People use the name “palmetto bug” in many parts of the United States. The name may be most common in the southeastern states where people actually use the name to describe two different insects – and both of them are cockroaches!
In many parts of the southern United States, the name Palmetto Bug refers to the American cockroach. This is a large cockroach. Adult American cockroaches can reach almost 20.5″ in length. Its scientific name is Periplaneta americana (L.).
The adult American cockroach is reddish-brown. It has a pale yellow border around the shield that covers the insect's head. The yellow border is easy to see, even at a distance. It makes the American cockroach easy to identify. This cockroach is a fairly good flier and a very fast runner.
In the southern United States, American cockroaches live outdoors. They are common in alleys and yards. They are also found on city sidewalks and along roadways. It is common to see American cockroaches on trees and in ground cover like ivy.
American cockroaches became known as palmetto bugs in the semi-tropical areas where palmetto trees grow. They often climb the trees and hide.
In Florida there is another cockroach that people know as the Palmetto Bug. It is also known as the Florida woods cockroach. Its scientific name is Eurycotis floridana (Walker).
The Florida woods cockroach is also a large cockroach. Adults can reach almost 2″ in length. Its body is wide and fairly flat. Florida woods cockroaches are such a dark reddish-brown that they often look black in color.
Adult Florida woods cockroaches do not have fully developed wings, so they cannot fly. The wings are short, leaving most of the abdomen exposed. Many people mistake these insects for oriental cockroaches.
The Florida woods cockroach lives outdoors. It hides under the bark of dead trees, in piles of leaves, and under woodpiles. It probably got the name of palmetto bug when people found it hiding under palmetto leaves. Since it cannot fly, it must walk to get into houses. It usually does not survive indoors.
Both “palmetto bugs” – the American cockroach and the Florida woods cockroach – are outdoor insects. Removing their hiding places around the house can discourage them. Place firewood up on a rack and move it away from the house. Trim weeds, grass, and ground cover away from the foundation. Rake mulch and dead leaves away from the foundation.
Make sure exterior doors close tightly and replace missing weather-stripping. Secure the access door to the crawl space and inspect the vents to be sure the screens are in good repair. If there is an outside pet, try to pick up any un-eaten pet food so the roaches do not eat it at night.
Granular cockroach bait can be effective for controlling these insects. Many brands of bait are water-resistant, so they can be applied in flowerbeds and ground cover. A barrier of liquid insecticide can be applied to the foundation. This will help discourage the palmetto bugs from gathering near the house.
Because sun and rain break down insecticide, the barrier will have to be re-applied periodically. Many homeowners choose to have pest control professionals take care of these outdoor pests.