From the title of this article, it sounds more like a terrifying summer blockbuster (along the lines of Godzilla vs. Mothra) than a pest control guide, right?
Here’s the thing: you don’t want cockroaches (or any other pests, for that matter) in your home, but sometimes these winged menaces find their way inside regardless.
But how can you tell a cockroach from similar bugs like beetles?
Thankfully, cockroaches have very distinct characteristics. We’ll clue you in to a key details so that you can know definitely which kind of bug has made its way inside your home if you have the misfortune of finding one.
Keep reading to learn more!
Ed has been working in the pest control industry for years helping 1,000's of homeowners navigate the world of insect and rodent management. He manages Pest Strategies now helping homeowners around the world!
Table of Contents
What Do Cockroaches Look Like?
A cockroach is a true insect with a head, thorax, and abdomen. It has a pair of folded wings along its back and a very flat body that makes it hard to squish.
Although they can fly, cockroaches typically walk from place to place and move quickly. One distinguishing characteristic is the long pair of antennae which stretch from the head to the opposite end of the cockroach. Almost all types of these insects range in color from light brown to black.
Cockroaches are omnivores and, in turn, eat almost every type of food. They prefer meat, sugars, and carbohydrates, so a barbecue would be an absolute paradise.
Take a moment to listen to what the National Pest Management Association has to say about some of the risks that cockroaches can pose when they enter your home. We can all agree that cockroaches look creepy, but they certainly can be dangerous as well!
Types of Cockroaches
There are over 4,800 species of cockroaches which live in pockets of different habitats around the world, but less than one percent are significant to humans.
These following species are meaningful simply because they have evolved to be able to live indoors.
When someone conjures up an image of a cockroach in their mind, it’s pretty much always a German cockroach (whether they realize it or not).
These invaders specialize in living around people, and many have low chances of survival when away. Their one saving grace is that they die in cold temperatures, so they have trouble inhabiting places further north. German cockroaches aren’t limited to Germany, as their namesake would imply…so don’t think you’re home free from these creepy intruders. They’re found worldwide in warm temperatures—wherever the humans are, so are the German cockroaches.
Each adult is 10-15 mm. long and possesses two distinct, dark bands which run across the pronotum, a plate-like structure which covers the thorax of the cockroach. This species tends to be a medium brown in color.
German cockroaches carry disease and can contaminate food, causing serious problems for residents of infested properties, as explained further in the video below by Dr. Jim Fredericks.
American cockroaches are one of the largest species in existence, and can be found around the world (not just in the USA, as their name would suggest).
They range between 35-40 mm. long and tend to be a reddish or dark brown. The males tend to be longer and narrower than females, who are stocky and have rounded bodies.
A defining characteristic is a yellow or pale brown band at the edge of the pronotum. Like other species, the American cockroach cannot survive in cold weather and is typically found in warmer climates. These insects contaminate food and can spread disease, making them a threat to humans.
The Madagascar Hissing Cockroach actually is not a pest and will not be found in homes throughout the United States unless there is a serious problem.
This species grows to be 2-3 in. long and has an oval-shaped body. Most males and females have a gradient in shades of brown that lightens from their almost black heads to their light tips. Males have horns they use to fight, during which they will make the characteristic hissing sound.
There are over 4,800 species of cockroaches.
They live in pockets of different habitats around the world, but less than one percent are significant to humans. These following species are meaningful simply because they have evolved to be able to live indoors.
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Cockroach vs. Palmetto Bug
A “palmetto bug” isn’t another type of insect; but rather a nickname given to certain cockroaches in the American southeast.
The Palmetto Bug (sometimes called the “Florida Woods Cockroach”) is one of the biggest species at 30-40 mm. long. Unlike the German or American Cockroach, the Palmetto Bug does not tend to go indoors and actually prefers to be outside in a damp environment.
The easiest way to tell this type of cockroach apart from the others is to look at size and color.
- German: The German cockroach is 1/3 the size of a fully grown Palmetto and has two dark bands running down the back.
- American: The American is the same size as the Palmetto, but has a distinct yellow color while Palmettos tend to be dark brown or red shortly after molting.
Cockroach vs. Water Bug
The term “water bug” refers to a few different species of bugs which are semi-aquatic.
The water bug has the same body shape as a cockroach, but instead of antennae, these insects are equipped with pincers at the tops of their heads. In addition, these creatures swim and live in water (as you’d assume with a name like water bug).
Take a look at the video below from the Cincinnati Zoo to watch these little guys in action.
German vs. American Cockroach
As mentioned earlier, German cockroaches are much smaller than the American variety. The adult German is 10-15 mm. long, while an American cockroach is between 35-40 mm.
The other main difference is that German cockroaches have two dark bands on the pronotum, while the American has a singular yellow band at the tip of theirs.
Cockroach vs. Beetle
People frequently mistake the common ground beetle for a cockroach because of their similarly stocky bodies and dark brown color.
The easiest way to distinguish a cockroach from a beetle is to look at their body structure as well as the head. Beetles have more obvious segmentation between the head, thorax, and abdomen—unlike the rounder cockroach.
Most male beetles additionally have pincers (which cockroaches lack), and beetles in general have shorter antennae. For a look at a common ground beetle in action, take a look at the video below.
Cockroach vs. Cricket
Crickets are a relatively harmless species of insect, but let’s face it: they’re annoying.
Their most distinguishing characteristic is the high-pitched chirp the males emit when they are calling to females. Just as distinguishable, these insects have well-defined rear legs used for jumping. They do look similar to cockroaches, but the two species have some major differences.
- Crickets have longer, slimmer bodies
- Cockroaches have shorter legs hidden under their pronotum
- Crickets have obvious wings on their backs
Cockroach vs. Wood Roach
The wood roach bears a strong resemblance to the American cockroach.
These insects are roughly the same size and have similar coloration, but the wood roach is slightly lighter, almost a tan color. It is also slightly smaller than the large American cockroach, which is between 35-40 mm.
Wood roaches don’t tend to invade homes and are usually accidentally brought in by people. They don’t avoid people if they come into contact with a human. However, they will not survive well inside a home because they require their naturally moist environment.
If you have particularly bold pests that resemble cockroaches, they are most likely confused wood roaches.
Adult vs. Baby Cockroach
Baby cockroaches are bad news, because finding them means there are reproducing adults somewhere on the property.
The young cockroaches look similar to the adults. In their nymph stages, they appear to be smaller, lighter versions of their parents. At their youngest, the babies will be no larger than 1/4 in. As the juveniles age, they will darken to deeper brown tones and grow larger.
The Main Takeaway
Cockroaches certainly are creepy, but they don’t have to take over your house. Once you can spot the difference between the types (or distinguish whether you’re dealing with a cockroach at all), you’ll be well on your way to handling your cockroach problem.