Cockroaches are one of the most common pests in New York City, and their presence is often a cause for fear and disgust.
According to one American Housing Survey, nearly 1 in 6 New Yorkers have reported seeing cockroaches in their homes. This highlights the severity of the problem in the city.
Here’s what you should know when dealing with cockroaches in NYC, including facts, control, prevention, and extermination.
MMPC Cockroach Guide:
Facts about Cockroaches
Cockroaches belong to the order Blattodea. These insects date back to the Jurassic period, approximately 125–140 million years ago. While there are thousands of cockroach species worldwide, only 70 species are found in the United States.
In New York City, there are 4 species that are considered common household pests: American cockroaches, German cockroaches, Oriental cockroaches, and brown-banded cockroaches.
It’s important to identify which species is present in your home, as this will determine the best method for controlling and preventing infestations.
Cockroaches have flat bodies and small heads that allow them to easily fit through tiny cracks and crevices (as small as 1/16 inch or 1.6 mm). They are equipped with three pairs of sturdy, spiny legs that enable them to move at incredible speeds of up to 3 miles an hour, making them one of the fastest insects in the world.
Cockroaches have two long and flexible antennae on their heads, which they use to sense food, smells, vibrations, heat, humidity, and pheromones. They also have two pairs of wings on their backs—a pair of leathery forewings and a pair of membranous hindwings.
Fortunately, most roaches are not capable of sustained flight.
While some species, such as the American cockroach, can use their wings to glide short distances when temperatures exceed 85° F, this is a rare occurrence. Other species, such as German and Oriental cockroaches, have underdeveloped wings that prevent them from flying altogether.
Regardless of their flight capabilities, roaches in your home are a significant pest problem that should not be ignored. They are known to carry up to 30 types of bacteria that can cause illness if left on food, and they are also a known source of allergens and asthma triggers. It’s important to take steps to control and prevent cockroach infestations to ensure the health and safety of your household.
Cockroaches have three primary life cycle stages: eggs, nymphs, and adults.
After mating, a female cockroach deposits its eggs in the form of an ootheca—a bean-shaped egg mass. The ootheca is covered with a leathery protein-based coating that hardens around the eggs to provide protection. The number of eggs within each ootheca varies depending on the species.
Some species, like the German cockroach, carry their oothecae on their backs for several weeks before hatching, while others deposit them in humid, well-hidden cracks and crevices. Depending on the species and environmental conditions, it can take anywhere from 28 to 74 days for the eggs to hatch.
The baby cockroaches that emerge from the eggs are called nymphs. They typically start out white or yellow and gradually darken in color as they mature into their adult form. During this maturation process, the nymphs go through several molts, or instar stages, to shed their exoskeleton and grow in size.
The number of times a cockroach nymph molts before reaching adulthood varies by species, with American cockroach nymphs going through 10–13 instar stages over 400–600 days, and German cockroach nymphs going through only 6 instar stages over 40–125 days.
The final stage of a cockroach’s life cycle is adulthood. At this point, the fully-developed roach can mate and reproduce.
The American cockroach (Periplaneta americana), is the largest peridomestic cockroach species in North America. It is extremely common in New York City and can often be spotted outdoors in warm and damp areas.
Adult American cockroaches can grow up to 1-2 inches long (29-53 mm). They have reddish-brown bodies with a pale, yellow-brown band around the plate-like structure (pronotum) behind their heads.
While American cockroaches have large wings that cover the lengths of their abdomens, they are not strong flyers. However, they are capable of occasional, short-distance flight when temperatures are above 85 °F.
American cockroaches require relatively high levels of temperature and humidity in order to thrive. When they find their way indoors, they tend to congregate in humid areas like bathrooms, boiler rooms, and around plumbing lines.
The German cockroach (Blatella germanica) is the most common cockroach species found in the United States.
They are much smaller than American cockroaches, and typically measure only 1/2–5/8 inch long (13–16 mm). Due to their small size, they’re easily able to hitchhike into buildings and homes via packages, cardboard boxes, and other shipping materials.
German cockroaches are light brown or tan in color with two parallel black bands located behind their heads. Although they do develop wings, they are incapable of flight.
These cockroaches are more likely to be found inside homes and buildings rather than outside. They prefer living in warm and humid conditions with temperatures between 85–95 °F and humidity levels between 90–95%.
Within a given room, they tend to congregate around warm and humid areas, such as kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry rooms.
