Cockroaches vs Waterbugs vs Palmetto Bugs

We hear about cockroaches all the time. They are used to denote filth and sometimes horror in film, such as in the movie “They Nest”. This fear, however, is misplaced. Cockroaches can be pesky, sure, but there’s no reason to stress when most any infestation could be handled by a local pest control company. There are lots of different terms thrown around when describing cockroaches and their relatives. Today you’ll learn the difference between cockroaches, water bugs, and palmetto bugs.


Cockroaches are a species of insect that have a hard exoskeletons and vary in color, though most commonly are reddish to brown to dark brown to shiny black. There are many different kinds of cockroaches around the world. Some are completely harmless and just more of a nuisance, and others can be devastating to have in or around your home.


Cockroaches come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but most are red, brown, or black, with some sporting dark stripes or splotches on their bodies. They have thick exoskeletons and have voracious appetites. It’s often joked that after a nuclear holocaust there would still be roaches because of how resilient they are. Most cockroaches fall within 1 to 3 inches in length, though some like hissing cockroaches get even bigger.


Found in almost every country in the world, cockroaches are universally known insects. Interestingly, only a small percentage of cockroaches are formally known as pests. In fact, out of the nearly 5000 species, only about 30 overlap with human homes and environments. From the order blattodea, cockroaches share some characteristics with similar insects like termites. They are much less colonial insects, very unlike termites, whose colonies are rigid in their caste system.


By and large, the risks of having cockroaches around are not from biting (they aren’t known to commonly bite humans), it’s from the spread of bacteria. If cockroaches are inside your home, they track bacteria around, sometimes spreading harmful Salmonella bacteria. The other risk is in the air. Asthma and other respiratory problems are also associated with the presence of roaches.


There are a couple different species which are referred to as “Waterbugs”. The most common is actually a subspecies of cockroach known as the Japanese Beetle or Oriental Cockroach. This is a misnomer, however. True waterbugs are aquatic insects that live in the water and are also referred to as “toe biters” and “alligator ticks” due to their size and aquatic environment. These actually live in the water, as opposed to cockroaches, who would rather live in your basement or kitchen.


The reason they are often mistaken for other species of cockroaches is that they have similar appearances. They look, for all intents and purposes, like a swimming roach. However, upon closer examination, a few key characteristics set them apart. They are at home in the water, with legs that look like paddles and a size larger than most any indoor roach that you might see (1½ - 4 inches)

Habitat and Risks

Water bugs live underwater or on the surface, depending on the species. Unlike cockroaches, water bugs are known to bite humans if startled, which can be painful. They are much more likely to swim away, but if you suddenly invade their space, a bite might be the inevitable result. They live in most freshwater areas in the United States, and look for moist areas to breed, like standing water, under large rocks or cement slabs, leaky pipes, and in animal watering troughs.

Palmetto Bugs

This term is actually describing a specific type of cockroach, the American Cockroach, which is known to hide under large palmetto leaves. They can get quite large for cockroaches (1½ inches) and are seen in and around homes in many parts of the south and southwestern parts of the United States.


The Palmetto Bug is reddish brown in color and is frequently seen inside homes. They are extremely hardy creatures, and can survive on almost anything: food particles, glue, pet food, garbage, wood shavings, wax, paper, etc.


Palmetto Bugs live in warmer parts of the United States. They are commonly seen in basements, kitchens, bathrooms, under the sink, crawl spaces, and

Palmetto bugs are quick on their feet. Homeowners often hear them scuttling away when turning on the light, but perhaps not see them. They have flat, oval bodies, perfect for squeezing in and out of cracks and crevices.


Palmetto Bugs are not known to bite humans, though it is possible. The main risk of having American Cockroaches around is the fact that they carry bacteria from one place to another. Imagine Cockroaches living, feeding, and walking around the surfaces of your bathroom and then the next day in the kitchen on your floors, in your cupboards, and on your counter. The thought truly is disgusting. The spread of bacteria, allergies, and asthma are the most common risks of having these large bugs in your home.

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