baby roaches unless they’re almost fully grown.

Where Did You Find the Roach?

It was in the bathroom.

Cockroaches like to hang out in warm, moist areas. If you saw a big, brown or black bug in the bathtub or sink, chances are it was a roach.

I saw it on the wall.

If you had to try to squish your bug with the end of a broom handle because it was crawling way up near the ceiling, you were probably dealing with a brown banded roach. They like to stick their egg cases in high-up places, like on walls and in the ceiling. If your bug were a moth, it would have bigger wings and no hard armor.

I saw it in my dog’s food bowl.

That’s not surprising for a cockroach. Even a few morsels of pet food are enough to attract these pests. Even small roaches are bigger than ants. The other bug that might’ve crossed your mind, the flea, doesn’t eat pet food. It would be on your pet.

It was flying around the lights.

Nothing’s worse on a clear summer night than being annoyed by bugs buzzing around the lights and lanterns. It’s not just mosquitoes and gnats—some flying cockroaches are attracted to lights, too! Smoky brown roaches, for one, will even fly through an open window at your living room lights.

Some Insects that Look Like Cockroaches

Illustrations of 5 bugs mistaken for cockroaches: Beetle, Water bug, Bed Bug, Termite, and Cricket
Illustration of 5 bugs frequently mistaken for roaches: From left to right- Beetle, Water Bug, Bed Bug, Termite, and Cricket

A few bugs look a lot like cockroaches at a glance:

  1. Beetles
  2. Water Bugs
  3. Bed Bugs
  4. Termites
  5. Crickets

Check out our guide to these bugs that look like cockroaches for tips on how to tell them apart.

Other Signs You Saw a Roach

Maybe you only got a glance and you didn’t notice its color or if it had wings. Luckily, other signs can tell you if you’re dealing with a cockroach.

You’ll smell a roach.

Is there a distinct smell where the bug was walking or feeding? Roaches give off a strong, musty odor. You might notice it on countertops or on any food they’ve touched.

Were there droppings nearby?

Roach droppings look like tiny coffee grounds or spilled black pepper, clustered behind appliances or in cupboards. Droppings can help you identify a roach and also guess how many there are. (For comparison, rodent droppings are bigger, like grains of rice, and cylindrical.)

Conclusion

What does a roach look like? Like trouble, generally. And if your bug matched any of the characteristics we’ve covered, there’s a good chance it was a cockroach. Now it’s time to determine if one roach is actually a sign of more, implement a pest control plan if necessary, and get rid of cockroaches for good.

Don’t let these critters ruin your day! We have the answers to all of your cockroach questions:

…and more.

We’re rooting for you!


Sources

  1. Ogg, Barb et al. (2006) Cockroach Control Manual. University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension.
  2. Cochran, Donald G. (1999) Cockroaches: Their Biology, Distribution and Control. World Health Organization.

There’s a new cockroach in town, and it’s muscling in on other roach’s turf. Since arriving in the late 1970’s, the Turkestan cockroach has invaded large swaths of the United States and is looking for new territory — which might include your home.

Here are the facts about this emerging pest — where it lives, what it does, and how to prevent it from getting into your house.

Turkestan Roach ID

Illustration for size of the Turkestan cockroach male and Turkestan cockroach female, with egg case, compared to the size of a penny

Roaches, curiously, have lots of nicknames, and the most popular ones for the Turkestan cockroach —the “rusty red cockroach” and the “red runner cockroach”describe the female somewhat better than the male. While the females are every bit a rusty red color, males are more of a muted orange that’s not so far from tan.

The males are also more slender than the females, with much longer, yellow-tinted wings used for short flights and gliding. Females on the other hand, have short stubby wings with white or cream-colored markings around the edges. The females can’t fly, so if you see a red runner roach fly into your house, you can be doubly sure it’s male.

Both males and females grow to an inch long or so, making them similar in size to the Oriental cockroach (which is part of this roach’s story – see below), and the males are typically larger than the females.

Habitat

Like Oriental and American cockroaches, Turkestan roaches are primarily outdoor insects. They thrive in warm, relatively dry climates and don’t typically live in houses. Most of the time, they’ll stay outside, building colonies in sheltered areas in and around your yard.

