The American cockroach, known scientifically as Periplaneta americana, is an invasive species that has spread throughout the world.
Originally from Africa, this cockroach has made its way into various countries, including the United States, thriving in areas like basements, sewers, steam tunnels, and drainage systems .
As it is a nuisance pest, it’s essential to know more about this insect to understand how to manage and prevent infestations in homes and other structures.
An overview of the American Cockroach
Some key characteristics of the American cockroach include:
- Brownish-red color
- Wings that cover their entire body length
- Active mostly at night
- Omnivorous, feeding on various food sources
- Average size: 1.5 inches in length
- Long antennae
- 6 legs
- Yellowish pronotum (the area behind the head)
To reproduce, the female American cockroaches deposit eggs in a bean-shaped protective case called an ootheca, which they usually place in a sheltered area near food sources.
By understanding the American cockroach’s life cycle, habits, and appearance, homeowners and pest control professionals can effectively manage and eliminate these unwelcome pests.
Life Cycle and Reproduction
The life cycle of the American cockroach consists of three stages – egg, nymph, and adult. Female cockroaches deposit their eggs in bean-shaped cases, called oothecae. These cases contain up to 16 white or yellowish-white eggs.
The life span of an American cockroach varies, with different stages taking different amounts of time to complete. For example, the nymph stage may take 1 to 6 months, and the complete life cycle can last up to two years.
American cockroaches are:
- Nocturnal: Active during the night
- Omnivorous: Feeding on various food sources
- Attracted to damp, warm areas
They may emit a distinct odor when disturbed or threatened.
Habitat and Climate Preferences
American cockroaches favor tropical climates and can be found in:
- Steam tunnels
- Drainage systems
Their preferred temperature is above 82°F.
Other Types of Cockroaches
Alongside the American cockroach, there are other common cockroach species:
|Species||Appearance and Features|
|Oriental Cockroach||Dark brown or black in color, 1 inch long, males have short wings, females have no wings.|
|German Cockroach||Smaller than American cockroach, light brown to tan color, with two dark stripes on the pronotum.|
|Brown-banded Roach||Dark brown with pale bands across the wings, prefers drier environments than other species.|
These species share similarities with the American cockroach but differ in appearance, behavior, and preferred habitats.
Preventing and Controlling Infestations
Signs of Infestation
- Droppings: Small, dark, and cylindrical droppings found around your living spaces.
- Egg casings: Brown, capsule-shaped structures that each contain 15 to 20 eggs.
- Live sightings: Usually seen in dark, damp, and warm areas like basements or near steam pipes.
Preventing American cockroach infestations involves:
- Cleaning: Regularly clean and sanitize your living spaces, especially the kitchen and bathroom.
- Eliminating food sources: Store food in sealed containers, clean up spills, and remove crumbs.
- Sealing entry points: Fill cracks, crevices, and gaps in walls, doors, and windows.
- Reducing moisture: Repair leaky pipes and use a dehumidifier in damp areas.
There are various treatment methods for controlling American cockroach infestations:
- Traps: Sticky traps help monitor and capture roaches.
- Baits: Gel baits, bait stations, and granular baits attract and poison cockroaches.
- Sprays: Residual insecticide sprays create a barrier that kills roaches on contact.
- Pesticides: Chemical pesticides should be used as a last resort and applied by professionals.
Some natural predators like the Ensign Wasp, that helps in controlling their population by taking down cockroach eggs.
Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Pest Control
If you prefer to tackle the problem yourself, consider these DIY methods:
- Boric acid: A natural and effective insecticide that targets cockroaches in clean, dry areas1.
- Diatomaceous earth: A non-toxic powder that can be applied to infested areas.
- Over-the-counter insecticides: In this case, use the insecticide with caution and follow the product’s instructions.
However, if the infestation is too severe or you’re unsure about the best approach, it may be necessary to consult a pest control professional.
Health Concerns Related to American Cockroaches
Asthma, Allergies, and Reactions
American cockroach infestations can lead to several health problems, especially for those who have asthma or allergies.
