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Water Bug vs Cockroach (What are the Differences?)

Cockroaches are classified as water bugs by a lot of individuals. However, that classification is wrong.

With this article, you will be able to take a much closer look at water bugs and cockroaches and effectively identify the differences between the two. 

You will also learn:

  • How water bugs got their name
  • Water bugs' habitat and other characteristics
  • Effects of a water bug bite
water bug vs cockroach

Have you found these little pests around your home? In order to get rid of them, you first need to know if you're dealing with a water bug or cockroach.

Let's dive in.

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What's the Difference Between a Water Bug and Cockroach?

​Both the water bug and the cockroach are insects. However, the two are entirely different creatures. The following are their key differences:

waterbug vs cockroach

First and foremost, the water bug (as its name strongly implies) is an aquatic type of insect which means that it lives and thrives on fresh water.

Cockroaches on the other hand, are not an aquatic type of creature although water is an important resource for the insect's population to flourish.

Another significant difference between the two is the bite risk. Water bugs are not really fond of biting humans. However, these bugs are capable of delivering a very painful bite when threatened or provoked.

Cockroach bites on the other hand are very rare since these insects although a nuisance in many households, do their best to maintain distance from humans.

In terms of diet, cockroaches, being  the ultimate scavengers, will devour almost anything that comes across its path. Water bugs on the other hand feed on small fish, frogs, and a variety of insects.

water bug vs cockroach

Where Did Water Bugs Get Their Name?

Water bugs are naturally water loving creatures. They literally live and feed in and on water, which earned them their current nickname.

Other nicknames are giant water bug, electric light bug, and toe-biter.

Their genus species is Lethocerus americanus and they're classified under the order Hemiptera.

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​Water Bug Habitat

​There are almost 200 known species of water bugs scattered across various corners of the world.

water bug habitat

These insects prefer freshwater habitats such as lakes, ponds, rivers, marshes, and streams. Depending on the species involved, water bugs may prefer slow and calm or rough and rapid flowing water. 

​How to Identify a Water Bug

Cockroaches, particularly those classified to be household pests, are vectors of a variety of serious diseases, making them much more harmful than water bugs.

However, water bugs are capable of delivering a painful bite and are helpful in eradicating other insects that invade your home. It is therefore important to know if whether or not the insect in front of you is a water bug.

Water Bug Size

​In terms of size, water bugs are almost identical to that of an American cockroach. Compared to other types of household roaches, the water bug is significantly larger. The smallest water bug measures around 3.8 to 4 centimeters long.

​Color and Shape

Like cockroaches, true water bugs have an oval shaped body. However, the aquatic creature has a flattened appearance. Depending on the species, water bugs are basically black, tan, or dark brown in color, whereas many cockroach species are reddish-brown.

The following video will give you a closer look at the infamous giant water bug.

​Water Bug Diet

Since they live on freshwater habitat, water bugs' diet is primarily composed of creatures commonly found in such an environment.

Apart from a wide variety of insects, water bugs feed on frogs and fish thanks to their clawed front feet which they use in grasping or securing their meal.

water bug feeding on a frog

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​Water Bug Behavior

​Adult water bugs are incapable of breathing under water.

This forces the insects to come to the surface from time to time or breathe through their short breathing tubes located on their abdomen. At night, water bugs also move to the surface to enjoy the moonlight.

Do Water Bugs Fly?

In the final stage of their physical development, water bugs become equipped with wings that they effectively use in moving through different freshwater habitats and towards artificial light sources such as street lamps and porch lights.

Do Water Bugs Swim?

Most of the time, a water bug's hunting behavior involves lying motionless in the water.

As soon as its prey gets near enough, the water bug strikes swiftly and injects a potent dose of its digestive saliva to its next meal. In some cases, water bugs swim while hunting and stalking its aquatic prey.

Do Water Bugs Jump?

There is a particular species of water bugs that can actually jump.

These are the water striders, which are also known as the pond skaters. These bugs look like long legged spiders on the surface of the water and are capable of jumping to a height of several inches.

Read more: Can cockroaches fly, jump, or swim?

Do Water Bugs Bite?

Yes. Basically, humans are not on the water bug's all time favorite menu. However, this doesn't stop the creatures from biting us especially when they feel threatened or provoked of our presence. 

Are Water Bugs Poisonous?

In most cases, these aquatic insects "​play 'possum​" when faced by a much larger adversary such as us.

This behavior serves as their first line of defense which is often followed through by a very painful bite thanks to their piercing rostrum that stings at the same time. To humans, bites from water bugs are nothing to be alarmed at.

Effects of a Water Bug Bite

The saliva these creatures use to liquefy the tissues of their prey deliver a painful and stinging sensation to humans on the bite area. This results to swelling and even trigger an allergic reaction to some individuals. 

How do Water Bugs Reproduce?

The entire reproduction process starts with the adult male water bug calling out to potential females for mating.

This is simply done with the males executing what appears to be a ritual push-up on the water. This movement sends vibrations throughout the habitat and are picked up by adult females nearby. 

Those who are willing or at least ready to mate locate the source of vibrations until two of these creatures officially become a couple.

Long story short, the entire process of involves simultaneous repetition of mating (by staying in contact, rubbing each other with their legs, and climbing over each other) and laying of eggs (usually four at a time) at the back of the male water bug which can take several hours.

 In the end, the male is left with around 50 to 150 fertilized eggs on its back.

The female water bug on the other hand, takes its leave as soon as the whole mating process is done. Meanwhile, the dad is left with the responsibility to take care of the eggs on its back for about 1-3 weeks until they hatch.

This video shows how water bugs are born.

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Where do Water Bugs Live?

We already addressed the kind of habitat that water bugs live in and why they like it, but where in the country do these insects live?

Water Bugs in the United States

In the United States, water bugs thrive on states that have an abundance of wetlands. These include:

  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Louisiana
  • Massachusetts
  • Missouri
  • New Jersey
  • North Carolina

In California?

The state of California isn't really a suitable place for bugs and flying insects to thrive. Much of the southern half of the state is a semi-desert and there isn't enough permanent fresh water sources for water bugs to flourish.

​In Michigan?

The state of Michigan is home to a total of 556 bugs and insects. And yes, you won't be disappointed looking for a giant water bug here.

In Alabama?

Just like Michigan, you are sure to find the giant water bug in Alabama along with 614 other bugs and insects.

In Florida?

As mentioned earlier, water bugs are also found in Florida. The state is also host to more than 12,500 species of bugs and insects.

In Louisiana?

​The state of Louisiana is home to 611 common bugs and insects and this includes the giant water bug, giant whipscorpion, click beetle, boll weevil, black caterpillar hunter, and many more others.

Are Water Bugs International?

As mentioned earlier, water bugs are aquatic creatures. They are naturally water loving insects which means that they can be found in different freshwater habitats worldwide.

​More Water Bug Fun Facts

​Apart from their capability of delivering a strong and painful bite, there are a lot of interesting things to know about these aquatic creatures.

  • As a bug, the water bug is the largest in the world. Hence, the name "​Giant Water Bug​".
  • Female water bugs eat the eggs latched on a male when no other food sources are around.
  • Water bugs have an average life span of one year.
  • Water bugs are enjoyed as a delicious dish in Asia.​​​

If you are having serious infestation problems with water bugs and other insects inside your property you can either seek professional pest control help using our Trusted Exterminator Search Tool or deal with the issue yourself with the help of our Pest Guides.

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