There, Turkestans are particularly notorious for infesting the voids in outdoor electrical boxes and water meter boxes, and for burrowing into the cracks and crevices of concrete and brick. You might also discover them living in your garden, darting across your compost pile, or hiding in the potted plants atop your deck.

Though they’re very successful outside, there are three reasons they might decide to enter the relatively foreign environment of your home: food, moisture, and light.

Like the male wood roaches that swarm Midwest and Eastern homes in the spring and summer, the Turkestan male roach has an attraction to lights and will happily glide through an open window in search of the light source inside.

Males and females may also on occasion enter looking for food and moisture when conditions become difficult outside.

Should they take a liking to your home or yard, be warned: You’re dealing with a roach that has a trick up its sleeve—having to do with reproduction.

Turkestan Cockroach Life Cycle

Speed of reproduction is key to the Turkestan’s success.

The female Turkestan cockroach hatches an average of 14 nymphs at a time and has a life span of a year and a half or more. She reaches breeding age quickly and is capable of producing as many as 350 baby cockroaches over her lifetime — an extraordinary number for a cockroach species of its size.

Those numbers aren’t without natural world consequences. Turkestan roaches multiply so quickly that they’re forcing out another cockroach species (the Oriental cockroach) from regions they’ve inhabited for decades.

Where Did Turkestan Cockroaches Come From?

Illustrated map with illustration of the Turkestan cockroach geographic range in the United States.
Range of the Turkestan cockroach in the United States (in orange). Data retrieved from BugGuide

The Turkestan cockroach is native to Central Asia, and prevalent across the Middle East and northern Africa. In recent decades, they’ve spread across the southwestern U.S. and have been found in southern states as well, including Florida, Arkansas and Georgia.

Like many other roaches, the Turkestan likely made its way to the U.S. aboard ships. First spotted at an army depot in Lanthrope, California in 1978, they’ve since established themselves as an invasive species (partly with human help) that’s changing the balance of ecosystems.

“This habitat’s not big enough for the two of us”

The Turkestan’s spread brought a surprising side effect.

Able to breed nearly twice as fast the Oriental roach which dominated many regions, they began to push them out of urban areas in the Southwest. At first, scientists didn’t notice the change because the two species (at least the females) look somewhat similar. Now, they’re quickly taking over,with long-term effects yet to be known.

Behavior and Diet of Turkestan Roaches

The Turkestan cockroach, like other roaches, is a night-owl. It scavenges after the sun sets, feeding on a huge variety of food (and not-quite-food) items—from crumbs, leftovers and garbage to compost, leaf litter and decomposing insects.

When it chooses to come inside, it will search for food that’s similar to its outdoor diet, but will happily munch on most anything that ever came from a plant or animal — paper, cardboard boxes, fingernails, leather, and well.. lots more.

Is the Turkestan Cockroach Dangerous to People?

As a cockroach that’s not known as an aggressive indoor pest, the Turkestan doesn’t represent the same level of problem as an indoor species like the German cockroach. But when they do find their way inside, they can bring a variety of health hazards with them.

Like other roaches, they eat and crawl through all sorts of things, including some of the most bacteria-laden matter known to man. Indoors they’ll spread whatever’s on or inside their bodies across countertops, tables, unsealed food, or anything else they touch, posing a potential risk for you and your family.

Have plants? Their bodies also carry the Herpomyces fungi which can cause diseases in plants.

How to Get Rid of Turkestan Cockroach Infestations

Despite their willingness to enter structures from time to time, Turkestan infestations mainly occur outside. When necessary however, you can fend them off in both places.

Cockroach baits are effective both indoors and outside your home. And in severe infestations, a professional can administer a perimeter treatment around your yard or your home’s foundation.

If you’re hoping to get rid of Turkestan cockroaches without chemicals, there are natural solutions that are effective too, including diatomaceous earth (which can be very effective), boric acid and even (potentially), the use of certain essential oils.

Tips for Preventing Turkestan Cockroaches

While you can almost always kill Turkestan roaches that have become a problem, the best approach is to prevent problems before they happen.

Preventing cockroaches begins by learning what attracts them, and what your home’s weaknesses are, then using that knowledge to deprive them of what they need.

