American Cockroach vs Palmetto Bug: Uncovering the Facts and Differences

The American cockroach and the palmetto bug are often mistaken for each other due to their similar appearance and habits.

However, there are some key differences between the two that can help in identifying them and understanding their behavior.

The American cockroach (Periplaneta americana) is a large cockroach species, reaching up to 1.5-2 inches in length.

They are reddish-brown and commonly found indoors, where they can become a nuisance to homeowners.

On the other hand, the palmetto bug refers to the Florida woods cockroach (Eurycotis floridana), native to the southeastern United States.

These cockroaches are darker in color, ranging from dark brown to black, and tend to dwell outdoors in structures near the home.

American Cockroach vs Palmetto Bug

Both these species are known for their preference for warm and damp environments, and can occasionally invade homes in search of water and food.

While they generally pose no direct harm to humans, their presence might lead to unsanitary conditions, as they are often associated with waste and decaying matter.

The key to distinguishing and managing these pests lies in understanding their unique characteristics and identifying the appropriate control methods.

American Cockroach

The American cockroach (Periplaneta americana) is one of the most common types of cockroaches found in the United States1. Adult American cockroaches are large, ranging from 1-2 inches long, and are reddish-brown in color2.

Palmetto Bug

The term “palmetto bug” primarily refers to the Florida woods cockroach (Eurycotis floridana)3.

However, it is worth mentioning that the name “palmetto bug” is also used to refer to other cockroach species, like the smoky brown cockroach4.

Adult Florida wood cockroaches are smaller than American cockroaches, around 1 inch in length, and are dark brown to black in color.

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Palmetto Bugs. Source: Happy1892CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Similarities

  • Both the American cockroach and palmetto bug are species of cockroaches.
  • Both types are commonly found in the southeastern United States6.
  • They are both considered peridomestic, meaning they can be found in structures near homes7.
  • Both species are decomposers, feeding on dead or dying plants and animals8.

Comparison Table Between American Cockroach and Palmetto Bug

FeatureAmerican CockroachPalmetto Bug (Florida woods cockroach)
Length (adult)1-2 inches1 inch
ColorReddish-brownDark brown to black
HabitatIndoors and outdoorsPrimarily outdoors
Native toUnites StatesSoutheastern United States

Identification and Characteristics

Physical Features

The American cockroach and the Palmetto bug, also known as the Florida woods cockroach, are two different species of cockroach.

The American cockroach (Periplaneta americana) is commonly found in sewers and basements, while the Palmetto bug (Eurycotis floridana) can be found in moist, wooded areas and palmetto trees in the southeastern United States12.

File:Periplaneta americana - American cockroach (25765232092).jpg
American Cockroach. Source: Insects Unlocked , CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

American cockroaches have a flat, oval body, long antennae, and spiny legs. Palmetto bugs have a similar body shape but can appear flatter and wider.

Size and Color

Both cockroaches have varying sizes and colors, making it easier to differentiate between the two species.

  • American cockroach: About 1.5 inches long (38 mm), reddish-brown1
  • Palmetto bug: 0.75 to 1.25 inches long, dark mahogany3

Markings and Appearance

The American cockroach has two dark brown stripes on its pronotum, or the body region just behind the head4. Meanwhile, the Palmetto bug lacks these distinctive stripes.

Comparison Table Showing Physical Differences

FeatureAmerican CockroachPalmetto Bug
Size1.5 inches (38 mm)0.75 to 1.25 inches
ColorReddish-brownDark mahogany
Pronotum MarkingsTwo dark brown stripesNone

Both species have wings, but only the American cockroach can fly5. They typically infest damp places such as kitchens, bathrooms, and pipes, compared to Palmetto bugs, which prefer woodpiles and palmetto trees6.

When trying to get rid of an infestation, it is essential to identify the correct species to apply the most appropriate pest control methods7.

By observing their distinct characteristics, you can effectively distinguish between an American cockroach and a Palmetto bug.

Habitats and Distribution

American cockroaches and Palmetto bugs are commonly found in warm, humid climates. They thrive in the Southeast and Southwest regions, particularly in states like South Carolina.

They are attracted to regions like these because they need moist, warm environments to survive.

  • Southeast region: Warm and humid
  • Southwest region: Also warm, but slightly dryer

Both species are nocturnal and primarily feed on decaying organic matter in their respective environments. Their diet consists of leaves, fungi, algae, and small insects.

