How to Identify Cockroaches

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cockroach identification

Cockroaches are one of the most common household insect pests. These opportunistic feeders are primarily active at night and readily consume all kinds of organic matter, including starches, sugars, and grease. They’ll even eat glue, toothpaste, soap, cardboard, hair, fingernails, and other dead cockroaches.

  • Once cockroaches become established, they are prolific breeders that produce several thousand offspring a year.
  • According to the 2021 American Housing Survey, nearly 1 in 6 New Yorkers have reported seeing cockroaches in their homes (compared to 1 in 9 households nationally).
  • In some parts of the United States, people use the term “water bugs” to refer to large cockroaches, not to be confused with true water bugs.
  • Cockroaches are the second most common source of indoor allergens, the first being house dust.

Cockroaches enter homes and buildings through various means, most often through entry points such as cracks in walls, gaps around windows and doors, or poorly sealed utility lines. In apartment buildings, they easily spread between units through common walls, ceilings, vents, ducts, and pipes. Adults or their eggs can also be inadvertently carried inside on shoes, packages, luggage, laundry, grocery bags, and used furniture.

While not classified as direct disease vectors, cockroaches carry bacteria on their bodies which may contaminate food and surfaces. Additionally, their shed skins and droppings can trigger allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.

The most effective way to get rid of cockroaches is maintain good sanitation practices and address conditions that attract them in the first place. Eliminating any sources of food and water, sealing up cracks and crevices, and regularly cleaning and decluttering can all help prevent and manage cockroach infestations.

Tired of seeing roaches in your home? MMPC’s top-rated cockroach control services help you eliminate infestations and fix underlying issues.


German cockroaches are the most common species of cockroach in the United States.

They are prolific breeders, and their small size makes it easy for them to get into people’s homes—usually by sneaking into packages, boxes, and other shipping materials or entering through cracks as small as 1/16″ (1.6 mm).

They are attracted to warmth and humidity, often seen darting underneath kitchen appliances and sinks. They also like to hide in toaster ovens and heat-producing electronic equipment.

Size: 1/2″ – 5/8″ long (13 – 16 mm); about the size of a sunflower seed

Color: Light brown or tan

Shape: Long, oval-shaped body with thread-like antennae, 6 legs, and 2 pairs of wings

  • 6 spiny legs
  • Thread-like (filiform) antennae
  • Long, oval-shaped body with a pair of short, outward-pointing appendages (cerci) extending from the rear
  • 2 parallel dark bands on the plated structure (pronotum) behind its head
  • 2 pairs of light-colored wings (leathery forewings and membranous hindwings)
  • Cannot fly

American cockroaches are the largest species of household cockroaches in the United States. Outdoors, they can usually be found around gardens, garbage, and sewers.

Indoors, they congregate in areas with high levels of moisture and humidity, such as bathrooms, laundry rooms, boiler rooms, and other mechanical rooms.

Plumbing issues in particular are associated with American cockroach infestations.

Size: 1 1/4″ – 2 1/8″ long (30 – 54 mm); about the size of a safety pin

Color: Reddish brown

Shape: Long, oval-shaped body with thread-like antennae, 6 legs, and 2 pairs of wings

  • 6 spiny legs
  • Thread-like (filiform) antennae
  • Long, oval-shaped body with a pair of short, outward-pointing appendages (cerci) extending from the rear
  • A pale brown or yellow halo around the edges of the plated structure (pronotum) behind its head
  • 2 pairs of large wings (leathery forewings and membranous hindwings)
  • Capable of short-distance flight when temperatures exceed 85 °F

Oriental cockroaches are primarily an outdoor species that tends to live around sewers, storm drains, gutters, and landscaping beds. They occasionally seek shelter indoors in dark, damp, cool areas of the house like basements, crawlspaces, and around the foundations of buildings.

They’re notorious for their foul, musty odor that smells much worse than other cockroaches. And unlike other cockroach species, Oriental cockroaches have a seasonal cycle that typically peaks in the late spring and early summer.

Size: 4/5″ – 1″ long (22 – 27 mm); about the size of a paperclip

Color: Black or dark brown

Shape: Smooth, oval-shaped body with thread-like antennae and 6 legs

  • 6 spiny legs
  • Thread-like (filiform) antennae
  • Long, oval-shaped body with a pair of short, outward-pointing appendages (cerci) extending from the rear
  • Appears smooth, dark, and shiny
  • Males have short wings that cover 3/4 of the abdomen, while females are wingless
  • Cannot fly

Brown-banded cockroaches are a small species of cockroach with a preference for warm, dry, and high places. They like to hide and deposit eggs in elevated locations like furniture, shelves, kitchen and bathroom cabinets, ceiling light fixtures, picture frames, and wallpaper.

Like German cockroaches, brown-banded cockroaches tend to get into your home via hitchhiking — usually inside infested furniture, electronics, and appliances.

Size: 2/5″ – 1/2″ long (10 – 14 mm); about the size of a sunflower seed

Color: Light-to-medium brown

Shape: Long, oval-shaped body with thread-like antennae, 6 legs, and 2 pairs of wings

  • 6 spiny legs
  • Thread-like (filiform) antennae
  • Long, oval-shaped body with a pair of short, outward-pointing appendages (cerci) extending from the rear
  • Distinctive brown bands running horizontally across the wings and abdomen
  • Males have long wings and are able to fly short distances
  • Females have short wings and cannot fly