Some important tips for preventing Turkestan cockroaches:

  1. Clean and clean up regularly. Cockroaches like to eat, so sweep, vacuum, and wipe crumbs off floors and counters. Wash dishes and seal leftovers in airtight containers.
  2. Seal cracks and crevices. Carefully inspect window screens for rips, and inspect exterior walls for tiny holes that a roach could could crawl through. Then inspect interior walls for gaps and voids around pipes or wiring. Turkestans can squeeze through these openings, even ones you may think are too narrow, tight, or small.
  3. Declutter inside and outside. Organize boxes in storage, rake leaves and store firewood away from your house. If you can, keep your garbage away from the walls until it’s picked up, too.
  4. Crank the heat down from time to time. Turkestan roaches hate the cold, so if you find them wandering in and have the opportunity, try turning the heat down to deter or “dis-invite” them.

For all of the details on roach prevention, explore our comprehensive guide to keeping cockroaches away from your home.

Conclusion

Relative to other roaches, which have been in the U.S. for hundreds of years, the Turkestan cockroach is still new to the neighborhood. Yet they’re spreading quickly, possibly near your home.

Don’t let them invade what’s yours. With just a little knowledge, you’ll be able to say goodbye to Turkestan roaches for good.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can Turkestan cockroaches fly?

Only adult male Turkestan roaches can fly. They have long, yellowish wings that allow them to fly short distances. You’ll want to make sure you have screens in your windows before you leave them open.

Do Turkestan cockroaches live in houses?

Turkestan roaches usually live outside but they’ve been found in homes across the southern U.S. and have been reported in northern states. Turkestan roaches come into houses when they need food or when the weather’s harsh.

Do Turkestan cockroaches bite?

Like most cockroaches, the Turkestan cockroach can bite but almost never bites humans. We’re too scary.

What kills Turkestan roaches ?

Many types of pesticides and other pest control products kill the insects, but repeated applications may cause resistance. You can use baits to kill them after they’ve taken the chemical back to their colony. Some sprays kill on contact while others act as barriers.

Do I need to call a professional pest control service?

If you’ve seen one or two of them, you can try to control them yourself with baits or non-toxic insect dusts coupled with the prevention techniques mentioned above. If you don’t want to take any risks, it’s a good idea to call an exterminator to get rid of them.

Written by Andrew Martin. Reviewed by Rae Osborn, PhD.

Disclaimer: This page is strictly for informational use. When using insecticides, keep in mind—the label is the law. Insecticides should be applied correctly and safely when needed, and according to the laws of your state or country.

Andrew Martin

Andrew Martin

Writer/Publisher

Andrew writes for, and along with his daughter, publishes Cockroach Facts. You can read more about him here.

Rae Osborn, PhD.

Rae Osborn, PhD.

Science Editor

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.


Sources

  1. Kim, Tina and Michael K. Rust (2013) Life History and Biology of the Invasive Turkestan Cockroach. Journal of Economic Entomology. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1603/EC13052
  2. The Invasive Turkestan Cockroach is Displacing the Oriental Cockroach in the Southwestern U.S. (2013) Entomology Today. Retrieved from https://entomologytoday.org/2013/12/09/the-invasive-turkestan-cockroach-is-displacing-the-oriental-cockroach-in-the-southwestern-u-s/
  3. Anderson, Marcia (2016) A Changing Population – Turkestan Cockroach Overtakes the American Southwest… and Possibly NYC. The EPA Blog. Retrieved from https://blog.epa.gov/2016/10/25/a-changing-population-turkestan-cockroach-overtakes-the-american-southwest-and-possibly-nyc/

Found a brown cockroach and wondering what to do? You’re in good company.

With 7 species that fit the color scheme, and trillions of the pesky critters turning up in homes around the world, the brown roach you’ve just discovered is on a lot of other people’s radar, too.

If you’re looking for ways to get rid of your newfound friend, we’ll show you how to make that happen. But first you’ll need to identify the species, because each one calls for a specialized approach. We’ll do that with you here on this page, then link you off to the precise solutions that you need.

Sound like a plan? Let’s go.

A Simple 5-Step Guide For Getting Rid of Roaches

“Print or Follow on Your Phone. It’s FREE!”

