A palmetto bug is a common name used to describe various different types of cockroaches. Read on to learn everything you could ever want to know about them (including how to stop them before they take over your home).
What Is A Palmetto Bug?
The term palmetto bug can refer to three species of cockroaches, depending on where you live.
In Florida, the term palmetto bug refers to the Florida woods cockroach. In South Carolina, smoky brown cockroaches are called palmetto bugs.
Why Is It Called A Palmetto Bug?
Palmetto bugs frequently live in palmetto trees, a tropical plant that grows in the southeastern United States, including Florida and South Carolina. The palmetto bug also lives in other places where there is moisture and the rotting vegetation and wood they feed on.
What is the difference between a cockroach and a palmetto bug?
The term “palmetto bug” is used for three types of cockroaches:
- American cockroaches (Periplaneta Americana) are called palmetto bugs in the southeastern part of the United States.
- Florida has the Florida woods cockroach (Eurycotis floridana).
- South Carolina calls the smokybrown cockroach (Periplaneta fuligionsa) a palmetto bug.
While cockroaches are beneficial insects outside that provide food for animals and break down decaying wood, they are a pest inside the home that can spread salmonella and contaminate your home with pathogens and bacteria.
Because these pests often live in palmetto trees, the nickname “palmetto bug” stuck, even though they may live in other places.
What Does a Palmetto Bug Look Like?
All three cockroaches, called palmetto bugs are large cockroaches.
The adult American cockroach grows to be 1 1/2 – 2 inches long. It is reddish-brown and has shiny wings. It can fly, although it usually glides down from higher surfaces to lower surfaces.
These roaches, like all roaches, have six legs and two straight antennas.
Woods cockroaches grow to be 1 1/2 inches long and 1 inch wide. They do not have developed wings and are rather slow-moving.
These roaches range from dark mahogany to black. The smoky brown cockroach grows to be 1 1/2 inches long. It is, as the name suggests, smoky brown. The smoky brown cockroach is a strong flyer.
Lifecycle of a Palmetto Bug
All roaches have a common lifecycle. However, the length of time between the egg being laid and the adult dying varies.
The American cockroach female lays sixteen eggs at a time in a purse-shaped case called an ootheca. The ootheca is brown when laid but turns black in a day or two.
The female glues the ootheca under surfaces near food to keep her eggs safe. Palmetto bug females lay about one ootheca a month and up to 150 eggs during their lifespan.
The eggs hatch in 50-55 days at room temperature. The nymphs, or baby palmetto bugs, go through 10-14 instars or periods of growing between molts, over 400-600 days before becoming adults.
The nymphs are grey-brown at first but become more reddish-brown with each molt. These large cockroaches are the largest you will find in the United States.
Florida wood cockroaches develop from egg to adult in about 150 days. The nymphs go through an average of seven molts before becoming a dark mahogany adult.
Later nymph stages have yellow lines on the thorax. Smoky brown cockroaches lay about 10-14 eggs at a time. The nymph is black during its first instar (time between molts), then brown in the next one. The nymphs are increasingly reddish-brown as they pass through 9-12 instars.
What Is the Lifespan of a Palmetto Bug?
Growing from an American cockroach egg to an adult may take as long as 600 days. The adult may live as long as another 400 days, so the average lifetime lifespan is about 1,000 days.
Florida woods cockroaches and smoky brown cockroaches do not live as long as the American cockroach.
Where Do Palmetto Bugs Live?
Palmetto bugs live around houses and other buildings in leaf litter, in the base of palmetto trees, and in the fan-like leaves, under logs and other decaying plant material, shingles, and other warm and humid areas. They may also infest tree holes.
American and smoky brown cockroaches also frequent sewers, septic systems, and pipes. Florida woods cockroaches do not.
When inside, these pests like to stay in warm, humid areas of the house, usually around the hot water heater, bathroom, and basement. Instead of tree holes, they live in cracks around kitchen cabinets, bathroom cabinets, electrical plugs, and other places around the house.