Cockroach allergens are proteins found in their feces, saliva, and body parts. These allergens can trigger:
- Asthma attacks: Cockroach-infested areas may worsen asthma symptoms, particularly in children.
- Allergic reactions: Some people experience skin rashes, nasal congestion, and eye irritation upon exposure to cockroach allergens.
Cockroaches can carry harmful bacteria, such as salmonella, staphylococcus and streptococcus on their bodies. They can spread these bacteria by crawling on food, countertops, and other surfaces. Common areas for contamination include:
- Kitchens: Counters, sinks, and food storage areas are susceptible to contamination.
- Bathrooms: Contact with bathroom surfaces and sinks can spread bacteria.
- Restaurants: Cockroach-infested restaurants pose a significant risk to public health.
Contaminated surfaces can lead to foodborne illnesses and infections.
Washing hands, keeping a clean environment, and controlling pest populations can help prevent bacterial contamination.
Although rare, American cockroaches can bite humans, particularly during infestations. A bite may cause symptoms ranging from mild to severe, such as:
- Pain or discomfort
Controlling American cockroach populations is essential for maintaining a healthy living environment. It helps prevent asthma and allergy issues, bacterial contamination, and potential bites.
American Cockroach’s Natural Environment and Distribution
American cockroaches are actually not native to America. They originated in Africa and were later introduced to the Americas.
American cockroach populations can now be found in various parts of the world. They are primarily distributed in tropical and subtropical climates, thriving in spaces like:
- Crawl spaces
They thrive on smooth surfaces, such as glass, and can climb vertical surfaces. Small openings (about 1/16 inch) in the foundation and walls of buildings allow them to enter the structure.
The American cockroach, an invasive species from Africa, is now found globally. Active at night, it thrives in basements, sewers, and drains.
Prevent infestations with proper cleaning and sealing, or consult pest control professionals.
Beware of health risks like asthma triggers, bacterial contamination, and rare bites. Stay vigilant to maintain a healthy living environment.
American Cockroach- Readers’ Mail
Over the years, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and images asking us about American cockroaches. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.
Letter 1 – Reported Palmetto Bug Bite
Subject: palmetto bugs DO BITE
Location: Metro Atlanta
July 11, 2013 7:40 am
Hi Mr. Bugmann,
Last night I picked up a Palmetto looking bug, on my way to feed it to my Dragon Lizard, It clamped down on my finger. I did an Indian war dance and shook it off my finger to find blood dripping from it.
My wife tracked it down and smacked it with a flip flop fly swatter. I went to inspect to see what it chomped down on me with, Well then I heard the toilet flush, My wife wanted to make sure it didn’t wake up and attack again.
Anyway, Once I got the blood to stop I tried to find other occurrences with others. No luck. I was once bitten by a scorpion by its claw with a similar result.
Palmetto Bugs are a pretty name for the American Cockroach, actually a species believed to have been imported to the new world from Africa via slave ships. Way back in 2003, we reported that Palmetto Bugs do not bite, but the spines on their legs might break the skin. If your experience is accurate, it appears we may have been wrong ten years ago.
I’ll try to get a photo if I see another one so we know for comparing apples and apples. By the way have you ever heard the song “big cockroach” back Kip Adonna?
We have not heard of the song but we did locate this by Kip Addotta on Song Meanings.
Letter 2 – Unnecessary Slaughter of an American Cockroach or Pondering the Meaning of Life!!!
Cockroaches will definetly outlive humans.
I found a large American Cockroach in my bedroom, as they tend to freak me out, I grabbed a large knife from my dresser and sliced it alongside the upper abdomen. Both parts continued to move.
It laid still for a moment, but when I went to pick it up, the body made a run for it. It ran about 5 feet and stopped. I picked it up again and put it on my dresser, with the head.
The head was moving it’s mouth and little mandible things quickly, it looked very mad. I took pictures of it, and a video so I could prove it was still moving. Then I started to feel bad for it and cut it’s head from it’s abdomen, thinking that would surely do it in.
Of course it didn’t, because apparently the brain doesn’t have much to do with it. I packed it into a plastic bag, went on the internet to investigate (make sure it was really a cockroach). I found your site. Now, I read the cockroach page, the unnecessary carnage page, and the bug love page.
