American cockroach dorsal.jpg


Color Icon

Color: American cockroaches are typically reddish-brown with a yellowish figure 8 pattern on the back of the head

Size Icon

Size: Adults may range between 1 1/4” to 2 1/8” (32-54 mm) in length

Leg Icon

Legs: They have 6 legs

Antennae Icon

Antennae: Yes

Shape Icon

Shape: Oval

Region Icon

Region: American cockroaches are found worldwide

What is An American Cockroach?

The American cockroach is the largest of the house-infesting roaches and a major pest in the United States. It’s also commonly known as the water bug, the Bombay canary or the palmetto bug. Despite its name, the American cockroach is not native to North America and some evidence suggested that American cockroaches were introduced via ships from Africa in the early 1600s.

  • American Cockroach in Shower - BUG_0924.jpg (1)
  • American Cockroach_Thumbnail.png
  • American Cockroach on Saltines - BUG_0828.jpg (1)
  • American cockroach nymph dorsal.JPG
  • American Cockroach on Dog Dish -BUG_0900.jpg

What Do American Cockroaches Look Like?

Adult American cockroaches average between 1.4” to 1.6” (35-41mm) in length, but they can grow to exceed 2”. American cockroaches are reddish-brown in color with a yellow band that outlines the area behind their head. Both males and females have wings and can fly short distances.

Common American Cockroaches Behavior

American cockroaches live primarily outdoors, but it’s not uncommon to find them inside a structure. In the Northern United States, American cockroaches are typically found in sewers and drains. In fact, American cockroaches are the most common cockroach species found in city sewer systems. It’s been reported that more than 5,000 individual American cockroaches were once found in a single sewer manhole. In the Southern United States, American cockroaches are often spotted in shady, humid areas like flowerbeds and underneath mulch piles. During summer months, they can also be found outdoors in yards and alleys. 

American cockroaches will move indoors when they experience a food shortage or a significant change in the climate. In general, American cockroaches prefer warm, moist and dark environments with temperatures between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. They often enter structures by being brought in on human belongings, coming up from the sewer system via drains or occasional mass migration from other structures, dumps, etc., during warm weather.

American cockroaches are especially common in larger commercial buildings such as restaurants, bakeries, grocery stores, food processing plants, hospitals, etc., where they usually infest food storage and food preparation areas, boiler rooms, steam tunnels and basements. These pests can also infest homes by easily passing underneath doors lacking weather stripping or entering through basement windows and garages. Once inside a residence, American cockroaches usually make their way into the kitchen, bathroom, basement or laundry room in search of food and water.

American cockroaches feed on many kinds of food, but they show a particular fondness for fermenting material. Outdoors, they tend to eat decaying leaves, fungi, algae and small insects. Indoors, they eat crumbs found under appliances, in drains, behind kitchen cabinets and on the floor. They will also eat pet food that is left uncovered.

Threats from American Cockroaches

American cockroaches are filthy pests, and their presence in the home can pose a severe health threat. Cockroaches have been reported to spread at least 33 kinds of bacteria, including E. coli and Salmonella, as well as six kinds of parasitic worms and at least seven other kinds of human pathogens. They pick up germs on the spines of their legs and body as they crawl through decaying matter or sewage, and then transfer the germs onto food or cooking surfaces.

The saliva, urine and fecal droppings from American cockroaches contain allergen proteins known to elicit allergic reactions and asthma attacks. As such, cockroaches are a common trigger of year-round allergy and asthma symptoms, especially in children.

Do American Cockroaches Bite?

Although American cockroaches have the ability to bite, they rarely do. If a bite occurs, it should not be a concern unless it gets infected in which you should seek medical attention.

Signs of an Infestation

There are four telltale signs of an American cockroach infestation. First, homeowners will see the fast-moving insects themselves usually fleeing to dark areas. Second, American cockroaches leave behind droppings in the dim areas in which they hide. These small droppings are blunt on the ends and have ridges on the sides. They are often mistaken for mouse droppings, so it’s important to contact a licensed pest control professional for proper identification. Another sign of an American cockroach infestation is the presence of egg capsules, which are about 8 mm long and dark-colored. These are sometimes glued to a surface near food sources, and can be found in basements, laundry rooms and kitchens, as well as behind appliances or underneath cabinets. Lastly, the American cockroach will produce a pheromone that some people describe as having a “musty” smell. People with sensitive noses may notice this odor around the house.

How to Get Rid of American Cockroaches

Cockroaches are some of the most resilient pests in the world. They exhibit unique survival tactics, including the ability to live for a week without their head, making their eradication a difficult task for homeowners to do themselves.

People can take steps, however, to mitigate American cockroach problems through barrier exclusion and cleanliness. Barrier exclusion involves preventing cockroaches from entering the home through small cracks in walls, gaps near electric sockets and switch plates, and up through drains. Use a silicone-based caulk to seal these openings.

Having a clean and sanitary home will also make it less inviting to American cockroaches. Homeowners should keep counters, sinks, tables and floors free of clutter and crumbs. Do not let dishes pile up in the sink or spills marinate on the counter. It’s also good practice to store food in airtight containers, and avoid leaving pet food out in the open. Some other ways to prevent American cockroaches include vacuuming at least once a week to remove food particles, ventilating crawl spaces to prevent moisture buildup and running water periodically in spare bathrooms to keep u-traps filled.

If a cockroach infestation is suspected, contact a licensed pest control professional for advice on American cockroach control and elimination. A pest professional will be able to recommend an appropriate treatment plan to get rid of American cockroaches and help prevent a future problem.

You can find a certified pest professional near you with the helpful zip code search below.

Find a PEST PRO in your area

Tips on finding a Pest Control Professional

International Search