Palmetto Trees and Florida and Palmetto Bugs

Florida is a well-known hotspot for these bugs, as its warm climate and abundance of Palmetto trees make it an ideal habitat for them.

Palmetto bugs got their name because of their preference for living in and around the Palmetto trees found throughout Florida.

Basements and Kitchens

American cockroaches and Palmetto bugs can often be found inside homes, particularly in basements and kitchens. Both of these areas provide necessary warmth and access to food sources.

In both cases, these bugs are known to inhabit wood piles, tree holes, and even landscape materials such as pine straw mulch. The nymphs of these species also often conceal themselves in hiding spots like the following.

  • Wood piles: They provide shelter for both species
  • Landscape materials: They are ideal hiding places for nymphs

Overall, American cockroaches and Palmetto bugs share many similarities with slight differences in appearance, habits, and the regions they can be found in.

Behaviors and Diet

Both American cockroaches and palmetto bugs are nocturnal insects. They come out at night to search for food and water. They prefer dark places, such as:

  • Under kitchen appliances
  • In storage areas, like closets or garages
  • In basements or crawl spaces

Food Preferences

These pests enjoy a wide variety of food sources, such as:

  • Leftover food in pet bowls
  • Crumbs and spills in food prep areas
  • Food stored in pantries

When comparing their food preferences, both American cockroaches and palmetto bugs eat similar foods. For example, they both eat:

  • Decaying organic matter
  • Sweet, starchy, and greasy foods
  • Paper products

Infestations and Dangers

Cockroach infestations can pose health risks because they spread diseases and can cause allergies. Concerning the dangers:

  • Both species can spread bacteria, like salmonella
  • Allergens from their feces and body parts can trigger asthma attacks
  • They contaminate food and surfaces, posing a risk for food poisoning

By understanding the behaviors and diet of both American cockroaches and palmetto bugs, we can better manage infestations and reduce the risks associated with their presence.

Health Risks and Concerns

Bacterial Risks

  • American Cockroach: Often found in sewage systems, they can carry a variety of bacteria and viruses on their bodies such as E. coli and Salmonella 1.
  • Palmetto Bug: Commonly found in damp, warm habitats, they can also carry bacteria and contribute to the spread of diseases 2.

Both American Cockroaches and Palmetto Bugs have been associated with harboring various types of bacteria on their bodies and in their gut 3.

These insects are often found near garbage and mulch, which not only provide food sources for the pests, but also serve as breeding grounds for bacteria.

File:Periplaneta americana (6553770333).jpg
American Cockroach. Source: Len WorthingtonCC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Salmonella and Allergy

Cockroaches have been known to carry salmonella, with the potential to contaminate food and surfaces they come in contact with, leading to food poisoning 4.

It’s essential to keep food preparation areas clean and regularly dispose of garbage to minimize the risk of disease transmission.

In addition to carrying pathogens, both the American Cockroach and Palmetto Bug have been connected to allergies.

Their feces, saliva, eggs, and shedding cuticles can contain allergenic substances that may trigger asthma attacks or worsen existing allergies 5.

Cockroach Bites

Cockroach bites, although rare, can occur from both the American Cockroach and the Palmetto Bug.

Bites typically happen when populations are high, and food sources are scarce. The good news is that cockroach bites are usually not dangerous and tend to cause only minor skin irritation.

Prevention and Control

Sanitation and Cleaning

  • Regularly clean up food crumbs and spills
  • Store food in sealed containers
  • Dispose of garbage properly, using sealed trash cans
  • Fix leaky pipes to avoid providing moisture for pests

Maintaining cleanliness is key to preventing both American cockroach and Palmetto bug infestations.

These pests are attracted to humid areas, food sources, and damp materials like wet cardboard or decaying wood. Regularly cleaning and properly storing food can help deter these pests.

Sealing Entry Points

  • Install door sweeps on exterior doors
  • Seal cracks and gaps around windows, doors, and utility pipes
  • Repair torn screens on windows and doors
  • Caulk around baseboards, cabinets, and other spots where pests may enter

By sealing off potential entry points, you can prevent not only Palmetto bug and American cockroach infestations but also other pests from entering your home.

Be vigilant about inspecting and fixing any openings to keep these pests out.