Once they are inside your home, German cockroaches reproduce very quickly. A single female adult can produce around 50 baby cockroaches in just 1–2 weeks, which can then breed with each other to create a large population that is difficult to eliminate completely.
The Oriental cockroach (Blatta orientalis), commonly known as the “water bug,” is typically found in cool, damp outdoor areas such as sewers, gutters, storm drains, and gardens. It has a shiny, black body with a dark, reddish-brown hue, and can grow to 4/5–1 inch long (22–27 mm).
These roaches have a strong dependence on moisture, which is why they often dwell near water sources. They are primarily active at night, scavenging for food, and prefer to hide in dark, damp, and cool places during the day.
Males have wings that cover about three-quarters of their abdomen, while females are nearly completely wingless. However, neither are capable of flying.
One notable characteristic of Oriental cockroaches is their strong smell. They secrete chemicals that have a notoriously pungent and musty odor.
The brown-banded cockroach (Supella longipalpa) is the smallest species of cockroach that commonly infests homes.
Adults are typically 2/5–1/2 inch long (10–14 mm)—slightly smaller than German cockroaches. You can identify them by the two horizontal light brown bands on their dark brown bodies.
Male brown-banded cockroaches have well-developed wings that reach the bottom of their abdomen and can be used for short-distance flight when threatened. Females, however, have underdeveloped wings and cannot fly.
Unlike other cockroach species, brown-banded cockroaches don’t require much moisture and prefer to live in dry environments. They can typically be found in warm, dry, and elevated areas throughout your living space, such as in cabinets, picture frames, wall clocks, electrical equipment, and upholstered furniture.
Why Cockroaches Are a Serious Problem
1. They’re Unsanitary
Cockroaches are often associated with uncleanliness due to their tendency to thrive in dirty, cluttered environments.
These pests are scavengers that eat anything and everything made of organic matter. They can even survive on kitchen grease, dust, hair, cardboard, and even other dead roaches. As they multiply and search for food and nesting places, they also leave behind trails of dust, grease, and droppings, along with a foul odor.
2. They Produce Allergens
In addition to being unsanitary, cockroaches can also trigger asthma and worsen allergies. They are a significant source of indoor allergens, which are derived from their body parts, saliva, and fecal matter.
These allergen particles can contaminate the air in your home and cause symptoms like coughing, wheezing, skin rashes, and sinus infections.
Research by the American Lung Association suggests that early exposure to cockroach allergens may even cause children to develop asthma.
3. They Spread Diseases
Cockroaches are known as vector pests because they can carry and transmit various pathogens that cause intestinal diseases in humans, including diarrhea, dysentery, cholera, and salmonellosis.
As they move from place to place, traveling through drains, sewers, garbage, and latrines, cockroaches pick up a variety of germs. They can then carry these germs into our homes, kitchens, and pantries, contaminating food and food-prep surfaces with their bodies and droppings.
4. They Cause Stress, Depression, and Fear
In addition to spreading diseases, cockroaches can have a significant impact on mental health.
Having cockroaches in one’s home can be stressful, as people never know when or where these pests will show up. Trying to chase them down with foul-smelling insect sprays is equally frustrating.
One study found that people living in cockroach-infested homes were almost three times more likely to exhibit symptoms of depression (after adjusting for important covariates such as age, race, marital status, education, and employment).
The fear of cockroaches even has its own name: katsaridaphobia. This diagnosable condition can lead to extreme anxiety and even full-blown panic attacks.
What Attracts Cockroaches?
Understanding what attracts cockroaches into your home is an important first step to prevent or control a potential infestation.
Generally speaking, cockroaches are attracted to three main things: food, moisture, and heat.
Strong smelling foods are more likely to attract roaches into your home, as well as the odor of decaying food waste in kitchen garbage.
To cockroaches, any kind of organic matter qualifies as “food.” While sugary foods are their favorite, they can eat almost anything, including items that are not typically considered as food, such as paper, cardboard, hair, and kitchen grease.
Cockroaches only need a small amount of water to survive—even moisture from humid air is enough to sustain them. Nevertheless, when an accessible source of moisture presents itself, cockroaches are likely to congregate there.
Certain species, such as American cockroaches and Oriental cockroaches, are more drawn to moisture than others. American cockroaches, for example, require relatively high levels of humidity to thrive. They’re often found nesting in boiler rooms and they travel around following pipes and water lines in search of food.
