Cockroaches rank high on the list of common pests in New York City. These feared and hated pests are often spotted on the streets, in the subway, and inside peoples’ houses and apartments.
According to one American Housing Survey, nearly 1 out of 6 New Yorkers have reported seeing cockroaches in their homes.
Here’s what you should know when dealing with cockroaches in NYC, including facts, control, prevention, and extermination.
MMPC Cockroach Guide:
- Facts about Cockroaches
- Why Cockroaches Are Dangerous
- What Attracts Cockroaches?
- Signs of a Cockroach Infestation
- How to Get Rid of Cockroaches
Facts about Cockroaches
Cockroaches are insects of the order Blattodea, and their ancestry dates back to the Jurassic period — roughly 125-140 million years (some internet sources say roaches are 300 million years old, but that’s a myth).
Out of the thousands of cockroach species worldwide, there are 70 that live 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.
Biology & Appearance
Cockroaches have small heads and flat bodies that can easily squeeze through the tiniest of cracks and crevices.
They have 3 pairs of sturdy, spiny legs that allow them to travel at speeds of up to 3 miles an hour, making them one of the fastest insects on the planet.
On their heads are two long and flexible antennae used to sense food, smells, vibrations, heat, humidity, and pheromones.
On their backs are 2 pairs of wings — one pair of leathery forewings and one pair of membranous hindwings.
Luckily, most roaches don’t actually fly.
Some species, such as the American cockroach, are able to use their wings to propel them into the air for short distances when temperatures exceed 85° F, but only in rare situations. Other species, such as German and Oriental cockroaches, have evolved to have underdeveloped wings which are incapable of flight.
Nevertheless, roaches in your home are a serious pest problem that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
They’re known to carry up to 30 types of bacteria that can cause illness if left on food, and they’re also considered a potentially dangerous source of allergens and asthma triggers.
No matter the species, all cockroaches go through three main life cycle stages: eggs, nymphs, and adults.
After mating, a female adult cockroach deposits its eggs in the form of a bean-shaped egg mass known as an ootheca. These egg masses are covered by a leathery, protein-based covering that hardens around the eggs to provide protection. The amount of eggs inside each ootheca varies based on the species.
Some species, like German cockroaches, carry their oothecae on their backs for several weeks prior to hatching. Other species deposit their oothecae in humid, well-hidden cracks and crevices. Depending on the species and temperature conditions, it can take anywhere between 28 to 74 days for the eggs to hatch.
Once they hatch, the baby cockroaches are called cockroach nymphs. In this stage, roaches typically start out white or yellow and gradually darken in color until they reaches their adult form.
During this maturation process, the nymphs go through successive molts, or instar stages, to shed their exoskeleton and grow in size. Cockroach nymphs molt several times before reaching maturity, although the exact number of times varies between species. For example, American cockroach nymphs go through 10 to 13 instar stages before reaching adulthood (which usually takes between 400 to 600 days), while German cockroach nymphs go through only 6 instar stages (which usually takes between 40 to 125 days).
The final stage of a cockroach’s life cycle is the adult stage. At this point, the fully-developed roach can begin to mate and reproduce.
The American cockroach is the largest peridomestic cockroach species in North America. They’re extremely common in New York and can be often spotted outdoors in warm and damp areas.
The average adult roach is between 1/2 to 2 inches long, although some can grow to be even bigger. They have reddish-brown bodies with a pale, yellow-brown band around the edge of their outer shell (pronotum).
They have large wings that cover the lengths of their abdomens, making them 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 cockroaches is the most common cockroach species in the United States.
They’re much smaller than American cockroaches — only growing to an average of 1/2 to 5/8 inches in length. Due to their small size, they’re known for being frequent hitchhikers that sneak into packages, cardboard boxes, and other shipping materials.
You can identify German cockroaches by their light brown or tan color, with two parallel black bands located behind their heads. They also develop wings, but unlike American cockroaches, they’re incapable of flight.
German cockroaches are more likely to be found inside houses and buildings rather than outside. Their ideal living conditions are temperatures between 85 to 95° F and humidity levels between 90 to 95° F.
Within a given room, they tend to congregate around the warmest and most humid areas, such as underneath refrigerators and other kitchen appliances, under sinks, and around water pipes.
Once they’re inside your home, German cockroaches reproduce very quickly. A single female adult can produce around 50 baby cockroaches in just 1 to 2 weeks, which can in turn breed with one another to create a huge population that’s hard to get rid of completely.
The Oriental cockroach, also known as the “water bug,” is primarily found outdoors in cool, damp areas like sewers, gutters, storm drains, and gardens.
