COCKROACHES – WHAT ARE THEY?

Written by: A O’Neill, Licensed Pest Management Professional

Cockroaches (also called roaches) are insects you don’t want to find scurrying across your kitchen floor or running around in your kitchen cupboards because they can contaminate your food and make you ill due to their unsanitary lifestyle. 

They are a common pest found scavenging for food usually when it’s dark in homes and restaurants worldwide. 

Types of Cockroaches

There are over 4600 types of cockroaches, and around 70 of these live in North America.  While this number sounds alarming, thankfully there are only a few of these species that you need to be concerned about, and these are: 

The German cockroach,

The American Cockroach,

The Oriental cockroach,

The Smokybrown cockroach,

The Brown-Banded cockroach 

German cockroach
German cockroach

Cockroaches have roamed the Earth for over 300 million years and are one of the most resilient insects which can make them hard to control and kill. 

Most cockroaches like warm, dark, moist environments where people live and where food is kept.

Roaches will feed on literally anything and are found in all sorts of filthy places, such as in sewers, and on pet feces.

When scavenging in these dirty places, they pick up all sorts of harmful bacteria that they then leave on our food and countertops when they walk across them.

DID YOU KNOW?

Cockroaches can spread 6 types of parasitic worms, 33 Kinds of bacteria, including E. Coli & Salmonella, and 7 kinds of human pathogens[1]

And if that’s not bad enough, some people are also allergic to their excrement (poop), shed skins, and saliva which can trigger asthma attacks. 

In fact, cockroaches are the Number 1 cause of indoor allergens globally.[2]  

What Do Roaches Look Like?

Although there are many different types of cockroaches, they all have some familiar characteristics which they share, including:

  • flattened, oval-shaped bodies
  • a small head that is surrounded by a shield-like pronotum
  • mouth points down and in a backward direction
  • 2 long, thin antennae that are usually the same length as their body
  • brown to black in color 
  • 6 spiny legs which have tiny sensory hairs and claws which help them to climb and run across ceilings
  • the hind legs are longer than the other legs
  • most species of cockroaches have wings that fold flat on their backs, but not all can fly
  • cockroaches range in size from 3/4 inch to 3 inches in length

It’s common to panic when you think you’ve seen a cockroach in your home, but first, make sure it definitely is a cockroach and not a similar-looking insect. 

Treatments for roach infestations will be different from treatments for other insects, so it’s important to accurately identify them.

What Do Baby Cockroaches Look Like?

When the baby cockroach or nymph first emerges from the egg sac or ootheca it is white, but after several hours its body hardens and its color changes to a darker one.   

Their color also becomes darker after each molting stage which they progress through and leave behind a shed skin before reaching adulthood.  

American cockroach nymph
Image: Mohammed El Damir, Bugwood.org

Baby cockroaches look like adults except for their color and they’re also a lot smaller at around 3mm long.  They have two long antennae, six spiny legs with tiny claws, and each species develops its own distinctive markings.   

Do Baby Cockroaches Fly?

No, baby cockroaches of any cockroach species are unable to fly because they do not have wings.  Their wings only develop when they reach the final molt and become adults. 

But just like the adult roaches, they can scurry around very quickly.  

Unfortunately, if you see any shed skins or white nymphs in your home, then you have a cockroach infestation.   And just like the adults, the babies can also have the same disease-causing bacteria on their bodies. 

Can Cockroaches Fly?

Yes, most types of roaches have wings so many of them can fly or glide, but they tend not to be good flyers and prefer to crawl as they are extremely fast runners. 

How Do Cockroaches Fly?

Cockroaches have four wings but only use two for flying.  The fore or front wings are actually wing covers that are the same color as the insect and their purpose is to protect the hind/back wings.

The back wings are large and transparent and are the two used for flying.  When the cockroach starts to take flight, it lifts the front wings up and uses the back wings to fly.  

Which Cockroaches Fly?

Above I mentioned the species of cockroaches typically found in the US that can cause problems in our homes, but which of these are capable of flying?

Do German cockroaches fly?

Both male and female German cockroaches have fully-developed wings but they rarely fly.  They can glide short distances if they have to, but they prefer to run to get to where they want to be. 

Do American Cockroaches fly?

American cockroaches rarely fly, and when they do, they also tend to just glide through the air instead for short distances.   They prefer to get around by running and they are also very fast.

Do Oriental Cockroaches Fly?

Although the wings cover 75% of the male’s abdomen, it cannot fly.  The female only has small wing pads so also cannot fly.

Do Smokybrown Cockroaches Fly?

Both the male and female smokybrown roach have fully developed wings, and they are strong flyers.  They are attracted to light at night so will easily fly from trees and in through a window or gap under a door and into your home. 

Do Brown-Banded Cockroaches Fly?

Although both sexes have wings, the female cannot fly.  The male Brown-Banded roach can fly quickly.

How Do You Get Cockroaches In Your Home?