Plumbing issues in particular are commonly associated with the onset of an American cockroach infestation.
As cold-blooded insects, cockroaches aren’t able to regulate their own body temperature and therefore will seek out external heat sources in order to maintain their bodily functions. Cockroach activity generally spikes with rising temperatures, and most species of cockroaches prefer temperatures around 70–80 °F.
While people tend to see more cockroaches during the warm summer months, from June to August, cockroaches can be found year-round in heated indoor environments, such as homes and apartment buildings. They may seek out warmth in places like the kitchen, laundry room, and bathrooms, as well as in electrical appliances like refrigerators and ovens.
Signs of a Cockroach Infestation
Cockroaches are mostly nocturnal, which means they’re most active at night while you’re asleep. Unfortunately, this often means that many homeowners might be unaware that they have a cockroach problem until the infestation becomes severe.
Here are 5 signs of a cockroach infestation:
- Droppings – Depending on the species of cockroach, their droppings can resemble tiny specks of pepper, coffee grounds, or small, black pellets.
- Smear Marks – Dark, smeared stains made of liquified cockroach feces, usually found in areas with high moisture
- Odors – The smell of a cockroach infestation is often described as musty, oily, and slightly acidic.
- Egg Casings – Cockroach eggs look like tan-colored, pill-shaped capsules with a ridged surface.
- Molted Skins -Baby roaches molt several times before reaching adulthood, leaving behind hollow, translucent exoskeletons.
Where to Check for Cockroaches
Common places where cockroaches are likely to be found include:
- Laundry Rooms
- Crawl Spaces
The kitchen is usually the first place to look, since it has everything that roaches need: food, water, and heat.
Always check beneath kitchen appliances like refrigerators and stoves, where food crumbs are often swept under. Appliances may also be potential entry points for roaches, which can easily squeeze through small gaps in the wall around gas and plumbing lines.
Bathrooms are another common place for roach sightings, due to the plethora of moisture and steam. American roaches, which love moisture and traveling around drains and plumbing lines, are especially likely to pop up in these areas.
How to Prevent Cockroaches
The best way to keep roaches out of your home is to stop them from getting inside in the first place.
Instead of spraying smelly and potentially harmful chemicals to kill them, focus instead on fixing or eliminating conditions that attract them (e.g. food, moisture) and sealing entry points (i.e. gaps in the wall).
To remove conditions that attract cockroaches:
- Reduce clutter
- Vacuum regularly
- Remove grime, especially from kitchens and bathrooms
- Clean kitchen appliances
- Store food in sealed bags and containers
- Don’t leave dirty dishes in the sink overnight
- Take out kitchen trash when it’s full
- Fix leaks and other moisture issues
To physically stop cockroaches from getting inside (exclusion):
- Identify and seal gaps, holes, and cracks with silicone caulk
- Install door sweeps under outside-facing doors
- Mend tears in window screens
- Secure wire mesh screens over bathroom and kitchen vents
- Cover drains with rubber stoppers or metal screens
How to Get Rid of Cockroaches
Using home remedies might be an option if you’re only dealing with a few roaches.
But be careful—home remedies are usually less effective than commercially-available products or professional pest control services. In some cases, trying home remedies that aren’t effective can actually make the situation worse, giving the roaches in your home time to breed and multiply.
Here’s are some chemical-free home remedies for cockroaches:
- Diatomaceous Earth
- Boric Acid
- Baking Soda and Sugar
- Isopropyl Alcohol
For a longer list and explanation about home remedies, read our article about Home Remedies for Cockroaches: Fact vs. Fiction.
Chemical pesticides should be used as a last resort. In fact, turning to pesticides first is a common mistake that lead to overuse of harmful chemicals and the development of pesticide-resistant cockroach populations.
Instead, try using these non-spray products:
- Insect Dusts (e.g. diatomaceous earth, boric acid, silica gel)
- Gel Bait
- Bait Stations
- Glue Traps
About MMPC: NYC’s Top-Rated Roach Exterminators
When faced with a severe or extensive cockroach infestation, the methods mentioned above may not be enough. In such cases, it’s best to consider seeking professional help.
Your local pest control company or building’s exterminator can provide the expertise needed to locate where roaches are hiding and eliminate them for good.
At MMPC, we have over 25 years of experience helping New Yorkers prevent and exterminate cockroaches using effective and eco-friendly methods. Contact us today to find out how we can help!