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.
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How Big are Roaches?
Here’s a cheat sheet of cockroach sizes sorted from biggest to smallest:
|Cockroach Species||Size (inches)|
|American cockroach||1.5 inches to 3 inches|
|Oriental cockroach||1.25 inch (approx.)|
|Smoky Brown cockroach||1.5 inch (approx.)|
|Australian cockroach||1.5 inch (approx.)|
|Brown Banded cockroach||0.5 inch (approx.)|
|Asian cockroach||0.5 inch (approx.)|
|German cockroach||0.5 inch (approx.)|
What Does a Large Cockroach Look Like?
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?
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.
The Cockroach Shape: Designed for Survival
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
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
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
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
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?
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?
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
A few bugs look a lot like cockroaches at a glance:
- Water Bugs
- Bed Bugs
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.)
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:
We’re rooting for you!
- Ogg, Barb et al. (2006) Cockroach Control Manual. University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension.
- Cochran, Donald G. (1999) Cockroaches: Their Biology, Distribution and Control. World Health Organization.