American Cockroaches

What Are They?

The American cockroach, or Periplaneta americana, is prevalent throughout the United States. The insects frequently invade homes and other buildings foraging for food supplies, causing infestation problems that can quickly lead to more serious issues. Also known as water bugs or palmetto bugs, American cockroaches can spread bacteria and parasites when permitted to continuously infest homes.

Though not the most common cockroach species found in the region, American cockroaches are perhaps the most recognizable due to their relatively large size.

What Do American Cockroaches Look Like?

large american roach
american cockoaches*
american cockroach

*Photo source:

American cockroaches are large insects. Adults can reach almost 20.5″ in length. They look even larger because the male’s wings extend past the end of its abdomen.

With a body that measures up to two inches long, the American cockroach ranks as the largest of all home infesting cockroach species. The bodies of American cockroaches feature reddish-brown or chestnut coloring and are marked by a distinctive yellowish band directly behind the head.

Three long legs lined with pointy spines extend from each side of the body, while a pair of slender antennae protrude from the head and aid the American cockroach in locating food.

Adults possess wings which are as long as the length of the abdomen on females, and slightly longer on males. Before reaching adulthood, American cockroach nymphs look like smaller, wingless adults.

Where Do They Hide?

American cockroaches prefer to inhabit warm places such as warm basements, furnace rooms, and heating ducts.  Generally, this type of cockroach remains in basements, sewers, and first-floor areas of buildings.

Like other cockroach species, American cockroaches tend to hide during the day and emerge at night to search for food. The insects are averse to light and will run away quickly when disturbed.

American cockroaches, in contrast to other species, often live alone rather than in large groups.

In addition to private homes and apartments, American cockroaches may also infest grocery stores, hospitals, offices, restaurants, and other buildings where food is handled regularly.

American cockroaches are native to tropical and subtropical areas of the world.

How Do They Get Inside Your House?

American cockroaches can run and fly, but they usually enter homes and buildings by walking. They sometimes enter through drains, especially floor drains that are not used.  More commonly, American cockroaches enter buildings through doors and ground-level windows.

They live in humid environments, such as under ground-covering plants. During the extremes of winter and summer, American cockroaches often crawl under doors to get into the building.

Problems Caused by American Cockroaches

Like other structure infesting cockroach species, American cockroaches contaminate food with saliva and fecal matter, leaving behind an unpleasant odor as well. American cockroaches also regularly crawl over decaying matter and sewage, transferring bacteria and viruses to the legs of the insect and further contaminating food and surfaces with which it comes into contact.

American cockroaches are known to spread more than 30 different types of bacteria, including pathogens like Escherichia coli (E. coli) and salmonella, and intestinal parasites.

What do American Cockroaches Eat?

Requiring both food and water to survive, American cockroaches feed on a wide range of edible items, including leftover beer or soda, meats and cheeses, grains, and sugar. The insects will also consume paper products, glue, dry pet food, and many other organic materials.

Life Cycle & Reproduction

After mating, adult female American cockroaches lay specialized egg cases containing up to 16 eggs. The eggs hatch after about 45 days, at which time nymphs emerge.

Female cockroaches deposit bean-shaped capsules called oothecae containing up to 15 larvae inside. Using saliva, the female attaches the oothecae to areas near food sources and away from predators, parasites, and human intervention.

Measuring around 1.3 cm, American cockroach oothecae are dark brown in color and symmetrical in shape. The female cockroach drops the egg capsule within a day of formation and produces a new ootheca about every nine to 10 days.

Throughout their year-long lives, female American cockroaches can produce up to 30 egg capsules. The ootheca contains enough water to sufficiently nurture eggs until hatching. Young American cockroaches hatch after between 24 and 60 days, depending on the warmth of the area where the egg capsule is deposited.

Upon hatching, American cockroaches live as nymphs for roughly a year before maturing into fully developed adults. The typical lifespan of an adult American cockroach lasts about a year and a half, with females usually producing between six and 14 egg cases during that time period.


Can They Fly?

The American cockroach is a moderately good flier. In some studies, researchers tossed American cockroaches up into the air. Some of the roaches fluttered and came down to the ground. However, some of the roaches flew up into the air and out of sight.

Scientists have reported seeing American cockroaches flying around streetlights in cities along the Texas Gulf coast. They have also reported seeing American cockroaches migrate from one building to another by flying.

In homes, American cockroaches have often been observed flying when they could launch themselves from a high place. In basements, they often drop from the joists and fly toward windows or doors.

Flying Cockroaches

They Can Run

Besides their flying ability, American cockroaches are surprisingly fast runners. Scientific studies have found that they can pick up their front legs and run on just the very back pair of legs. The cockroaches were able to run at a speed of 50 body lengths per second. The scientists estimated that if a person could match that rate, he would be running more than 200 miles per hour.


Best Way to get Rid of Them
Controlling American cockroaches begins outside the home.

  • Hiding places should be reduced or eliminated.
  • Ivy and other ground cover should be cut back away from the foundation.
  • A zone of 24″ that is free of plants, mulch, and dead leaves helps prevent insects like American cockroaches from invading.
  • Make sure exterior doors fit tightly and replace missing weather-stripping.
  • Homes that have crawl spaces should have access doors that close securely.
  • Screens on vents should be repaired.

Insecticide treatments should be made outside. Many granular roach baits are water-resistant. They can be used effectively in flowerbeds and ground cover.

Liquid insecticide can be used as a barrier on the foundation. The barrier will have to be re-applied because sun and rain will break it down quickly.

Learn how deal with a cockroach infestation yourself.