The American Cockroach

Illustration of an American cockroach in front of gray wall, ruler in the background

You’ll know an American cockroach when you see one, not so much due to its characteristic reddish brown color, as its size. At up to 2 inches long, it’s not just big. It’s huge, and is a familiar sight in homes, restaurants, and markets across the country.

Learn more about the American cockroach.

American roaches are not good house guests. They emerge from sewers and garbage containers, invading human structures when the weather becomes too hot, too cold, too dry, or too wet. They come in search of moist, warm living conditions (like your basement or bathroom) and food. Luckily, they’re gentle giants that don’t bite humans. They do, however, spread potentially harmful bacteria wherever they go.

The Brown-Banded Cockroach

Illustration of a Brown-banded cockroach in front of a gray wall, ruler in the background

It’s all in the name: this tiny, light brown cockroach has distinctive tan or yellow bands running horizontally across its back.

Learn more about the Brown-banded cockroach.

While male brown-banded cockroaches have long translucent wings that completely cover the pattern, the female brown-banded cockroach has shorter wings that leave some of the bands exposed, making them easier to spot (and the roach easier to identify).

Brown banded roaches sometimes hitchhike in grocery bags and furniture that you’re bringing inside. They do nothing but complain when it’s cold, so they typically live (and lay their egg capsules) in warm, high-up places, like the upper third of walls.

They’ll eat a wide variety of things, including cardboard and paper. So pack rats (you know who you are) beware: all those high school report cards, college posters and decades-old newspaper clippings are at risk.

The German Cockroach

Illustration of a German cockroach in front of a gray wall, ruler in the background

The German cockroach is the pest in the U.S. These roaches are everywhere. If you’ve ever lived in a city apartment, you’ve almost certainly seen them.

Learn more about the German cockroach.

It’s a tiny roach—only about the size of a penny—and a very light brown. Look for two dark vertical stripes running down its back on each side—that’s its giveaway.

They have wings, but don’t worry—German roaches rarely fly. They do run like track stars though, and are difficult to catch, or squash.

The Asian Cockroach

Illustration of an Asian cockroach in front of a gray wall, ruler in the background

The Asian cockroach lives mostly in the southern United States. It’s a prolific egg layer and tends to spread quickly after it’s found a suitable habitat.

Learn more about the Asian cockroach.

Perhaps most striking about the Asian cockroach is its uncanny resemblance to the German cockroach, and even experts have been known to mix them up. Asian cockroach adults have longer, thinner wings than German’s though. And if you really wanted to, you could look under the wings of a dead one and see that its stripes are thicker than the German’s.

Or you could just wait a little while to see if it flies. While German roaches hardly ever leave the ground, Asian cockroaches fly easily when disturbed.

The Smokybrown Cockroach

Illustration of a Smoky Brown cockroach in front of a gray wall, ruler in the background

Smokybrown roaches are flat, narrow and pretty long. They’re close relatives of the American roach and also fairly large. If you were to compare them side by side, the smaller, dark brown roach will be the smokybrown.

Learn more about the Smoky brown cockroach.

Smokybrowns are infamously attracted to lights and bright TV screens. If there’s a big brown cockroach buzzing around your patio lights, it’s probably one of these. They’re big fans of attics, especially attics without fans, where they can bask in the humid air.

The Australian Cockroach

Illustration of an Australian cockroach in front of a gray wall, ruler in the background

The Outback’s most famous brown cockroach is the Australian cockroach. At about 1 1/2 inches long, it’s far from small. While it looks remarkably similar to the American cockroach, its signature yellow wing stripes give the game away.

Learn more about the Australian cockroach.

These bugs look for ways inside when the temperature starts to drop, so if you’ve seen this roach, watch out for more in your kitchen and bathroom.

The Wood Cockroach

Illustration of a Pennsylvania wood cockroach in front of a gray wall, ruler in the background

Though there are actually twelve types of wood cockroach species in the United States (twelve!) the one you’re most likely to encounter in your home or yard is the Pennsylvania wood cockroach.

Learn more about the Wood cockroach.

This outdoor roach is a dark brown color with tan or transparent stripes around the upper part of its back. At an inch or so in length, it’s about the size of a quarter.

You might find wood roaches hiding in your garage or living in piles of firewood or decaying matter. They’re attracted to lights, so don’t be surprised if yours got in through an open window.