Professional Pest Control

  • Consult a pest control professional for expertise and guidance
  • Consider chemical control methods, such as baits, sprays, and dusts if necessary
  • Implement an integrated pest management approach to deal with infestations

If you’re dealing with a persistent Palmetto bug or American cockroach problem, it’s logical to consult a professional. They can recommend the most effective prevention and control methods tailored to your specific situation.

Comparison Table: American Cockroach vs Palmetto Bug

FeatureAmerican CockroachPalmetto Bug
Regional TermSouthwest, Southeastern United StatesSouth Carolina, Florida
Size1-2 inches1.2-1.6 inches (may refer to different species)
ColorReddish-brown, with yellow edges around the thoraxDark brown to black, shiny
FlightYes, but not frequentlyYes, primarily smoky brown cockroaches
HabitatHumid areas, near decaying materials and food sourcesHumid areas, particularly near palm trees
Prevention & ControlSanitation, sealing entry points, professional pest controlSanitation, sealing entry points, professional pest control

Conclusion

While the American cockroach and the palmetto bug share similarities in appearance and habitat preferences, they are distinct species with slight differences.

Identifying and understanding their behaviors is crucial for effective pest management. Regular cleaning, sealing entry points, and professional consultation are essential for preventing and controlling infestations.

By staying vigilant and taking proactive measures, homeowners can maintain a healthy living environment and reduce health risks associated with these pests.

Footnotes

  1. Cockroach Biology and Management – Texas A&M University 2 3 4

  2. Cockroaches – Purdue University 2 3

  3. Florida woods cockroach – Eurycotis floridana (Walker) 2 3

  4. Cockroach Biology and Management – Texas A&M University 2 3

  5. Florida woods cockroach – Eurycotis floridana (Walker) 2 3

  6. ENY-214/IG082: Cockroaches and Their Management – EDIS 2

  7. Florida woods cockroach – Eurycotis floridana (Walker) 2

  8. ENY-214/IG082: Cockroaches and Their Management – EDIS

American Cockroaches and Palmetto Bugs – Readers’ Mail

Over the years, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some beautiful images asking us about American Cockroaches and Palmetto Bugs. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Flying Cockroaches in India: American Cockroach

night of the roaches part 2 — heeeelllppp — now with photo
Hello, brave bug researchers!
I found your site looking for answers to a truly horrific experience!!! I live in South India, and am used to the odd roach, but last night my husband and I were awoken by roaches running ALL OVER our bed and us.

When we put on the light, there were at least nine, all over the bedroom, and when we opened the door to shoo them out, we saw they were even flying in from other areas of the house, and came back as fast as we swept them out. They stopped coming when I showered and stripped the bed of (fresh) sheets for good measure. I only knew what to do because the same thing had happened to me once as a teenager —

I woke up at night with something crawling on me, and when I turned on the light I saw cockroaches were flying at me from all corners of my (the same) bedroom. It was unbelievable, more were coming in all the time, and even though I ran around panicking they wouldn’t leave me alone until I showered AND washed my hair. My question is, what on earth do you think could be attracting them so incredibly?

Did I smash one in my sleep maybe? We joked whoever figures out the secret behind the roach magnet could get rich quick LOL!! Seriously, has anyone ever had this happen to them before? I was sort of pleased it happened again when there was a witness…Roach Attack 1 was so horror movieish that I’ve always felt people thought I exaggerated it!! If it’s any help, it rained the night before, after a month of dry weather.

I also saw a brown spot on the sheets, that looked a lot like the stains the stinkbugs leave that won’t wash out. We also have a bedside lamp that might be emitting some sort of frequency. I can’t identify which species these are (and I don’t want to find one to take a picture!!) but according to your site, I’d say they most resemble the American roach, but larger and they can fly. Thanks,
Terrified of a Repeat Episode
PS Got a photo!

Dear Terrified,
Try as we might, though we found numerous references to Flying Cockroaches in India, we could not locate a species name online. We suspect the rain probably is a critical factor in the roach invasion. Perhaps one of our readers will have an answer for you.

Update (02/10/2008) reply to Flying cockroach in India
Hey there Bugman,
Your cockroach there IS the American roach, Periplaneta Americana . They’ve travelled all over the world with us humans. And if the humidity is right, these guys will fly. So India is probably just right for it.