Even more so than American Cockroaches, Oriental cockroaches require a lot of moisture to survive, which is why they’re usually found near sources of water.
These roaches are about 1 inch long and have shiny, black bodies with a dark, reddish-brown hue that makes them look quite distinct from other common cockroach species.
Males have wings that cover about 3/4 of their abdomen, while females are almost completely wingless. Neither are capable of flight.
Oriental cockroaches are mostly active at night, which is when they come out to scavenge for food. During the day, they prefer to hole up in dark, damp, and cool hiding spots.
One distinctive feature of Oriental cockroaches is their smell. The chemicals that they secrete to communicate with each other have a notoriously pungent and musty odor, which is said to be the worst compared to other species of cockroaches.
The brown-banded cockroach is the smallest species of cockroaches that infests peoples’ homes.
Adults measure around 1/2 inches long, which is similar to but slightly smaller than German cockroaches. They can be identified by the two light brown bands on their backs in sharp contrast with their dark brown bodies.
Males have well-developed wings that reach to the bottom of their abdomen, which can be used for short distance flight when threatened. Females, on the other hand, have underdeveloped wings and cannot fly.
Unlike other species of cockroaches, brown-banded cockroaches don’t require much moisture and instead prefer to live in dry environments. They can be found hiding in warm, dry, and high places throughout your living space — such as in cabinets, picture frames, wall clocks, electrical equipment, and upholstered furniture.
Why Cockroaches Are Dangerous
Most people associate cockroaches with uncleanliness. After all, cockroaches are far more likely to be attracted to thrive in dirty, clutter-filled environments.
These pests are omnivorous scavengers that can and will eat anything made of organic matter. Not only will they try to make their way into your pantry, roaches can also survive on kitchen grease, dust, hair, cardboard, and even other dead roaches. And as they multiply and spread out in search of more food and nesting places, they leave behind foul odors together with trails of dust, grease, and droppings.
They Produce Allergens
Roaches can also trigger asthma and worsen allergies. They’re a major source of indoor allergens, which come from their body parts, saliva, and fecal matter.
These allergen particles can contaminate the air in your home, causing symptoms like coughing, wheezing, skin rashes, and sinus infections.
According to the American Lung Association, there’s even research to suggest that early exposure to cockroach allergens can actually cause children to develop asthma.
They Spread Diseases
Cockroaches are vector pests that carry pathogens for various intestinal diseases in humans, such as diarrhea, dysentery, cholera, salmonellosis.
As they move from place to place, traveling through drains, sewers, garbage, and latrines, roaches pick up a variety of germs, which they proceed to carry into our homes, kitchens, and pantries. They then contaminate food and food-prep surfaces with their bodies and droppings.
They Cause Stress, Depression, and Fear
In addition to spreading diseases, cockroaches can have a significant impact on mental health.
Most people find that having cockroaches in their home is stressful. Not knowing when and where these irritable pests show up and having to chase them around with foul-smelling insect sprays can be a source of endless frustration.
Over time, the buildup of stress can worsen your mental health. In fact, one study showed that people living in cockroach infested homes were almost 3 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 — a diagnosable condition that 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.
To cockroaches, any kind of organic matter can qualify as “food.” While sugary foods seem to be their favorite, roaches can and will eat almost anything — even things you normally wouldn’t think of as food, like paper, cardboard, hair, and kitchen grease.
Food with strong odors are more likely to attract roaches into your home, as well as the smell of decaying food waste in kitchen garbage.
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. Most species of cockroaches prefer temperatures around 70 to 80° F.
That’s also why people tend to see more cockroaches during the warm summer months, from June to August. However, you can certainly see them in the winter as well, cozying up in your heated house or apartment building.
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:
- Feces / Droppings — Depending on the species, these can resemble tiny specks of pepper, coffee grounds, or small, black pellets.
- Smear Marks — Dark, smeared stains made of liquified 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 Get Rid of 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:
- 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
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 useful 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.
Store-bought roach sprays have limited effectiveness (you can only spray what you can see, and cockroaches are very good at hiding). They won’t stop the roaches from reproducing and therefore won’t get rid of an infestation. Furthermore, roaches may also develop resistance to these sprays over time.
Instead, try using these non-spray products:
- Insect Dusts (e.g. diatomaceous earth, boric acid, silica gel)
- Gel Bait
- Bait Stations
- Glue Traps
Professional Pest Control
When faced with a more severe or extensive cockroach infestation, the methods above might not be enough. In these cases, consider getting professional help.
Your local pest control company, or your building’s exterminator, provides the expertise needed to locate exactly where roaches are hiding and to 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. Call or email us today to find out how we can help!