Next Steps

Discovering an ugly brown cockroach can ruin a perfectly good day. But once you identify it, you can find the specific solutions for dealing with it (by clicking into any of the species-specific guides above).

You can take a DIY approach to pest management using roach baits, powders, and plenty of prevention- or call a pest control company to take care of the job. But for the sake of your home, your peace of mind, and possibly your health, you don’t want to do nothing. Because where there’s a single brown roach, there are often many more.

And with a little information, you can head off or solve a roach control problem before it gets any worse. Cockroach infestations are not a lot of fun.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the large brown cockroach I’m seeing?

The largest of the brown-colored species are the American cockroach, the smokybrown cockroach and the Australian cockroach. If you’re looking at a bug that’s bigger than 1 1/2 inches, it’s probably one of these heavyweights.
American roaches are wood-brown while smokybrown roaches are darker in color. The Australian roach has a distinctive yellow ring around the area behind its head.

What is the small brown cockroach I’m seeing?

It’s probably a German cockroach, an Asian cockroach, a brown-banded cockroach or one of a dozen wood cockroaches.
German and Asian roaches look almost identical, with dark stripes running down their backs. Brown-banded cockroaches give themselves away with their horizontal light-brown bands. And wood cockroaches come in a variety of styles.

Where do big brown roaches come from?

Big brown cockroaches are typically outdoor species. The come from lots of gross and unsanitary places, including drainpipes, sewers, dumpsters, forest undergrowth and gutters. When they come inside, it’s usually through a hole or crack in a wall, a torn window screen or the pipes beneath your sink or bathtub.

Written by Andrew Martin. Reviewed by Rae Osborn, PhD.

Andrew Martin

Andrew Martin

Writer/Publisher

Andrew writes for, and along with his daughter, publishes Cockroach Facts. You can read more about him here.

Rae Osborn, PhD.

Rae Osborn, PhD.

Science Editor

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.

Deep in the tropical forests and dense jungles of Madagascar, from a place hidden beneath damp leaf litter and loose tree bark on the forest floor, comes a loud, sharp hiss.

Below you, on the ground, the Madagascar hissing cockroach crawls through the evening darkness, searching for food among the detritus (fresh, fallen fruit or a leafy branch makes a good meal for these insects).

These giant cockroaches are fascinating examples of the adaptations that animals develop to survive and thrive in their natural environments. From its body and behavior to its communication and reproduction, it’s a unique and incredible insect.

Let’s delve into some amazing Madagascar hissing cockroach facts.

Biology of Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches

Size comparison of the Madagascar Hissing Cockroach vs the American Cockroach and the German Cockroach
Size comparison of a Madagascar hissing cockroach (middle) and two common house roaches

The Madagascar hissing cockroach, Gromphadorhina portentosa, is a nocturnal scavenger that probably (not a great deal is known about its habits) lives on the first floor. It’s a member of the Blattodea order of insects but it’s quite different from those bugs in the much better-known Blattidae family—the American cockroach, German cockroach and others. While those species are now common around the world, the hissing cockroach has remained on its native island.

The Madagascar hissing cockroach is one of the largest cockroach species in the world, growing to 2–3 inches long as an adult—one could almost cover your palm from thumb to pinky—and weighing nearly 1 ounce. It’s shiny, oval-shaped, and has a long pair of antennae.

This insect is a sharp dresser. Its exoskeleton is a striking gradient of colors that range from mahogany brown to black. It has black, spiny legs. Stripes of light brown or yellow cross its back like the pattern of an armadillo’s armor.

Close-up, side view illustration of the horns of a male Madagascar Hissing Cockroach
Horns of a male Madagascar hissing cockroach

The Madagascar hissing roach has a unique pair of large, horn-like bumps that protrude from its pronotum (the foremost section of a cockroach’s thorax, which sits directly behind the head). Males use these horns in battles for dominance, similar to the clashes between head-butting bighorn sheep.

Females are not at all aggressive toward other cockroaches and have no need for horns. They typically lack these bumps altogether or have very small, non-functional ones. Their antennae are also smoother. Females are social insects and commonly form groups within colonies.