As for what’s attracting them maybe it’s mating time. The males are incredibly sensitive to pheromones. There must be some female hanging out underneath the bed.
Caitlin, Ohio

Hi Caitlin,
We located a posting by the Urban Pantheist, and it states that: “The so-called American cockroach, like most other urban cockroaches, is thought to have originally come from Africa. When trade between that continent and North America was at its most notorious–when humans were a product to buy and sell–cockroaches stowed away in ships.”

Confirmation: (02/11/2008) From Eric Eaton
Daniel:
The “flying cockroaches in India,” or at least the specimen in the image, are American cockroaches, Periplaneta Americana.

Despite the common name, these domestic pests are native to tropical Africa, but have now spread globally. They do fly, very well! I remember the first time I saw them do that, when I was in Florida. Quite a shock!
Eric

Letter 2 – DO PALMETTO BUGS BITE?

Dear Bug Man,
A half an hour ago I woke up to find a palmetto bug on my leg. After nearly breaking my hand on the wall throwing it (and it felt sticky), I got up (couldn’t sleep after that repulsive incident) and noticed the area on my leg where the roach had been was very red.

hen about 6 bumps (like mosquito bites, almost) appeared in an oval configuration about an inch long. One of the bumps was long (about half an inch) and thinner than the rest.

My question is do these things bite? I immediately jumped on the internet to look for an answer, and most sites state that they do not. But the redness/bumps on my leg seem to indicate otherwise. That thing must
have bitten me. Should I be worried? What should I do?
Thank you
Stefanie in Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Dear Stephanie,
All the information I have ever read agrees with the internet, that Palmetto Bugs do not bite, however, it could still have been responsible for your skin irritation. People will sensitive skin might get pricked by the spines on their legs, and this could have happened when you grabbed it, something like a contact dermatitus. It could also have been a psychosomatic reaction to the repulsive incident.

Thanks for the response…it definitely wasn’t in my head…still have the red marks. YUCK!
Thanks again,
Stefanie H.

Letter 3 – Palmetto Bug

huge bug
Hi
im not sure if we have a palmetto bug or what but here’s a pic just cought it half an hour ago clawing it’s way near the entrance door big spooky thing, never seen anything like it
Lubo

Hi Lubo,
It is definitely a roach, possibly a Palmetto Bug or an American Cockroach. Palmetto Bugs live in the deep south, Florida especially. They can fly and are larger that American Cockroaches.

Letter 4 – palmetto bugs

what are palmetto bugs and where did they get that name??????????

Palmetto bugs are very large, flying cockroaches. They are found in warmer climates, like Florida, and they get their name because they are often found near palmetto trees.

is there anyway to get rid of them?

Since they live outdoors, and can fly from location to location, mass annihilation of the species is the only way to keep them out of your yard. Since this is not feasable, and since they are not really pests, just a frighteningly large annoyance, I suggest learning to ignore them.

Authors

  • Daniel Marlos

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

26 thoughts on “American Cockroach vs Palmetto Bug: Uncovering the Facts and Differences”

  1. I just moved to Pinellas county Fl. I live in a trailer, near woods. Tonight I killed my first palmetto bug. It was huge. Followed by a small, fast moving “bug”. I’ve been on Internet all night. Apparently they fly & bite? I’ve had a lot of large in size bites on my legs, they look nasty & I keep getting more. Are they from the palmetto? Should I feel them on my skin? Are they a danger to my dog? I read they occasionally come indoors but when looking for warmer climate?? It’s rained all day & yet in here! I’ve dunces turned on my A/C full blast & closed windows. Scared to sleep. All lights are on too. Any answers???

    Reply
    • We doubt that the bites you are finding on your legs have come from Palmetto Bugs. We do not believe they pose any danger to your dog, though they might provide a protein treat if your dog or a cat decides to try to eat one.

      Reply
  2. That is the grossest big and even the thought of ot biting
    is even worse. Don’t think I’ll ever go to Florida again!!

    Reply
  3. That is the grossest big and even the thought of ot biting
    is even worse. Don’t think I’ll ever go to Florida again!!