I felt much worse for killing it. Then I got up to get a soda, walking past the plastic bag I noticed the one of the cockroach’s legs is still moving. It’s been at least 30 minutes now since I first killed it. Is this normal?
I think I may have some super cockroach strain. I know the praying mantis males compulate without their heads, but how long can an insect go without a head?
I’m not sure I can answer your question accurately. Death of the Cockroach is imminent. The exact moment of death in any being is definitely a hot topic worth debating, and science and religion are often at odds. Chickens run about without heads but that is usually a matter of seconds or minutes at most. I think the Cockroach accomplished quite a feat by provoking both your sorrow, your pondering and your subsequent webwearch. We believe much of what you observed was reflex reaction. Our question to you is “What is a large knife doing on your bedroom dresser?”
This is just a comment for the carny page. The decapetated roach that was still moving after 30 mins is quite normal. I read once that a roach is able to live for 7 days without a head and will thus eventually die of hunger.
This was proven with a test I did, my headless roach lasted 5 days. I think the 30 min roach didn’t make it for that long cause of the fact that the knife took more that just the head. I’ll see if I can find the articel for you again. Nways, Great Site! Love it!
Letter 3 – American Cockroach
Subject: What is this please?
Location: Southern California
January 9, 2017 1:28 am
Dear Bugman, I live in monrovia hills which is in southern calif. In the last week I have encountered two of these bugs indoors on the floor in 2 separate bedrooms. Their torso are about 2 inches long and by the photo it appears the wings are about the same .
One actually aggressively jumped on me and I had to keep swatting it away. I have been in my home 20 years and living in the hills I have encountered my share of insects from millipedes , scorpion, Jerusalem bugs, black widows etc. Neverthess despite exhaustive research I cannot identify this insect and wonder if you can help me.
Identifying it hopefully will help me discover where they are coming from and how I can prevent them from infesting my home. Your help would be greatly appreciated . Many thanks
We believe this Cockroach, based on its appearance and the size and behavior you described, is an American Cockroach, Periplaneta americana, which despite its name is NOT a native species. According to BugGuide: “They are significant pests throughout the world. They are not native to the Americas at all. They come from tropical Africa. They were probably transported to the Americas on slave ships.” Because of their large size, American Cockroaches are not as likely to infest homes as the much smaller German Cockroach, and we suspect the two you found were most likely accidental visitors as opposed to breeding individuals that have taken up residence in your home.
Letter 4 – American Cockroach
Subject: Huge bug
Geographic location of the bug: Indiana
Time: 10:10 PM EDT
Was sitting in my sons hospital room when this strange bug flew in and landed on the wall. It was between 1-2 inches long and scary!
How you want your letter signed: Concerned mom !
Letter 5 – Wood Cockroach: Drowned in the Fountain
nocturnal brown flying insect
July 21, 2009
Dear Mr. Bugman,
I hopelessly freaked out by bugs! Just last night, I saw a few of these bugs flying around my backyard. When they land they scurry around quickly like cockroaches but then take flight. The one photographed drowned in my waterfountain (oopsie). Can you please tell me what it is?
Fontana, CA (So. Cal)
Dear Buggin’ out,
These are American Cockroaches, Periplaneta americana, which is something of a misnomer since according to BugGuide: “They are significant pests throughout the world. They are not native to the Americas at all. They come from tropical Africa. They were probably transported to the Americas on slave ships.” BugGuide also has this to report: “Adults have wings and will occasionally fly. However, they are awkward fliers and prefer to run when disturbed. Males and females are about the same size and look very similar. Both have a pair of cerci, finger-like appendages, at the tips of their abdomens. The cerci are used to detect air currents in the cockroach’s surroundings. Male cockroaches have an additional set of appendages called styli on their abdomens. The styli are located between the cerci but are smaller and more delicate. The presence of styli is the easiest way to distinguish male from female cockroaches. Immature American cockroaches resemble adults, except they are wingless. The American cockroach egg capsules are mahogany brown and about 1/3 inch long.”
