Cockroaches are fascinating yet unpleasant house pests. These insects belong to an order of Insecta called Blattodea that also includes termites. They put lots of eggs or ootheca around homes in places we can’t see or get at. But what are the different types of roach in the US, and why should you care? There are an estimated 4,500+ species worldwide, 70 of which are here in the United States.
Around 30 of the 70 roaches nest around human habitats. However, experts only classify 5 types as serious pests and a potential health threat. The bad news is that they’re a common sight around the country. These nasty critters can wreak havoc in homes and spread sickness by contaminating food.
Roaches are creepie-crawlies, so their appearance alone is enough to scare a lot of people according to the BBC. Looks aside, these mean-looking creatures have the potential to make us ill. Their saliva, droppings, and shed skin can trigger asthma and allergy outbreaks, especially in children. Cockroach legs pick up decaying matter that can transfer onto food and lead to severe foodborne illnesses.
Here’s a list of the most common diseases spread by cockroaches in the US:
Below are the rarer serious diseases spread by US cockroaches:
Infections typically occur when people unknowingly consume contaminated food or drink.
* Vulnerable groups include children under 5, the over 65s, and those with weakened immune systems.
The 5 most common cockroach pests found in the US are:
Entomologists are cockroach specialists and the only ones who respect these ancient insects. They are fascinating in so many ways, but average Americans would sooner they didn’t exist in the world. Most people have met one or more of the above species, but how much do you know about them? The following sections reveal some of the lesser-known facts about these evasive creatures of the dark.
Colors: Reddish-brown, yellow | Max size: 2+ inches | Legs: 6 | Antenna: 1.57 inches
The American cockroach — often confused with water bugs — is the largest of the common species. These oval-shaped insects are a reddish-brown color with a dull yellow circular pattern on the head. American roaches are prevalent in most parts of the US.
The maximum lifespan of an American roach is 362 days (M), 706 days (F).
Their preferred habitat is around leaky pipes or those that attract condensation. They’re also common in basements, sewers, and drains. Adult males grow to between 1.4” to 2” long. Full-grown males and females have wings and can fly for short distances. These roaches carry harmful bacteria that cause a range of health issues in humans. They can bite, but it’s uncommon and non-serious.
Colors: Light brown or tan | Max size: 0.6 inch | Legs: 6 | Antenna: 0.7 inch
You’re more likely to see a German cockroach inside the home than the American species. This common pest is light brown or tan and has two darker stripes on oval-shaped bodies. The insects are everywhere in the US but are most at home in warmer temperatures and high humidity. These critters invade buildings, including homes, and nest in any space that meets their survival needs.
The maximum lifespan of German roach is 200+ days.
The German cockroach nests in bathrooms, kitchens, furniture, and crevices close to food and moisture. They don’t only drink from leaking taps and pipes. Water left out in pet dishes or sitting in plant saucers also offer them regular watering holes. These roaches are quite small, growing no longer than 0.62”. They do have wings, but they’re not known fliers. They can bite, but it’s a rare occurrence.
Always seek quick removal if you find German roaches nesting in your home. These filthy insects are infamous for triggering allergic reactions and transmitting illness to humans via harmful bacteria.
Colors: Tan, dark brown | Max size: 0.5 inch | Legs: 6 | Antenna: 0.6 inch
Brown-banded cockroaches are the smallest of the house invaders and easy to identify. The insects have a tan body with darker brown bands across the wings and stripes across the abdomen. They’re all over the US, and sometimes invade homes along with the German roach. However, the two species won’t nest together in the same spots. Their preferred habitat is warm, dry, and usually above ground.
The maximum lifespan of a Brown-banded roach is 315 days.
The brown-banded roach doesn’t always nest in kitchens and bathrooms. You’re more likely to find them under beds, in closets, and at the back of seldom-used drawers. In kitchens, they prefer to hide in upper cabinets rather than under sinks. The maximum length of an adult rarely exceeds 0.5”. Both male and females develop wings, but only the male can fly.
A brown-banded cockroach infestation poses several potential health risks to humans. They can deposit harmful bacteria onto food and spread protozoa organisms. The latter can lead to severe diarrhea and gastroenteritis. Brown-banded cockroaches don’t bite and tend to run or fly away when threatened.
Colors: Dark brown or gloss black | Max size: 1.25 inches | Legs: 6 | Antenna: 1.3+ inches
The oblong-shaped oriental cockroach also goes by the names black beetle and waterbug. They’re big insects though not quite as large as the American species. It’s easy to identify them by their high-gloss dark brown or black coloring, but they’re also the most elusive. Oriental cockroaches are native to America’s Midwest, Northwest, and Southernmost states.
The maximum lifespan of an Oriental roach is 160 days (M), 180 days (F).
The oriental roach is the foulest of the 5 types, preferring to nest in unsanitary locations. They favor wet environments below ground level like sewer pipes, drains, and damp basements. Leaky plumbing is a major attraction. Those that live outdoors nest underneath warm, decaying organic material. They eat anything, including trash, raw sewage, rotting matter, and starchy foods.
The odor secreted by oriental cockroaches is the most pungent of them all. You’re more likely to smell them before you see them. Act fast if you suspect an oriental roach invasion in the home. These pests pick up all sorts of harmful pathogens on their legs and other parts of the body. They contaminate food and all surfaces they contact with dangerous bacteria, parasites, and viruses.
Oriental cockroaches rarely bite people unless threatened or desperate. Bites are tiny and harmless if cleaned right away. Both the male and female roach has wings, but neither sex can fly.
Colors: Mahogany or black | Max size: 1.5+ inches | Legs: 6 | Antenna: 1.6+ inches
The tropical smoky brown roach has a shiny, mahogany or black appearance. It’s a little smaller than the American species, but not by much. They’re most common along the eastern seaboard, Florida, central Texas, and parts of California. These insects prefer life outside but can become an indoor pest too. In structures, they usually nest in crawl spaces or attics.
Smoky brown roaches may venture down from the attic if the population gets out of control. The way to keep these critters out is to ensure there are no attractions around the house exterior (see next).
The maximum lifespan of a Smoky Brown roach is 215+ days (M), 218+ days (F).
This species of tropical roach loves warm weather and high humidity. It thrives outdoors in wooded areas, nesting under mulch or in tree holes, but it can also invade homes. Artificial light attracts smoky brown roaches like moths to a flame. A home needs light, but you can remove other temptations around the perimeter of the house. The usual lures are uncovered trash cans and pet dishes.
Smokybrowns carry and spread bacteria that can cause disease and allergies like other roaches. Contaminated food and surfaces can result in gastroenteritis, severe diarrhea, or worse. The insects can bite people, but it’s unusual. The tiny nips are not painful or harmful if cleaned right away. Smokybrowns have long wingspans and are fast, powerful fliers.
There are many other roaches in North America, but the 5 species above are the most prevalent. Some can become pests, but the majority live outdoors and away from humans. Remember, roach invasions only occur because a home offers what they need to survive. It may not always be obvious, but their nests can only thrive and expand in ideal environments.
Check out our other articles if you have—or suspect—a roach infestation at your property. They offer down-to-earth advice on how to detect, identify, deter, and rid homes of these nasty creatures.