How to Identify and Get Rid of Palmetto Bugs (Complete Guide)

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Palmetto bugs are one of the many species of cockroaches. They’re not native to the United States. They originated in tropical Africa and presumably were brought to the United States on slave ships.

They’re big, double ugly, and very fierce looking but they are actually quite benign. Because they originated in a tropical climate, they are found outside mainly in the southern part of the United States.

In the northern part of the country, they inhabit warm basements and sewers.

There’s a lot of ground to cover and this Pest Strategies review will take you through it a step at a time.

In this guide you’ll learn:

  • How to identify palmetto bugs
  • What palmetto bugs eat
  • How to handle a palmetto bug infestation

And if you’re short on time, you  can click here to jump to our suggestions for handling your palmetto bug problem!

Reviewed By:
Ed Spicer

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 is a Palmetto Bug?

    People often ask if is a palmetto bug a roach, and the answer is yes. In the simplest terms, a palmetto bug is just a big cockroach. More specifically, a palmetto bug is an American Cockroach. The scientific name is Periplaneta americana.

    Outdoors, they mostly inhabit warm moist areas under leaves, in woodpiles, mulch, and sewers. Indoors, they are known to frequent basements and warm moist areas beneath major appliances like dishwashers and refrigerators. They are also fond of hiding under sinks.

    In Florida (and California), they are known to live in cracks and crevices found in palm trees and under fallen palm leaves.

    Other places they are found would be under the foundation of your house, particularly in houses with crawl spaces, roof shingles, near swimming pools, and fish ponds. They are also fond of heavy ground cover such as vines.

    Palmetto bugs have wings and can fly, although they are poor fliers. They are nocturnal but are attracted by bright lights so you’ll often find them flying (badly) around stadium lights at football games and other sporting events.

    To learn more about Cockroaches in general, click here.

    What Do Palmetto Bugs Look Like?

    “What does a palmetto bug look like?” is a common question. It’s the largest cockroach in the United States. The adults average between 1-1/4 inches long to 1-1/2 inches. Some of them can even reach 2 inches long – or longer!

    They are reddish-brown, almost dark brown in the middle of their back, shading to a light brown on the edges of their carapace and legs. Their head is also a light brown with a dark center.

    Although both sexes have wings, they are difficult to see since they lay flat on their back when not in use. They are nocturnal so generally the only time you’ll see them is when you get up to in the middle of the night and turn on the light.

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    What Other Names Are Palmetto Bugs Referred To As?

    Palmetto bugs are also known as waterbugs, flying waterbug, croton bugs, and Florida woods cockroach. It’s important to note that in some places, people are so accustomed to calling them waterbugs that they think that’s what they are. But, they’re not.

    Check out the video below to learn more about Palmetto Bugs.

    The simplest way to prevent palmetto bugs is to use a rake.

    Since dead leaves are both their harbor and food source, raking up the leaves around your house and disposing of them is the number one most effective preventative method there is.

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    What Are Palmetto Bugs Commonly Mistaken For?

    Palmetto bugs, aka American cockroaches, are often mistaken for a number of other bugs. Some of them are smokey brown cockroaches, Florida woods cockroaches, and waterbugs. There are a number of cockroach species that are often referred to as waterbugs.

    • Palmetto Bug Vs. Waterbugs

    Actual waterbugs or water bugs (either spelling is acceptable) look nothing like a palmetto bug. The confusion arises because of the palmetto bug’s preference for moist areas. People only see them in places with lots of water – or mostly anyway, and mistakenly call them waterbugs.

    Actual water bugs come in many different sizes and shapes, none of which resemble a palmetto bug. They skitter across the top of ponds and swimming pools on a regular basis. They don’t swim, instead, relying on the surface tension of water to stay on top of it.

    Palmetto bugs and true waterbugs are both outside bugs that only rarely venture inside a house. When they do, they’re invariably lost and looking for a way out. The only exception is if they are in the northern U.S., then they’re staying inside to survive to the cold.

    To learn more about the differences between waterbugs and cockroaches, click here.

    • Palmetto Bug Vs. Smokey Brown Cockroach

    Smokey brown cockroaches (Periplaneta fuliginosa) are often mistaken for palmetto bugs because at first glance they are very similar. The smokey brown cockroaches get their name from their coloration. They’re darker than palmetto bugs but to the untutored eye, they look the same.

    Both cockroach species are larger than others such as the German cockroach or the Oriental cockroach. Their coloration is significantly different than other varieties of cockroach as well.

    Smokey browns often prefer the same environment and conditions are palmetto bugs, further adding to the confusion between the two species. Both sexes have wings too, just like the palmetto bugs. However, they are two entirely different species.

    In fact, they are direct competitors since they both require the same environment and food sources for their survival.