All roaches are nocturnal and spend most of the day in cracks and crevices before coming out at night to find food scraps.
What Does a Palmetto Bug Nest Look Like?
Strictly speaking, palmetto bugs do not make nests. They lay their eggs in egg cases and glue them close to food supplies. However, Palmetto bugs congregate in large numbers in dark, warm, humid areas. In houses, that is often the basement, bathroom, or near the hot water heater.
What Does a Palmetto Bug Eat?
The Florida woods cockroach eats dead and decaying plant matter, lichens, mosses, molds, and soil microbes. The smokybrown cockroach eats dead and decaying plant matter.
American cockroaches, however, eat almost anything. They love the same foods most people do, including meat, grease, sweets, and starchy foods.
They also eat leather, wallpaper paste, book bindings, paper, and other things found in a person’s home. American cockroaches also love beer.
When food is scarce, they even eat each other.
Are Palmetto Bugs Harmful?
Yes, palmetto bugs are harmful. Palmetto bugs spread diseases.
Both American and smoky cockroaches live in sewers and septic tanks. They pick up dangerous diseases such as salmonellosis, typhoid fever, cholera, gastroenteritis, dysentery, listeriosis, giardia, and E. coli infection.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, palmetto bugs spread these diseases when walking over food preparation areas and utensils. They contaminate food by walking on it, urinating on it, and defecating on it.
When they contaminate food, it is not safe to eat anymore.
Cockroach feces, urine, eggshells, and shed skins become dust and cause allergic reactions and asthma attacks, especially in children. In fact, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, children who have asthma and are exposed to palmetto bugs are hospitalized with asthma attacks more often than children who are not exposed to palmetto bugs.
Smoky brown cockroaches secrete fluid from a gland on their abdomen when they are afraid. The cockroach can squirt the fluid up to three feet away. Because of this, the other nickname for this bug is “stinking cockroach”.
In addition to smelling bad, the liquid causes skin irritation, so don’t touch this roach without gloves on.
Palmetto bugs can serve as an intermediate host for parasites that infect dogs and humans. These include whipworms, the giant human roundworm, pinworms, tapeworms, and hookworms. These are shed in their feces and can then infect the dogs and people in the house.
Signs of a Palmetto Bug Infestation
Since palmetto bugs are nocturnal, they can often avoid detection for some time. Here are some typical signs that you have these pests in your home:
- They leave behind black droppings that are about 1 mm long and look like pepper grains.
- These bugs have a musty smell that is especially smelly where they hide during the day.
- They leave behind smears on the trails they use to get from their daytime hiding places to food and water.
- Damaged food containers where they have chewed their way in to eat.
- Damage to books, wallpaper, leather, and other items they eat.
- Live bugs may forage during the daytime if there is a heavy infestation.
- If you suspect you have palmetto bugs but are not sure, you can use a simple trap to see if they are there. Put out a shallow dish, place a piece of bread in it, and pour beer over it. Place this trap near where you think you have bugs. If you find bugs in the trap in the morning, you have a problem.
What Attracts Palmetto Bugs?
Palmetto bugs need food, water, and shelter.
Here are some things to remove from your house and yard to avoid these bugs from moving in:
In the Yard
Messy yards and homes attract them. Tallgrass, lots of dead branches on the ground, leaf litter, and other trash in the yard give them places to hide.
Water leaks attract palmetto bugs because they need to drink water each day to stay hydrated. Broken sewer pipes not only give them access to water but also food.
Water leaks, improper food storage, food spills, pet food, and trash give them food and water inside. Clutter gives them places to hide during the day.
How Do I Keep Palmetto Bugs Out of My House?
It is much easier to prevent palmetto bugs from coming into your house than to treat an infestation of these pests. The best way to prevent these bugs from entering your house is to practice sanitation and exclusion.
The goal of sanitation is to deprive the palmetto bug of food, water, and shelter. Here are some tips on doing that.
- Place food in tightly sealed containers made of plastic or metal that palmetto bugs cannot get into.
- Clean up food spills promptly.