Madagascar hissing cockroaches are flightless. While several other species of flightless cockroaches have wings, the hissing cockroach has no wings at all. Instead, its back is covered by a hard, wide exoskeleton that protects it from danger.

Though it can’t fly, it can scale smooth, vertical surfaces using special, sticky pads and tiny hooks on its feet. In the wild, it has no trouble scaling branches and tree trunks, navigating thick underbrush and climbing slick rocks.

The Hiss of the Madagascar Roach

Illustration of a Madagascar cockroach in a girl's palm with sound wave of hissing drawn above

Click to play a hissing cockroach sound

Communication via sound signals is common throughout the animal kingdom, from birds, snakes and frogs to meerkats, lions and whales. But among cockroaches, the Madagascar hissing species is unique. No other cockroach communicates audibly the way this species does.

True to its name, the hissing cockroach can send several specific messages via slightly different hissing sounds. These messages might be meant for friends, mates or predators.

How do hissing roaches hiss?

Illustration in closeup of Madagascar cockroach spiracles, used for breathing
The hissing cockroach hisses through holes in its body called spiracles.

Cockroaches and other insects breathe through tiny pores in their bodies. These openings are called spiracles and they’re located around a cockroach’s abdomen and thorax. As part of the insect’s respiratory system, spiracles take in oxygen and deliver it directly to muscle tissues.

The Madagascar hissing cockroach has a special pair of modified spiracles in its abdomen. By blowing air rapidly through these spiracles, it creates a loud hissing sound that can be quite startling to animals and people nearby.

This is much different from crickets, which rub their forewings together to produce chirping sounds, or frogs, which vibrate their vocal cords to produce their croaks. A Madagascar cockroach hisses in the same way a human would—by sharply exhaling its breath. Though not quite as loud as a cricket’s chirp, a cockroach’s hiss is audible from several yards away.

Why do hissing cockroaches hiss?

Madagascar hissing roaches produce several different types of hisses that they use to communicate with other cockroaches (and predators). They produce special hisses for aggressive encounters, mating rituals and emergency situations. Though it might be difficult for a human to understand the meaning of a cockroach’s hiss, these insects can understand each other and even differentiate between friendly hisses and aggressive hisses.

Males produce aggressive hisses during clashes with other males. They also hiss when trying to attract a female and during mating. Males use a long-range hiss to call to females and a short-range hiss to talk to roaches that are nearby.

If you come across a Madagascar hissing cockroach in the forest (or handle one), you’ll probably hear its alarm hiss. This is the disturbance hiss that all of these roaches can produce—males, females and nymphs—and it’s their signal that danger is nearby. It sounds similar to a snake’s hiss, which is another reason it can be frightening to hear in the wild!

Life Cycle of the Madagascar Cockroach

Illustration of Madagascar Hissing Cockroach nymphs emerging from a female
Illustration of hissing cockroach nymphs emerging from a female

Madagascar hissing cockroaches are different from most cockroach species in that they’re ovoviviparous—they retain their eggs within their bodies until they hatch and the nymphs eventually emerge.

Most cockroach species produce egg cases called oothecae that contain a dozen or more eggs in each. They carry these oothecae temporarily and place them somewhere hidden shortly before it’s time for the eggs to hatch.

The female Madagascar hissing cockroach, on the other hand, carries its egg case within its body while the eggs develop. Then, they hatch inside the female and, as neonatal nymphs—baby cockroaches—they remain in her thorax for several weeks. A female can carry up to sixty nymphs at once!

The nymphs remain in the female’s body for as long as two months before they’re finally born. After birth, the newborn nymphs become independent, fending for and feeding themselves.

A cockroach nymph molts its old exoskeleton and grows a new one several times as it grows. Each phase of development is called an instar. On average, hissing cockroach nymphs go through six instars over five months before they’re fully mature.

After it molts, cockroach nymphs sometimes appear white or very pale. They’re particularly vulnerable during this time because their new exoskeletons aren’t ready to protect them. The nymphs regain their color as the keratin (the protein that also forms hair, feathers and claws on other animals) that makes up their exoskeletons hardens. Sometimes, cockroaches eat their old exoskeletons to recycle the nutrients contained in them.