    Reply
  4. hi, I was visiting Goa about 20 years ago. I had left a tube of some high glucose sweets in the top draw in my hotel room. Hi heard some rustling in this draw. I tentatively opened the draw and there was an insect about 7cm in length with a width on about 4cm. When I saw it I was shocked and I screamed and I swear to God the creature turned its head towards me and it had what appeared to be a face with human features and screamed back at me. It was like being in a cartoon with a cartoon character. The creature then jumped out of the drawer onto the marble floor and opened some wings and flew under the three inch gap under the door. I could hear him screaming down the hall banging into the walls. I have seen big roaches in the philippines and this was nothing like then due to the humanoid face. Can anyone suggest what this was!
    Simon UK

    Reply
  5. hi, I was visiting Goa about 20 years ago. I had left a tube of some high glucose sweets in the top draw in my hotel room. Hi heard some rustling in this draw. I tentatively opened the draw and there was an insect about 7cm in length with a width on about 4cm. When I saw it I was shocked and I screamed and I swear to God the creature turned its head towards me and it had what appeared to be a face with human features and screamed back at me. It was like being in a cartoon with a cartoon character. The creature then jumped out of the drawer onto the marble floor and opened some wings and flew under the three inch gap under the door. I could hear him screaming down the hall banging into the walls. I have seen big roaches in the philippines and this was nothing like then due to the humanoid face. Can anyone suggest what this was!
    Simon UK

    Reply
  6. They do bite. One bite me in my face. I must have grab it in my sleep because when I woke up it was in the bed with me. Yuk! I almost died when I saw it.

    Reply
  7. They bite! One bit me on the neck this evening. Not the first time. I don’t see many only after hard rain.
    But…they absolutely do bite!

    Reply
  8. They bite! One bit me on the neck this evening. Not the first time. I don’t see many only after hard rain.
    But…they absolutely do bite!

    Reply
  9. As an older man I went in half asleep at 2 AM to pee suddenly as I sat there I felt a sting , there it was a large palmetto bug.

    Weird, I think he saw his rope from drowning and grabbed on. So it may have been a pinch. Although it stung like a bee. Running a little paranoia I hope I don’t get some weird wasting disease from a cockroach swimming in urine.

    So I washed and used an alcohol pad.
    Is there any history of infection from these insects?

    Reply
    • According to Better Health, an Australian Government site: “It is believed that the cockroach may be a reservoir for a range of bacteria including salmonella, staphylococcus and streptococcus. The cockroach can also harbour viruses such as the polio virus. Like the household fly, the cockroach will eat virtually anything ranging from food spills on a kitchen floor to faecal matter. Ingested bacteria can survive in the cockroach’s digestive system, sometimes for months or even years, and are passed in its droppings. Cockroaches will vomit and defaecate on food and it is thought that disease may be transmitted to humans when humans eat food contaminated by cockroaches. Recent research suggests that the cockroach may also be associated with human allergies.”

      Reply
  10. As an older man I went in half asleep at 2 AM to pee suddenly as I sat there I felt a sting , there it was a large palmetto bug.

    Weird, I think he saw his rope from drowning and grabbed on. So it may have been a pinch. Although it stung like a bee. Running a little paranoia I hope I don’t get some weird wasting disease from a cockroach swimming in urine.

    So I washed and used an alcohol pad.
    Is there any history of infection from these insects?

    Reply
  11. 5 Essential Tips for Preventing Pest Infestations at Home

    Pests invading your home can be a homeowner’s nightmare. Unwanted guests like rodents, insects, and termites can wreak havoc on your property, causing damage and spreading diseases. To keep your home pest-free, follow these 5 essential tips, and discover a unique pest management solution that stands out in Madurai.

    1. Maintain Cleanliness: A clean home is less attractive to pests. Regularly clean and vacuum to eliminate crumbs and food debris that can entice insects and rodents.

    2. Seal Entry Points: Inspect your home for cracks and gaps, and seal them to prevent pests from sneaking in. Pay special attention to doors, windows, and utility entry points.

    3. Proper Food Storage: Store food in airtight containers and keep it off countertops. This prevents access to pests like ants and cockroaches.

    4. Remove Standing Water: Mosquitoes breed in standing water. Empty and cover containers that collect water to reduce mosquito populations.

    5. Routine Pest Inspections: Schedule professional pest inspections regularly. A professional can spot signs of infestations before they become full-blown problems.

    By following these five essential tips and considering experts guide, you can enjoy a pest-free and comfortable living environment. Don’t let pests take over; take action now!

    Reply

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