There are so many reasons that cockroaches, like other pests, are attracted to your home, but the main factors are usually: food, water, and warmth

In short, your home provides a place where these pests can thrive. 

But how do they get in?  Well, there are a number of ways, including: 

  • hiding in grocery bags
  • through cracks and gaps in windows, vents, pipes, and drains
  • in firewood
  • in cardboard boxes
  • under doors
Cockroach entry point from wall and pipes
Cockroaches can enter your home through gaps around pipes

These are just a few examples of how roaches get into your home, but you can see just how easy they can enter unnoticed.

Signs You Have Cockroaches

As most species of roaches are nocturnal and hide away during the day, there is a good chance that you’ll have the beginnings of an infestation before you’ve even seen one scurrying across your floor. 

However, there are some common signs to look out for. 

Fecal droppings

Roaches leave their droppings wherever they crawl, and this includes on your kitchen countertops, floor, on cooking utensils, on plates, underneath and in kitchen appliances, for example.

The one place I always find cockroach activity is behind the fridge and this is the ideal living area for them because they are kept warm by the motor, and they have access to water from the overflow at the back.

If you think you’ve got cockroaches, then pull the fridge out away from the wall and see if you find any signs of them there.

The smaller roaches produce poop that looks like specks of black pepper or coffee grounds, whilst the feces of the larger roaches are bigger and cylindrical shaped.

Live cockroach

As they are nightime foragers, you probably won’t see one until you turn the kitchen or bathroom light on and it scurries under the nearest cupboard.

However, as the infestation grows you’ll start to see them looking for food and scurrying around in the daytime.

Shed skins

When the nymphs progress through each molting stage they shed their old skins, which can be found in areas of your home where roaches congregate. Areas to look in include behind and underneath the fridge as I mentioned above, beneath the oven, and behind the microwave. 

Remember, their preferred living locations are warm, dark, and moist areas in kitchens and bathrooms. 

Unpleasant smell

Roaches can produce a musty, oily odor that you won’t notice at first, but you will once the infestation becomes established.  Dead cockroaches also produce odors as they decompose. 

How To Make Your Home Less Attractive To Roaches

There are a few things you can do to limit cockroaches getting into your home, such as:

Take away their food sources 

Keeping your kitchen clean and crumb-free is a must.  Clean all the build-up of grease and food spills from behind, under, and alongside your cupboards and appliances.  

Eat in one room only

Designate one room to eat in such as the kitchen or dining room don’t take food into bedrooms, or other rooms because there is a chance crumbs will be dropped which will attract hungry, roaming cockroaches.

If you have a pet, keep the pet food in the same designated room and when your pet has finished feeding, discard any leftover food immediately.

Empty and clean out all the cupboards 

You’ll be surprised at how many small pieces of food can collect at the back of them.  The last thing you want is to find roaches scurrying across your tinned cans, food, plates, and dishes.

Fix dripping faucets and check pipes and plumbing for leaks 

Cockroaches need moisture to survive so limiting access to as many water sources as possible will impact and limit their habitat. 

Also, don’t leave dirty dishes in the sink overnight to soak.  

Having cockroaches doesn’t mean you’ve got a dirty home at all, but good housekeeping is essential to help control and limit an infestation.

Seal off entry points

Cockroaches can find their way in through tiny cracks, crevices, and gaps especially if you live in an apartment.  Take a look under your sinks and block any gaps between the pipes and the wall.

Also, block any gaps under your front and back doors as cockroaches can easily squeeze their way through and find their way in.

Detection and Elimination

If you’re unsure whether you have cockroaches, place sticky trap boards down on the countertops and underneath the fridge, oven, and other kitchen appliances, and in the cupboards, and bathrooms.

We use these traps often in the pest control industry to detect and monitor insects. They are cardboard structures that have a piece of cardboard with a layer of adhesive. The glue often contains an attractant that lures the insect onto it. Once the roach walks onto the glue, it is unable to escape.

However, these traps should only be used to detect and monitor the presence of cockroaches and not used solely as a way to get rid of them.

There are a number of control products to eliminate these pests, such as gel baits and insecticides that you can use if you feel comfortable doing it yourself, and as long as you don’t have a large infestation. 

Alternatively, contact a reputable pest control company that deals with cockroach infestations.  Either way, deal with this immediately as seeing a cockroach in your home is a worrying sign.

Related Pages:

What Attracts Cockroaches To Your Home?
German Cockroaches – The Public Health Pest
This Is Why You See Cockroaches Outside Your Home

[1] pctonline.com 

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3423599/

I’ve been in the pest control industry helping people get rid of their unwanted pests for over 20 years, both in the UK and Canada.

As a licensed pest management professional, I’ve seen and treated just about every common household pest, insect, or rodent, you can think of. I’ve seen the damage caused when an infestation has been left too long and has become hard to get rid of.

For this reason, peststopsolutions.com was created. By having honest advice and the right guidance to hand, along with scientific evidence to back up claims, you are given information on the best eradication methods, as well as how to get rid of most pests yourself.