The short answer to the question of whether or not palmetto bugs are roaches is yes. However, the key is to figure out which kind of cockroach they are.
The term palmetto bug is commonly used in the Southeastern United States to refer to several species of cockroaches. These include the American cockroach, the smokybrown cockroach, and the Florida woods cockroach. It’d be less confusing to call it the palmetto cockroach!
Yet, the term “palmetto bug” usually refers to the American cockroach (Periplaneta americana). To confuse things more, this cockroach is also known as a waterbug, a ship cockroach, a kakerlac, and a Bombay canary. We know one thing for sure: the palmetto bug has no shortage of names!
For this article, we’ll be discussing the American cockroach.
Palmetto Bugs: Size and Markings
Palmetto bugs can range in size from 1 to 1.5 in. (2.5 to 3.8 cm) and can even reach 2 in. (5 cm) in length. These are large bugs!
Palmetto bugs are reddish brown and have a lighter colored prothorax (i.e. the area behind the head). This cream-colored area sometimes has markings that look a bit like sunglasses.
Even though palmetto bugs have fully developed wings, they don’t usually fly. Instead, they glide from high places, like treetops. They can cover impressive distances while gliding.
They’re most active at night and often glide toward lights in houses. More than one homeowner has been startled by their large size and sudden appearance.
Where Can You Find Palmetto Bugs?
The palmetto bug, Florida’s most common insect, can be found throughout states in the Southeast. South Carolina, known as the Palmetto State, could possibly claim the palmetto bug as its own. The residents of South Carolina are all too familiar with this pest.
Palmetto bugs aren’t native to the Southeast, though. They’re native to the Middle East and Africa. The first palmetto bugs were accidentally introduced into the U.S. via trade with Africa. But the warm, moist climate was ideal, so the palmetto bugs stayed and flourished. They often set up camp at the base of the palmetto tree, which gave them their name.
Although you’ll find palmetto bugs throughout the Southeast, they’re also found further north. When the hot, humid days of summer disappear, they seek out warm places to ride out the colder months.
Palmetto bugs look for protected outdoor areas that are warm, shady, and moist. Some common outdoors places where you can find palmetto bugs include:
- Inside hollow trees and shrubs,
- In wood piles,
- At the base of trees (especially palm trees),
- Around pools, pool houses, and sprinkler systems,
- Near septic tanks, and
- In heavily mulched gardens.
Palmetto bugs are highly adaptable. They’ll move into your home in the event of flooding or excessive heat or cold. Despite their large size, they’re adept at squeezing into small cracks and under doors. If they enter your home, you’ll find them in dark and damp areas such as:
- Crawl spaces,
- Floor drains,
- Pipe chases,
- Behind dishwashers or refrigerators, and
- Under roof shingles or flashing.
Palmetto Bugs: Their Diet
Palmetto bugs aren’t fussy when it comes to food. They’re opportunistic and omnivorous, which means they’ll chow down on any decaying organic matter they come across. If they get inside a house, they’ll eat paper, book bindings, clothing, and photos. They’re also fond of fermenting foods and enjoy cheese, beer, tea, and bakery products. They can survive about a month without food but can only survive a week without water.
Palmetto Bugs: Their Eggs
Female palmetto bugs have three requirements for their eggs: protection, food, and moisture. Rather than laying individual eggs, they create egg capsules that contain 14 to 16 eggs. They then glue these the egg capsules to surfaces using secretions from their mouths.
The egg capsules are dark brown and less than 0.5 in. (1.3 cm) in length. Females can create one egg capsule per week and might produce 15 to 90 egg capsules during their 700-day lifespan.
Palmetto bug eggs hatch within 50 to 55 days. Because they hatch in protected areas near food, palmetto bugs can quickly form large colonies numbering in the hundreds or thousands. So, if they enter your home and find ideal living conditions, you could quickly find an infestation on your hands.
Some signs of a palmetto bug infestation include:
- A distinct musky smell,
- Bite marks on paper, book bindings, curtains, and envelopes, and
- Shed skin and/or droppings (these look like pepper flakes).
Are Palmetto Bugs Dangerous?
Even though they don’t bite, palmetto bugs can host pathogens like salmonella. This is especially true if they enter your home through the sewer and then walk across your countertop. They leave behind debris, such as feces and dead skin, that can trigger asthma attacks and allergic reactions.
Minimizing the Presence of Palmetto Bugs
Many people believe that the presence of palmetto bugs or cockroaches is a sign of filth. For them, these types of insects aren’t found in nice, clean areas. But you’re just as likely to find palmetto bugs in a beautifully landscaped garden as in a dirty, abandoned building.
Palmetto bugs usually choose to live outside unless conditions force them indoors. You can stop palmetto bugs from entering your home by keeping them as far away as possible and removing their entry points.
Here are some tips on how to do this:
- Keep any firewood on racks located far from the house.
- Keep your grass cut short, especially near your foundation.
- Don’t plant shrubberies near your windows.
- Avoid using excessive amounts of mulch in your landscaping.
- Don’t leave food or water for your pets outside overnight.
- Keep your doorways in good shape, which means no gaps in and around the door.
- Put screens on your doors, windows, and attic vents.
- Seal any cracks that lead into your home, especially around external walls.
- Use insecticides, glue traps, gel baits, and other products to get rid of these insects before they can reproduce.
If you suspect you might have a palmetto bug problem, consult a pest control professional. They can assess your home for signs of an infestation and give you a customized action plan to rid your home of these insects for good.