There are more than 60 species of cockroaches that occur in the United States, so it is not surprising that their appearances differ to a large extent. However, the general description of adult cockroaches include a body length of about ½ to more than two-inches long with a flat body shape, long antennae, six legs, and wings they fold over their back. Cockroach nymphs look much like adults, but may completely lack wings or have wings that look more like wing pads.


Within the United States, the principal cockroaches associated with humans and those that may enter homes or other buildings from the outside are the German cockroach, brown banded cockroach, Oriental cockroach, American cockroach and wood roaches. While cockroaches have fully-developed wings, very few species can actually fly.

The wide array of cockroach species is generally described by their basic behavioral characteristics and preferred habitats. Habitats can basically be grouped as obligate domestic cockroaches (prefer to live inside structures in close proximity to humans), peridomestic cockroaches (those that will live in both interior and exterior habitats), field cockroaches, and wood cockroaches.

Cockroaches, regardless of the species, need four things to survive – food, water, shelter and warmth. Cockroaches are among some of the fastest runners in the insect world. When cockroaches are not actively searching for mates or food, they spend most of their time in cracks and other small spaces that touch them on both sides of their body. They are most active after dark as they scavenge for food.

The most important problem cockroaches pose relates to their role as transmitters of diseases and the causing of allergic reactions from allergens such as cockroach saliva, feces, and cast skins.


Cockroaches survive by eating almost any substance that contains sweets, starches, fats and proteins. In addition to a large variety of food, garbage and other wastes, they will eat glue, leather, hair, their own feces and body parts of other cockroaches. Should food sources become scarce, some species of cockroaches can survive for up to six weeks without feeding.


Cockroach habitats are diverse, but generally are places that are dark, warm, near food and provide protection. Some of the more common places that cockroaches live are kitchens, bathrooms, food storage areas, basements, woodpiles, in ground cover such as mulch, leaf piles, under the bark of fallen logs, water meter boxes, sewers and drains.


Cockroaches undergo three life-cycle stages, which include egg, nymph, and adult. Adult female cockroaches lay from 16-50 eggs that are contained in an egg case. Once ready to hatch, young cockroach nymphs finally emerge from the eggs. Typically, nymphs outnumber adults in any given cockroach population.


Sightings of egg cases, nymphs, adults, feces, fecal smears, dead cockroaches and body parts are all signs of the presence of cockroaches.


Cockroach prevention basically includes reducing their harborage sites and preferred habitats. Using vacuums or non-toxic traps to remove cockroaches and cold or hot temperatures to kill cockroaches are good ways to help prevent population buildups without using insecticides. Inspecting items such as cardboard or grocery sacks before bringing them inside is another great way to help reduce the possibility of a cockroach infestation, and keeping buildings and homes clean to reduce sources of food are other excellent preventive techniques.


The most effective control program to help reduce pest pressures from cockroaches involves using integrated pest management (IPM). For cockroach management, the following are control practices that are effective:

  • Have your pest management professional (PMP) identify the problematic cockroaches, since there is so much diversity within cockroaches that not knowing the species will often result in focusing control efforts in the wrong places. For certain, cockroach control is not a “one size fits all” endeavor.
  • Use products to control cockroaches. These may include using:
    • Cockroach baits
    • Insect Growth Regulators to interfere with cockroach reproduction
    • Insecticide liquids, dusts, sprays and aerosols
    • Fumigation of all or parts of a large, cockroach infested facility, building or home.