The hissing cockroach’s life cycle is a long one among Blattodea. The nymphal stage can take seven months, including the time they spend in the female’s body. Fully-grown adult hissing cockroaches can live for two to five years in the wild.

They’ll face dangerous predators and struggle through harsh dry seasons but these cockroaches have developed a few specific adaptations that let them survive the sometimes-severe tropical conditions.

Madagascar: The Hissing Cockroach Capital of the World

Map illustration of the Madagascar Hissing Cockroach range.

Madagascar hissing cockroaches live almost exclusively on their native island of Madagascar, off the east coast of Africa. Madagascar is the fourth-largest island in the world and is home to thousands of species of insects. While many other cockroach species have spread globally by riding on trading ships, this wild African cockroach has remained exclusive to Madagascar. Outside of the island, these insects exist only in captivity.

Hissing cockroaches commonly live on forest and jungle floors, crawling among fallen leaves, branches and decaying plant material. They’ve also been observed living in tree holes and hiding beneath the loose bark while they rest during the day. Plants and fallen fruit are typical food sources for these insects, who need very little to survive.

The African hissing cockroach lives in large colonies. Within the colonies, adult males are very territorial and will aggressively defend their space from intruders. A male might claim a specific rock or a fallen log for months at a time, rarely leaving its territory. These roaches hiss loudly to enforce the hierarchy of the colony and to ward off intruders.

Madagascar hissing cockroaches don’t live in homes or buildings naturally. Since they are wingless cockroaches and aren’t attracted to light, there’s very little chance these cockroaches will enter a human dwelling.

This insect is considered a species of “least concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This means the population of Gromphadorhina portentosa in the wild is steady and remains strong despite its limited distribution and ongoing environmental changes.

These giant cockroaches aren’t without predators, though. Madagascar is a huge island with a massive diversity of animal species and the hissing cockroach is an essential part of its food chain. Cockroaches are food for a variety of larger animals, such as lizards. Some mammals, including tenrecs, and lemurs, as well as birds eat roaches, too.

Fresh Fruits and Fighting: Diet and Behavior of Hissing Cockroaches

Madagascar hissing cockroaches are primarily nocturnal and negatively phototactic—which means they’re frightened by light. Because of this, they’re most active after sunset. Rainfall seems to make them especially active, probably due to the increased humidity. They spend the night searching in the dark for fallen fruits and plant detritus on the ground.

What do Madagascar hissing cockroaches eat?

Hissing roaches are omnivorous. They’re called detritivores, which means they feed on dead organic material, including plant parts and animal waste. Hissing cockroaches take in most of their water requirement from the fallen fruit they love to eat.

In addition to fruits, their food sources include insect carcasses, fungi and smaller insects. They also hydrate by drinking the dew from plants.

The cockroaches’ status at detritivores impacts more than their own feeding behavior—they also act as important parts of the forest ecosystem, breaking down decaying organic material and recycling those nutrients.

How do they protect themselves?

The hissing cockroach has a trick up its sleeve that it uses when threatened: it can tuck its head beneath the front of its thorax to make it appear like a larger, scarier insect. In this position, the cockroach’s horns protrude like a dangerous, armored helmet.

Madagascar hissing cockroaches have also been observed gathering tightly together to retain moisture during dry spells. These bugs dehydrate quickly and, while the tropical Madagascar climate usually provides plenty of moisture, it seems the cockroaches have developed a defense mechanism against the long dry seasons.

Fight Club: Epic Battles Between Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches

Male hissing cockroaches battle for two reasons: territorial dominance and mates. Usually, a fight starts when one male enters the territory of another.

During these clashes, male cockroaches ram into each other with their horns and their bodies, hissing loudly. Size generally determines which animal will be victorious but hissing is another key factor.

Cockroaches gauge their opponent by its hisses. Typically, the winning cockroach hisses more than the loser. These fights almost never result in physical injuries to the losing roach; they’re simply shows of dominance.

In a clash over territory, the defending cockroach will try to push the intruder out of his arena. This is a way to reinforce the hierarchy within the colony. Since several mates might be present within a male’s territory, it’s also a move to protect the cockroach’s offspring.

The cockroach who wins one of these blockbuster battles sometimes stilts, or raises its body high off of the ground. Scorpions exhibit similar behavior when they raise their tails high over their heads, lifting their bodies in the process. Along with hissing, stilting is one of the dominant cockroach’s intimidation tactics.