- Use a metal or plastic trash can with a tight-fitting lid to hold your inside trash.
- Empty your indoor trash into a metal or plastic outside trash can with a tight-fitting lid.
- Trim tree branches that hang over the roof or touch the walls of your house.
- Clean up debris and trash from your yard.
- Keep the grass mown.
- Pick up pet food each evening and put it away until morning.
- Fix water leaks promptly.
- Clean up any clutter, such as stacks of magazines or newspapers that may give palmetto bugs a place to hide during the day.
- Remove any cardboard from your house and dispose of it properly. Palmetto bugs love cardboard.
Exclusion keeps palmetto bugs from getting in the house in the first place. These tips will also help you keep other pests from entering your home. Remember that a palmetto bug can crawl through a space the width of your credit card.
- Seal with caulk any openings around pipes, electrical wires, and cables as they enter your house.
- Seal any cracks and crevices in the foundation or walls.
- Plug weep holes in brick or stone with fine copper mesh.
- Put a chimney cap with fine mesh over your chimney.
- Place fine hardware cloth over the entries to attic vents so palmetto bugs cannot enter.
- Check door sweeps and replace those that are worn.
- Make sure window and door screens do not have holes and are tight-fitting.
- Keep mulch around your house six inches from the foundation and walls.
- Keep your woodpiles on a rack at least eight inches off the ground and at least eight inches away from any wall.
- Inspect your armful of firewood from your woodpiles to make sure no cockroaches ride inside with it.
- Inspect any new plant, especially a tropical plant, for palmetto bugs before bringing it into the house.
How Do I Kill a Palmetto Bug?
Palmetto bugs can be tough to kill. If you must practice pest control to get rid of these pests, be careful.
Because the bugs wedge themselves in such tight cracks, palmetto bugs are often safe from bug bombs. Since these products can be hazardous to you, your family, and your pets, they are not recommended.
It is better to use an organic approach to pest control. Borax is an effective organic way to kill palmetto bugs.
Mix 1 part borax with 1 part powdered sugar and spread it in places the palmetto bugs hide, such as under the sink, behind appliances, and around the hot water heater.
Spreading the powder on baseboards, walls, and counters is not recommended, as palmetto bugs do not spend much time there. The powder should not be used where people or pets can get to it or where you prepare food.
Make sure you do not breathe any of the dust, wear a facemask when spreading it.
You can purchase bait stations baited with boric acid. These should be placed where palmetto bugs congregate and where there are smear marks. Again, these should be placed where pets and children cannot reach them.
Fun Facts About Palmetto Bugs
- People joke that if there is a nuclear war, palmetto bugs will be one of the things that survive. Palmetto bugs cannot survive a nuclear blast, but they can survive fifteen times the radiation humans can.
- Scientists like Jeff Triblehorn study the nervous systems of palmetto bugs to understand our nervous system better. He has found that palmetto bugs have a very sensitive sense of touch and can feel very slight vibrations.
- Palmetto bugs breathe through organs on the side of their bodies. Because of this, palmetto bugs can live up to a week without a head. They die after a week because of dehydration.
- Palmetto bugs can hold their breath for up to 40 minutes and can hold it underwater for about 30 minutes. They close the organs they breathe through to do this.
- Palmetto bugs can survive for a month without food.
- The palmetto bug has been around for over 280 million years. These bugs evolved into three to four-inch-long bugs during the Carboniferous era, before dinosaurs.
- Palmetto bugs are hard to smash. Their rigid exoskeletons can withstand forces 900 times their body weight.
- Palmetto bugs can regenerate lost legs.
- If there are not enough male palmetto bugs, females can produce fertilized eggs by themselves. This is called parthenogenesis.
- Cockroaches are social insects and can make group decisions about where to hide and where to feed using scents and touch.
- Palmetto bugs are just cockroaches. Most of the time, when someone calls a cockroach a palmetto bug, they are referring to the American cockroach. In South Carolina, they mean a smoky brown cockroach. In Florida, they may mean an American cockroach or a Florida woods cockroach. Whatever roach you are referring to, they spread diseases and contaminate food. The smoky brown cockroach squirts a fluid that causes skin irritation, too. Cockroaches belong outside.