Correction: Wood Cockroach
March 14, 2010
This is not the American cockroach (Periplaneta americana), but rather a male of the native wood cockroach (Parcoblatta; most likely P. americana.) They are not pests, and cannot live inside houses.
Letter 6 – American Cockroaches
A few days ago I had a very uncomfortable experience with what I now think was an American cockroach. It seemed to me to be about two inches long and an inch wide and very shiny. And very aggressive! It boldly scurried up to me two times, both times I shooed it away.
Then it actually followed me aggressively as I backed away from it. I didn’t want to step on it – too yucky. I just wanted to get away form it. I finally kicked away and it hit a wall and ended up on it’s back. I had a good look at it and it really was huge. I’d never seen a roach like this before. This all took place in a washroom in a train station.
I found the experience unnerving. I’ve never known cockroaches to actually chase after people. I know it sounds laughable, but it’s true – the damn thing actually chased me! > >Is this normal for American cockroaches? Or I am now some kind of roach-magnet?
thanks ……… Terrified in Toronto
Dear Terrified in Toronto,
Roaches are not aggressive in the manner you described. I doubt that it was attacking you. More
likely, it was seeking shelter in your shadow. They do like dark places you know. Rest assured you are not a roach magnet. It does sound like an American Cockroach, which get very large and often frequent bathrooms. We have big ones in the basement bathrooms and darkroom of a college where I teach in Los Angeles.
Letter 7 – Central American Cockroach
Unknown cockroach species
I love your site! Fascinating and one of my most frequent references. I wish there were a Bug Guide type site for Central America because that’s where I live and find my little beauties. I did send you one photo of a strange new cockroach, but haven’t heard anything from you.
Is this because cockroaches are just too boring (not to me!) or because you can’t find a reference. Because of the transparent shield (part of the oddly shaped pronotum) over the head of the cockroad, the creature reminds me of a space man or astronaut.
If you can’t ID it, can you suggest some reference sites on the web? I live in an isolated area and there are no libraries or book stores or universities within at least a day’s travel, so I depend on the Internet. Thanks for any help. I’m attaching several more photos of this roach just in case the first one got lost.
Sorry to have been negligent. We can’t even recall seeing your previous images, so they might be in the jumble of letters that is clogging up our in box. Sadly, we cannot recommend any good sources online for your question, nor do we recognize your species. It is difficult enough to identify “flashy” exotic species like butterflies in less traveled parts of the world. Your Cockroach is indeed fascinating. Good luck putting a name to it. Eric Eaton quickly wrote in with this information: ” The cockroach is something in the Blaberinae, maybe even a Blaberus sp, but probably a related genus.”
Letter 8 – Suicide Attacker: American Cockroach
Dear What’s that Bug?
Last night, as I was preparing to bicycle over to a friend’s house, I noticed that my chain had fallen off. When I bent down to reattach it to the gear ring, I noticed this little feller, quite dead, resting on my derailer cables.
I enjoyed keeping him on my bike for a few miles, as bugs are the only hitchhikers a cyclist can really pick up. I was charmed to have a rider, despite his deadness.
When I brought my bicycle into my friend’s home, it was time for my rider to leave (not polite to bring cockroaches into a home, even if they aren’t breathing), and I ripped a page from a nearby phone book and prepared a makeshift coffin. It was only later that I wondered about the connection between my chain falling off and the presence of the bug.
Could there possibly be a cause and effect at work here? Was this cockroach some sort of suicide attacker, hoping my chain problem would cause me to have an incident? Can bugs be devious? Are there any cockroaches in Al Queda? Should I call Homeland Security? Please advise.
Another paranoid American.
Dear Paranoid American,
While I would like to assure you that this was just a random event, ask any homemaker, and you will be assured that Cockroaches are indeed devious, well-organized and capable of planning strategies. What is most disturbing about your hypothesis is that appears to be an American Cockroach, Periplaneta americana, a non-native immigrant despite its name. If there is an Al Queda connection, it would be frightening to think that we may soon be on high alert against six legged foes. This is way too big for What’s That Bug? to handle and most assuredly a job for the leader of the Free World.