    Read More: Cockroaches vs. Other Pests

    • Palmetto Bug Vs. Florida Woods Cockroach

    Another bug that palmetto bugs are often mistaken for is the Florida woods cockroach (Eurycotis floridana). This is another case of verbal confusion rather than mistaken identity as the two bugs look very different from each other.

    The Florida woods cockroach mostly resembles a dark, almost black or reddish-black beetle. They are large, 1.2 to 1.6 inches long with a segmented exoskeleton. They don’t have any wings, and most notably, they are native to the southeastern United States.

    The Florida woods cockroach is also quite slow and ponderous compared to palmetto bugs. Whereas most cockroaches are very quick, with sharp darting movements, the Florida woods cockroach is slow and steady. This makes it easy to distinguish it from palmetto bugs.

    They require the same general environmental conditions as palmetto bugs as well as the same food sources, so once again, they are competitors.

    Read More: What eats cockroaches?

    What Do Palmetto Bugs Eat?

    Because they are cockroaches, palmetto bugs eat anything any other cockroach does. They are omnivores and are what are called opportunistic feeders. That means they’ll eat anything that presents itself to them, whenever the opportunity presents itself.

    Decaying organic matter is their first preference, but they’re a scavenger who’ll eat anything they encounter. They have been observed eating sweets, boots, hair, wet paper, fruit, bread, dead fish, peanuts, rice, and any leftovers you happen to throw in the trash.

    They have also been observed eating the soft part of animal skins, clothes, curtains, gunny sacks, and dead insects. This is by no means a comprehensive list. It’s safe to say there is very little that they won’t eat, including human waste.

    Like all roaches, palmetto bugs frequent unsanitary areas, feed in them, live in them, and lay their eggs in them. As a result, a palmetto bug infestation, while infrequent, can be a health hazard if it happens.

    Are Palmetto Bugs Poisonous or Dangerous?

    In and of themselves, palmetto bugs aren’t dangerous at all. They’re not known to bite except very occasionally. When they do, the bite mark is small and soon disappears. Where palmetto bugs can be a problem (other than being ugly) is the pathogens and viruses they spread.

    The unsanitary areas that palmetto bugs inhabit are a breeding ground for bacteria and viruses of all kinds. When palmetto bugs come in contact with them, they carry them throughout your, spreading them to you and your family.

    The musty odor from their dropping and shed skins can create allergic reactions and cause asthma attacks in people who suffer from asthma. There would have to be a significant infestation for that to happen though.

    A Note About Exterminators

    At the end of the day, when you’re evaluating your palmetto bug exterminator, you need to be listening for confident and detailed responses. Check out this guide where we explain the differences  between exterminating companies.

    Bonus: How to Handle Your Palmetto Bug Problem?

    The simplest way to prevent palmetto bugs is to use a rake. Since dead leaves are both their harbor and food source, raking up the leaves around your house and disposing of them is the number one most effective preventative method there is.

    Sealing the cracks and crevices they use to gain access to your house is the next method. Use caulk to seal the edges of all the baseboards in the house as well as around all the windows and doors. Sprinkling boric acid near the cracks and crevices also works.

    Read More: When to Call an Exterminator for your Cockroach Problem

    How to Get Rid of Palmetto Bugs

    (Most Popular Method)

    If you have an infestation of palmetto bugs, the easiest way to get rid of them is to call a professional pest control company. Pest management is what they do for a living and they have all the tools in their work trucks when they pull up to your front door.

    professional exterminator can examine your house and make a determination of the scope of your problem within a few minutes. Then they can recommend a treatment solution to get rid of palmetto bugs in and around your house.

    Because cockroaches are a tough breed, it may take more than one visit from the exterminator before all the bugs are dead, so be prepared to exercise a little patience.

    As always, hiring someone to do a job for you involves paying professional prices. Depending on the part of the country you live in, it could run $200 to $300 to eliminate the palmetto bugs.

    Best Spray to Kill Palmetto Bugs

    If you’re a DIY enthusiast, our favorite spray you can use to kill palmetto bugs is Bifen I/T Insecticide. The active ingredient that kills the bugs is Bifenthrin, a well-known active ingredient among pest control professionals. In fact, if you hire an exterminator, they’ll probably use it or a derivative of it.

    You’ll need to use a 1-gallon pump-up sprayer to mix the pesticide in, then spray it all around the baseboards, doors, and windows of the whole house, both inside and out. Get all the cracks and crevices so they’re sure to encounter it no matter where they try to come in.

    Some Final Thoughts

    Palmetto bugs are an outside bug for the most part. Except in the northern part of the country during the winter, it’s rare to find them inside. They’re kind of ugly but mostly harmless.

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