Frequently Asked Questions About Palmetto Bugs
We get the same questions from many consumers about palmetto bugs. Here are our answers.
What is the difference between a German cockroach and a palmetto bug?
They are both cockroach species, but the German cockroach is 1/2 – 5/8 inches long. The German cockroach is brown to dark brown in color with two pale strips along its thorax. The palmetto bug is among the largest of the cockroaches, while the German cockroach is among the smallest ones.
Do palmetto bugs bite?
Yes, they can. Palmetto bugs only bite if there is a heavy infestation and there is not enough food to go around. They may also eat food residue off of the faces of sleeping humans.
Check out our related article: Do Cockroaches Bite + What Do Cockroach Bites Look Like?
What is a natural repellent for palmetto bugs?
Mint oil has been shown to repel palmetto bugs. It does not kill them and is not a substitute for other pest control methods but can help keep palmetto bugs from infesting a structure. It can be one part of the precautions you take to keep your house safe from palmetto bugs.
Do palmetto bugs come through drains?
Yes, palmetto bugs can come through drains. When they do, they bring sewage into the house on their feet.
Do palmetto bugs hiss?
No, palmetto bugs do not hiss. The Madagascar hissing cockroach (Gromphadorhina portentosa) is the one you are thinking of.
Do palmetto bugs fly?
That depends on what cockroach species you are calling a palmetto bug. The Florida woods cockroach does not fly. The American cockroach, which is often called a palmetto bug, is capable of short gliding flights. The smoky cockroach is a capable flyer.
Are palmetto bugs dirty?
Actually, palmetto bugs spend a lot of time grooming themselves and are pretty clean. The problem is they frequent sewers, septic tanks, garbage cans and pipes and then tract the nastiness into your kitchen, bathroom, and other places you frequent.
Can palmetto bugs make you sick?
Yes, as mentioned above, palmetto bugs carry a number of serious diseases. They spend time in sewers and then walk across your food, defecating and urinating on what they do not eat. In addition, they track bacteria across the counters you prepare your food on and the utensils you use when cooking.
How do you catch a palmetto bug?
Palmetto bugs are hard to catch. These pests run fast for their size, up to 3 miles an hour, and can squeeze into cracks the width of a credit card. It is also hard to sneak up on a palmetto bug because they are very sensitive to vibrations. When you walk, they feel the vibrations you make and flee.
Is there a palmetto bug season?
Palmetto bugs are more likely to enter a house during the fall when they are looking for a good place to spend the winter or the spring when they are looking for food. However, once there, the house is climate controlled, so the palmetto bug stays active all year. If there is a lack of moisture outside, palmetto bugs may enter the house seeking water.
Are water bugs and palmetto bugs the same thing?
Yes, a water bug and palmetto bugs are the same insect.
What states do palmetto bugs live in?
Palmetto bugs live everywhere there are humans. The Florida wood cockroach lives in Florida and the parts of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi that touch Florida. Smoky brown cockroaches came to the United States from Cuba and entered Florida. Now they live anywhere it is hot and humid with mild winters, including most of the southeastern United States. The American cockroach originated in Africa but has spread all over the world on ships and then as stowaways on the wares merchants sell.
What state has the most palmetto bugs?
There is no data to claim any one state the palmetto bug capital of the country. In general, the southern states have the most cockroaches, along with California.
What happens if a palmetto bug bites you?
Palmetto bug bites can cause welts and itching. If you are allergic to palmetto bugs, you could have a serious allergic reaction.
More Pest Control Guides from Planet Natural:
Eric Vinje founded Planet Natural with his father Wayne in 1991, originally running it as a grasshopper bait mail-order business out of a garage.
Eric is now retired, but is still a renowned gardener known for his expertise in composting, organic gardening and pest control, utilizing pesticide-free options, such as beneficial insects.
Eric believes when you do something good for the environment, the effects will benefit generations to come.