Cockroaches in Captivity

Madagascar hissing cockroaches are popular insects kept in captivity around the world. They’re frequently raised in laboratories and zoos for research and exhibition purposes. They’re also commonly used in classroom demonstrations, where students can learn about insect biology, the molting process, the cockroaches’ aversion to light and the importance of their place in the ecosystem.

Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches as Pets

Madagascars are relatively tame and large enough to observe and handle, which makes them great household pets for beginners. The Madagascar hissing cockroach is an especially fascinating pet because of its striking color, unique horns (in the males) and signature hissing sound.

You can fairly easily match their wild habitat in an enclosure (fish tanks, terrariums, etc.) with a log or piece of driftwood, some leaf litter and plenty of humidity. Wood chips and damp peat can be used as a type of bedding that let the insects burrow to escape the light. You’ll want to purchase an enclosure with a secure lid because these cockroaches can easily climb the glass or plastic sides.

You can feed them fresh produce such as fruits and vegetables (which is part of their diet in the wild). They’ll also thrive on dry dog food or a similar pellet food that contains plenty of protein. Pet hissing cockroaches can be purchased from local pet shops or through live delivery online, and live for up to five years with proper care.

Madagascar hissing cockroaches are most vulnerable as nymphs, just after they’ve molted. During this time, their new exoskeleton is still hardening, so pet owners shouldn’t touch or handle the roaches until they’ve darkened in color.

Before purchasing Madagascar hissing cockroaches as pets, you should research your state’s requirements and find out if you need a permit to raise them. They’re considered invasive species in most places and shouldn’t be removed from their enclosure.

An Incredible Insect

The Madagascar hissing cockroach sets itself apart from other cockroaches among the jungles of its native island. With its horns, its hiss and its impressive colors, the hissing cockroach is the royalty of the cockroach world.

Through environmental changes and dry seasons, these cockroaches carry on, scavenging relentlessly for food and engaging in heated battles. Their dramas play out every day among the fallen leaves of the forest floor and, though they might be difficult to find, their hisses make them well-known to the rest of the tropical ecosystem of Madagascar.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do Madagascar hissing cockroaches bite?

Madagascar hissing cockroaches don’t bite humans or other animals. When they clash with other cockroaches, they battle by ramming each other with their horns. They defend themselves by hissing loudly. There’s no risk of being bitten by these insects.

How does the Madagascar roach reproduce?

Madagascar hissing cockroaches give birth to live young. Unlike most other cockroach species, which deposit their egg cases before the eggs hatch, the female hissing cockroach carries her egg case within her body and continues to carry the nymphs within her body after they’re born.
Baby hissing cockroaches remain in their mother’s body for about two months before emerging as nymphs in their first instar.

What are Madagascar hissing cockroaches’ predators?

This fascinating African roach is an essential part of Madagascar’s food chain. They’re a food source for several kinds of predators, including birds, reptiles and arachnids.

Written by Andrew Martin. Reviewed by Rae Osborn, PhD.

Andrew Martin

Andrew Martin

Writer/Publisher

Andrew writes for, and along with his daughter, publishes Cockroach Facts. You can read more about him here.

Rae Osborn, PhD.

Rae Osborn, PhD.

Science Editor

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.


Sources

  1. Clark, Debbie and Donna Shanklin. Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches. University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. Retrieved from https://entomology.ca.uky.edu/ef014
  2. Madagascar hissing cockroach. Oregon Zoo. Retrieved from https://www.oregonzoo.org/discover/animals/madagascar-hissing-cockroach
  3. McLeod, Lianne (2019) Keeping Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches as Pets. The Spruce Pets. Retrieved from https://www.thesprucepets.com/madagascar-hissing-cockroach–1236891
  4. Madagascar Hissing Cockroach. South Carolina Aquarium. Retrieved from https://www.scaquarium.org/our-animals/madagascar-hissing-cockroach/
  5. Mulder, Phil and Andrine Shufran (2017) Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches: Information and Care. Oklahoma State University Extension. Retrieved from https://extension.okstate.edu/fact-sheets/madagascar-hissing-cockroaches-information-and-care.html